On May 7, 1994, the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets defeated the 63-win Seattle SuperSonics to advance to the Western Conference semifinals—marking the first time an eight seeded team won a playoff series. In their honor, let’s revisit (and rank) the 8-over-1 upsets in NBA history.
5) 2012: Philadelphia 76ers over Chicago Bulls (4-2)
This first-round series—and NBA history—was altered when Derrick Rose tore his ACL at the end of Game 1. Without Rose, the Bulls (50-16, lockout) couldn’t overcome a 76ers team led by Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, and Elton Brand. Philly pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the next round, and the surprise playoff run ironically motivated Philly to acquire Andrew Bynum—a debacle that led to the Process.
4) 2011: Memphis Grizzlies over San Antonio Spurs (4-2)
A sprained elbow that kept Manu Ginobili out of Game 1 allowed Memphis to steal a dub in San Antonio. The home team took every remaining game, but it was enough to give Memphis the upset, as Zach Randolph (21.9 points and 9.2 boards) and Marc Gasol (14.2 PPG, 13.3 RPG) outplayed Tim Duncan (12.7 PPG).
The Grizz pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the conference semifinals, and eventually Grit n' Grinded their way to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.
3) 1994: Denver Nuggets over Seattle SuperSonics (3-2)
This upset was truly out of left field. Seattle was a burgeoning powerhouse, fueled by prime Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. They made the Finals in 1996, but ‘94 presented their best ring opportunity with Michael Jordan in another left field.
Beyond becoming the first eight seed to win a series, the ’94 Nuggets remain the only team to pull off the upset after falling in a 2-0 hole. Denver admirably made the Utah Jazz sweat for seven games in the second round.
2) 2007: Golden State Warriors over Dallas Mavericks (4-2)
Tough break for Dirk Nowitzki, who was desperate to get over the hump after dropping the 2006 NBA Finals. He responded with an MVP campaign for the 67-15 Mavs, only to run into a buzzsaw of a Golden State squad, led by Dirk’s former coach, Don Nelson.
Nelly’s commitment to small ball—utilizing his unorthodox roster led by Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Matt Barnes, and Al Harrington—bamboozled Dallas. The “We Believe” Warriors won all three games in Oakland, which offered a preview of what Playoff Oracle would regularly sound like in the years to come.
The Dubs lost to Utah in the second round in five games, but Davis did get in an all-time poster on Andrei Kirilenko.
1) 1999: New York Knicks Finals Run
This was another lockout season (27-23), so the seeding is probably misleading, but the '99 Knicks remain the only eight seed to reach the Finals.
Allan Houston capped off the first round and a decade-long rivalry with a one-handed floater to take Game 5 over the Miami Heat. They swept the Atlanta Hawks in the second round, then outlasted another long-time rival, the Indiana Pacers, in six games to reach the Finals.
After an injury to Patrick Ewing, Latrell Sprewell ingratiated himself to Knicks fans (20.4 PPG during the playoffs), while Marcus Camby (14.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.7 blocks per-36) and Houston (18.5 PPG) stepped up, too.
The Knicks were no match for the Twin Towers Spurs (losing in 5), but Madison Square Garden hasn’t been as loud since Larry Johnson’s four-point play.