2023 NBA Playoffs: Top 6 Greatest Upsets in NBA Playoff History

2023 NBA Playoffs: Top 6 Greatest Upsets in NBA Playoff History

Edwin Kiplagat
updated at April 13, 2023 at 10:39 AM
  • The NBA playoffs tip off this weekend, and we may have some of the greatest matchups in a long time
  • Like any other sport, the NBA has witnessed some historic underdog stories
  • From the Golden State Warriors beating top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in 2007 to the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from 3-1 down in the 2016 NBA Finals, the league has seen some unforgettable upsets

The 77th NBA regular season is done and dusted, and we're getting closer to the most crucial part of the season, the playoffs.

The Golden State Warriors won the NBA title last season but are facing some top teams this time around.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Hakeem Olajuwon, Warriors, Cavaliers, Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Lakers, SuperSonics, Nuggets, NBA
The Warriors have been on both ends of an upset. Photos by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News and Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE.
Source: Getty Images

The Warriors pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history in 2007. However, they were not the first team to do so.

Sports Brief has looked at some of the biggest upsets in playoff history. The 2022/23 NBA playoffs tip off on Saturday 15th, April.

Exciting feature: Check out news exactly for YOU ➡️ click on "Recommended for you" and enjoy!

6. Houston Rockets over San Antonio Spurs - 1995 

The Houston Rockets won the NBA title in 1995 and did so as the 6th seed. They beat some top teams on route to the finals, where they swept the top-seeded Orlando Magic.

But their big moment came in the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were led by that season’s MVP, David Robinson, who came face-to-face against Hakeem Olajuwon. Olajuwon came out on top averaging 35.3 points and 12.5 rebounds.

The Rockets are the lowest seed to win the NBA title, per NBC Sports.

5. New York Knicks over Miami Heat - 1999

The Knicks knocked out the top-seeded Miami Heat in their run to the NBA Finals. It was a gritty affair from the jump. Jeff Van Gundy’s team went 27-23 in the shortened season. Everything came down to Game 5 in Miami. Allan Houston put the Knicks in front in the final seconds, giving them a 78-77 win. 

The Knicks went on to sweep Atlanta Hawks in the second round before beating Riggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. The San Antonio Spurs beat them in five games in the finals.

4. Denver Nuggets Over Seattle SuperSonics - 1994

The Seattle SuperSonics were expected to make a title run in Michael Jordan’s first year of retirement. However, their season came crashing down when the Denver Nuggets eliminated them from the playoffs. Led by Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, the SuperSonics had the best record in the NBA (63-19). They won the first two games, but the Nuggets, led by LaPhonso Ellis, Dikembe Mutombo, and Reggie Williams, won the next three games.

It was the first time in NBA history a No. 8 seed had eliminated a No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs.

3. Detroit Pistons over Los Angeles Lakers - 2004 NBA Finals

The Lakers were dominant at the turn of the millennium. They won the NBA title in 2000, 2001, and 2002 before San Antonio stopped them in 2003. In the 2003/04 season, they added Karl Malone and Gary Payton to a team with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, becoming overwhelming favorites to win the title.

However, the Detroit Pistons had other plans. They won the championship in five games, per Bleacher Report.

2. Golden State Warriors over Dallas Mavericks - 2007

The Mavericks were Eastern Conference champions the season before and went 67-15 in the 2006/07 season. The Warriors finished the season 8th and produced one of the greatest upsets in NBA history, per Sporting News.

Led by Dirk Nowitzki, the first two games went 1-1, but the “We Believe” Warriors took a 2-1 lead and never looked back, overcoming the odds and winning the series in six games. The Baron Davis led team was beaten in the second round by Utah, but their legacy as the greatest underdog story of all time lives on.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers over Golden State Warriors - 2016 NBA Finals

The Warriors went to the finals on the back of a historic 73-9 regular season. In the 2016 NBA Finals, they went 3-1 up, and many felt they were on the brink of completing the greatest season in NBA history.

Nevertheless, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers had other ideas. Led by LeBron James, they produced an improbable comeback to win their first-ever NBA championship, per Bleacher Report.

Top moments 2022/23 season

Sports Brief earlier reported on the top moments from the 2022/23 NBA season

LeBron James breaking NBA’s all-time scoring record was definitely the highlight of the season.

Dillon Brooks and Shannon Sharpe's shouting match was also a moment that went viral on social media. Ja Morant's Instagram live video was also a major talking point in the season.

Incredible performances by Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, and Donovan Mitchell were also memorable.

Edwin Kiplagat photo
Edwin Kiplagat
Edwin Kiplagat has five years of experience in journalism working as a Sports Editor at Africa Insight Communications and ESPN. Edwin Kiplagat is a Bachelor's Degree holder in journalism from the Multimedia University of Kenya.