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The Biggest Playoff Upsets in Recent NBA History

Where does the Bucks’ second-round loss to the Heat rank among bracket-busting defeats? Here are the most unlikely series victories since the field expanded to 16 teams.

AP Images/Ringer illustration

This story, which was originally published on August 19, has been updated to account for the Bucks’ second-round loss.

The 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks were one of the greatest regular-season teams in NBA history. Only a dozen teams, these Bucks included, have had a point differential of plus-10 per game or better. They have the Defensive Player of the Year and (presumptive) back-to-back MVP. And yet they lost to the Miami Heat in the playoffs anyway.

The 2020 postseason’s unprecedented structure hurt the Bucks, who didn’t have home-court advantage, and never looked quite like themselves inside the Orlando bubble. But how does this stunner compare to others throughout NBA history? To answer this historical question, let’s take some time to remember the largest upsets that have already happened. Applying our Restart Odds prediction model to past postseasons, we can calculate the odds for every favorite and underdog to advance using several factors:

  • Team quality, as measured by regular-season Pythagorean record, which estimates a team’s “expected” record using point differential
  • Performance in earlier playoff rounds, for series after the first round
  • Home-court advantage
  • Series length—a best-of-five format increases the possibility of an upset versus best-of-seven, because it means the underdog doesn’t need to overachieve for as long

The strongest series favorite in postseason history, per this model, was the 2016 Spurs, who had a 99.4 percent chance to advance in their first-round matchup against the Grizzlies. San Antonio did just that, sweeping Memphis by an average of 22 points per game. But the second-strongest favorite was the 66-win Celtics in 2008 against the 37-win Hawks (99.3 percent). Boston needed all seven games to dispatch Atlanta in that first-round series.

Even if the 2007-08 Hawks couldn’t finish off their upset, plenty of other underdogs with relatively better odds have. In addition to Heat over Bucks, here are the 25 other most unlikely upsets since the NBA playoff bracket expanded to 16 teams in 1983-84. (Sorry to teams like the 1975-76 Suns and 1980-81 Kansas City Kings.) Presented in reverse order:

26. (8) Grizzlies upset (1) Spurs, 2011

Round: First
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 23.9 percent

Five no. 8 seeds in league history have won a playoff round, and naturally all five appear on this list of top upsets. The 2010-11 Grizzlies just barely sneak on, though, because their victim was a relatively weak no. 1 seed: The Spurs won 61 games that season but registered the point differential of a 56-win team thanks to the West’s best record in clutch situations. That luck ran out in the playoffs, as the Grizzlies took games 1 and 3 by three points apiece. A late-season arm injury for Manu Ginóbili didn’t help—though he did play well in the series, averaging a team-high 21 points per game—but the Spurs were just no match for the Grizzlies’ Grit and Grind frontcourt. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for 36 points and 22 rebounds per game, and Memphis even had a chance to close out the Spurs in five. Spurs backup Gary Neal sank a season-saving buzzer-beater—but only succeeded in delaying the upset by another game.

25. (5) Trail Blazers upset (4) Clippers, 2016

Round: First
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 23.3 percent

This list uses a simplified version of the Restart Odds model that does not account for player absences, so some favorites that lost can blame their flip in fortunes on ill-timed injuries. Although they were only the West’s no. 4 seed, these Clippers had the underlying numbers of one of the best teams in the league, including the fifth-best net rating across both conferences. They had high hopes for another playoff run after their 2015 collapse against the Rockets and started out strong, winning Game 1 by 20 points and Game 2 by 21. But Chris Paul broke his hand in the third quarter of Game 4, and Blake Griffin aggravated a previous quad injury; with the Clippers’ two biggest stars missing the rest of the series, the Blazers pounced.

24. (6) Rockets upset (1) Magic, 1995

Round: Finals
Series result: 4-0
Chance for underdog: 21.7 percent

The 1994-95 Rockets are the worst regular-season team to win a championship under modern bracket rules—the worst by record, by point differential, by seed. They’re also the only team on this list for a Finals upset, for a couple reasons. First, there is only one championship round every year, so there are simply fewer opportunities for upsets. And second, the teams that reach the Finals are inherently better, so there is less of a possibility of the kind of wide gap in team quality that would produce a notable odds disparity.

If anything, this unique item makes Houston’s 1995 championship—the franchise’s second in a row—all the more impressive. And they didn’t just win, but swept the young Magic, with Hakeem Olajuwon (32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.0 blocks per game) outplaying Shaquille O’Neal and leading all scorers in every game. Nick Anderson missed a quartet of key free throws in Game 1, and the Rockets took off from there.

