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9 Unlikeliest Playoff Runs in NBA History

9 Unlikeliest Playoff Runs in NBA History

Rockets 1995

Source- NBA
At sixth, the lowest-seeded team to have won the NBA Championship. Although they were the defending champions, they limped to a 47-35 record, much worse than their previous season. They beat formidable opponents throughout their run like the Karl Malone and John Stockton-led Utah Jazz in the first round, the Charles Barkley-led Phoenix Suns in the second, where they also became one of the first teams to overcome a 3-1 series deficit, followed by the MVP David Robinson-led San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals. They then concluded the run by sweeping a young Orlando Magic and Shaquille O’Neal. Throughout the run, their talisman Hakeem Olajuwon supported ably by Clyde Drexler, was unplayable for their opponents.

Warriors 2007

Source: NBA 
This one wasn’t much of a run, but the 2007 Golden State Warriors played their part in probably the greatest playoff upset in NBA history. The Dallas Mavericks, led by the league MVP Dirk Nowitzki, were fresh off a finals run in 2006, and to say that they were heavy favourites for this one would be an understatement. The Number 1 seed Mavs lost their first game at home, which set the tone for the 4-2 series win for Golden State, earning them the title of the ‘We Believe’ Warriors. This was, however, their last miracle victory as the Utah Jazz comfortably beat them 4-1 in the second round.

Heat 2020

Source: NBA
The Miami Heat in the NBA Bubble was a true Dark Horse story. As the fifth seed in the East, they swept the Pacers in the first round, but it was followed by the biggest challenge of their run, The Milwaukee Bucks, led by the two-time reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. But it was through their stellar defensive schemes they stifled the Bucks and advanced to the Conference Finals in 5 games, where they beat the Boston Celtics 4-2, another impressive victory. But the NBA championship was just a step too far for the team as an inspired Los Angeles Lakers team outclassed them.

Cavaliers 2018 

Source: NBA
No LeBron James team is ever an underdog, but this 2018 Kyrie-less Cavaliers team was an exception. They were the worst team to make the NBA Finals by point differential in the modern era. It took them seven games to beat the Pacers in the first round, and when their second-round opponents were the league-leading Toronto Raptors, the writing seemed to be on the wall. But LeBron James was in inspired form as they ended up sweeping the Canadian franchise 4-0, the third straight season that they eliminated the Raptors. They beat the Celtics in a hard-fought seven-game series in the Conference Finals, but their flaws were exposed in the Finals, where the Golden State superteam swept them.

Knicks 1999

Source: Sporting News
In the 50-game lockdown affected 1999 NBA season, the New York Knicks became the only eighth seed in history to have reached the NBA finals. The 1999 run saw the last chapter in the Heat-Knicks rivalry of the 90s in the first round, where Allan Houston scored the game-winner in the decider. They followed the dramatic win with a sweep over the Atlanta Hawks and a 4-2 win over the Pacers in the Conference Finals. However, they were brushed aside by the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals, but they did get close to achieving the unthinkable.

Celtics 1969

Source: NBA 
By the 1969 season, the Celtics juggernaut of the 60s were all past their prime, which was reflected in their fourth-place finish in the East, the final playoff spot at the time. The veteran team led by player-coach Bill Russell secured one upset after another as they beat the 76ers in the conference semifinals, followed by the Knicks to secure a spot in the Final against a stacked Lakers team which consisted of the big three of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. The Cs roared back from a 2-0 series deficit to secure their astonishing eleventh title in thirteen years.

Rockets 1981

Source: Bleacher Report 
One of the lesser-known overachieving teams, the Houston Rockets, led by Moses Malone, had a losing record of 40-42, which was barely enough for the last playoff berth in the West. But they secured a massive upset in the first round against the defending champions Lakers. They beat the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series in the conference semis. After that, the Kansas City Kings were brushed aside to secure a meeting with Larry Bird’s Celtics, which proved to be a step too far. The run also had one of the most inspired individual performances as Malone averaged 26.8 points and 14.5 rebounds.

Pistons 2004

Source: NBA 
The only modern-era NBA champions to not have a Top 75 player on the roster. The 2004 Pistons were the epitome of high-effort team basketball. They won the NBA but never swept any opponent. All their wins came through an unselfish brand of offensive basketball complemented by the willingness to defend with all their heart on every possession. After beating the Bucks and the Nets in the first two rounds, they played a hard-fought conference finals where no team crossed 85 points in the entire series. The star-studded Lakers awaited them in the Finals with four future Hall of Famers in their ranks, but this team never knew how to back down, and although they weren’t nearly as talented, they fought twice as hard, which is why they went on to become one of the unlikeliest teams to win the chip.

Bulls 1989

Source: NBA
The Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan combination spelt doom for many aspiring teams throughout the 90s, but this was about two seasons before this young core would win their first championship. This sixth-seeded Bulls roster was a far cry from the three-peating teams, and their most significant conquest came in the first round, where they beat the Cavaliers, a team that had beaten the Bulls in all the six games they played against each other in the regular season. But in the playoffs, Jordan came into his own and averaged a massive 39.8 points in the first round to advance to the second round, where they beat the Knicks in six games. The young  Bulls went against the dominant Bad Boy Pistons in the conference finals, who implemented the infamous ‘Jordan Rules’ to thwart the young great and win the series.



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