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The Five Biggest Upsets in NBA Playoff History

The NBA is one of the biggest sports leagues in the world, and I have been a fan for nearly three decades.

Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons

1. Detroit Pistons Defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 Finals

The Lakers completed a rare three-peat and won the championship from 2000-2002. They were dethroned by the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, so they were looking to reload. It just so happened that veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton were looking to get their first ring and were willing to accept far less money. Malone had previously been to the Finals twice as a member of the Utah Jazz while Payton had been to the Finals once as a member of the Seattle Supersonics. Both were defeated by Michael Jordan. The two joined forces with superstars Shaquille O' Neil and Kobe Bryant to form a four-man superteam.

The Detroit Pistons were the clear underdogs in this series as the Lakers had four sure-fire Hall of Famers. The Pistons did not even have a superstar. However, they were the better team as they were the more cohesive unit. The Pistons were able to stifle Shaq and Kobe as Ben Wallace was good enough and strong enough to cover Shaq on his own. Kobe had trouble shooting over the 6'9" Tayshaun Prince, who also boasted a 7'2" wingspan. The Lakers had better individual talents, but the Pistons were simply the better team. The Lakers were trounced in five games in one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Golden State Warriors

Golden State Warriors

2. Golden State Warriors Defeat the Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 Western Conference Quarterfinals

The Dallas Mavericks were the runners-up in the Finals in the previous season. They had won 67 games in the regular season, so they were heavily favored against the Golden State Warriors, who barely made it into the playoffs. The Mavericks had many offensive weapons in Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, and Jason Terry.

The Warriors had a trio of players that carried the offense in Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Jason Richardson. With a better team and with home-court advantage, Dallas seemed to be a shoo-in to win.

The Warriors struck first and won in Dallas. The “We Believe” Warriors won a mere 42 games and were big underdogs in the series. They used a variety of defensive schemes to thwart the Mavericks. The raucous Oracle arena crowd also helped inspire the Warriors to victory.

Portland Trailblazers

Portland Trailblazers

3. Portland Trailblazers Defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1977 Finals

The 76ers were a talented team that had six players who averaged double figures - Julius Erving, Doug Collins, Geroge McGinnis, Henry Bibby, World B. Free and Steve Mix. They also had other talented players like Caldwells Jones and Darryl Dawkins.

The Portland Trailblazers were anchored on Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas. While the two teams had nearly identical records, the 76ers had the more loaded team. The more talented 76ers team raced to a quick 2-0 series lead. However, they were a more isolation-heavy team, which gave its players turns in scoring. This is in contrast to the more teamwork-reliant and defense-oriented Blazers team.

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Despite their youth and inexperience, Bill Walton led the Blazers with averages of 18.5 PPG, 19.0 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 3.7 BPG on his way to being Finals MVP.

Denver Nuggets

Denver Nuggets

4. Denver Nuggets Defeat the Seattle Supersonics in the 1994 Western Conference Quarterfinals

The Sonics were the best in the West with a 63-win record while the Nuggets just barely got into the playoffs with 42 wins. The Sonics had many offensive weapons in Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf, Kendall Gill, Sam Perkins, and Ricky Pierce. Any of them could score 20 in their sleep.

The Nuggets had offensive star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and defensive stud Dikembe Mutombo. They also had a few good players in LaPhonso Ellis, Robert Pack, and Rodney Rodgers.

The powerful Sonics offense overwhelmed the Nuggets and they quickly went up 2-0. However, the Nuggets never gave up and won the next three games on their way to one of the biggest upsets in playoff history.

Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies

5. Memphis Grizzlies Defeat the San Antonio Spurs 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals

The San Antonio Spurs were the top seed in the West with 61 wins while the Memphis Grizzlies only had 46 wins. The Spurs featured the trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili, and they were perennial title favorites.

However, the grit and grind Grizzlies used the toughness of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to punish you down low. They also had a great point guard in Mike Conley and two wing defenders in Tony Allen and Shane Battier. While the Spurs had Tim Duncan, they didn't have any other quality big that could stand up to Randolph and Gasol. Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair were undersized, and Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter were not as tough as the Grizzlies' duo. Injuries to Ginobili did not help matters either.

The Spurs fell to the Grizzlies in six games.

© 2021 Jan Michael Ong

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