23. (3) Thunder upset (2) Spurs, 2016

Round: Second
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 20.2 percent

Pop quiz: Which 2015-16 team had the best point differential in the regular season? If you answered the 73-win Warriors, you were wrong! The Spurs were dominant that season, too, and bested Golden State with the fourth-best Pythagorean record in league history. (The Warriors were ninth at the time.) The other teams in the top five had all won titles. The Spurs … lost to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the second round. None of their Thunder teammates averaged more than 11 points per game, but the MVP duo poured in 54 per night at the peak of their combined powers. The Spurs, meanwhile, couldn’t break through against the Thunder’s swarming, rangy defenders; after winning Game 1 in a 124-92 blowout, San Antonio didn’t exceed 100 points again in the series. Tim Duncan’s career ended with a whimper, while the Thunder advanced to the conference finals and almost pulled off another monumental upset.

22. (5) Grizzlies upset (1) Thunder, 2013

Round: Second
Series result: 4-1
Chance for underdog: 20.1 percent

Three years before the Thunder pulled a second-round upset, they were the victims of the same. The 2012-13 Thunder were just a year removed from a Finals trip and held the no. 1 seed in the West, with the franchise’s best team since its move from Seattle. But Russell Westbrook didn’t play after suffering a knee injury in a collision with Patrick Beverley in the first round. The Thunder took Game 1 without Westbrook but couldn’t keep pace from there; Memphis advanced to its only conference finals to date.

21. (8) Knicks upset (1) Heat, 1999

Round: First
Series result: 3-2
Chance for underdog: 20.0 percent

The 1998-99 season ranks among the strangest in league history, with a 50-game schedule after a lockout, abysmal offensive play leaguewide, and an unsettled landscape after the breakup of the Bulls. So it isn’t all that surprising that this first-round upset, yet another chapter in the intense Heat-Knicks rivalry of the 1990s, had all sorts of strangeness as well.

How strange was this upset? Let us count the ways. The Heat were led by former Knicks coach Pat Riley, who’d left New York for Miami via fax in 1995. The two teams had met in both the 1997 and 1998 playoffs, both series going the distance, both involving memorable brawls. The Knicks completed the second-ever 8-over-1 upset. Their leading scorer in the series was Latrell Sprewell, who came off the bench every game, and was playing in his first season after a 68-game suspension accrued for choking coach P.J. Carlesimo with his previous team, the Warriors. And the upset ended with an Allan Houston game-winner in Game 5 in Miami—a leaner in a one-point game that bounced off the rim, kissed off the glass, then dropped through the net.

The Knicks would keep winning all the way until the Finals, becoming the only no. 8 seed to reach the championship round. Their first win en route was the greatest upset of the bunch.

20. (6) Warriors upset (3) Nuggets, 2013

Round: First
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 19.8 percent

The 2012-13 Nuggets seem lost to history, even though they’re the franchise’s best team since the ABA days. Absent any true stars but populated by a collection of fun role players—Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Andre Miller, and more—the up-tempo Nuggets led the league in points and notched 57 wins. Unfortunately, they met an even more fun and high-octane team in the first round, as a young Steph Curry took to his first postseason series with gusto: 24.3 points, 9.3 assists, and 2.2 steals per game, plus 44 percent 3-point shooting. Denver couldn’t match the Warriors’ backcourt trio of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jarrett Jack, and the once-promising Nuggets turned into a mere footnote in the Warriors’ dynastic tale—not least because Iguodala joined the victors that offseason, eventually helping to unlock the Lineup of Death.

19. (6) Celtics upset (3) Pacers, 2003

Round: First
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 19.5 percent

The 2002-03 Celtics were ahead of their time, taking 26 3-pointers per game in the regular season, while no other team went above 20. That long-distance enthusiasm was also the difference for Boston against the favored Pacers in Round 1: Walter McCarty, Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, and Paul Pierce all shot better than 40 percent on at least 4.5 attempts per game, and over the course of the series, Boston made 57 3-pointers to Indiana’s 31. Walker even completed the rare feat of shooting better from 3-point range (43 percent) than the free throw line (33 percent).

18. (3) Magic upset (1) Cavaliers, 2009

Round: Conference finals
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 19.4 percent

Also known as the upset that prevented a LeBron vs. Kobe Finals, Orlando’s win against the best regular-season team in Cavaliers history still looks surprising on paper. Cleveland won 66 games, with the point differential of a 65-win team, and LeBron James won his first MVP award; the Cavs then swept their first two playoff opponents en route to the conference finals. Orlando, meanwhile, was an accomplished team in its own right (59 wins by both record and point differential), but needed six and seven games to win their first two rounds, respectively.

Yet despite that résumé, and despite LeBron’s outrageous performance that whole series—38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8.0 assists per game, along with a miracle 3 at the buzzer to win Game 2—the Magic beat the Cavaliers fair and square. Stan Van Gundy’s one-in, four-out offense hummed; Dwight Howard averaged a 26-13 double-double, while the team shot 41 percent from 3, with Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Mickael Pietrus, and Rafer Alston all catching fire. The Magic clinched the series at home in Game 6, thanks to a 40-14 tour de force from Howard. It was the only game all series in which LeBron didn’t lead all players in points.

17. (2) Lakers upset (1) Spurs, 2001

Round: Conference finals
Series result: 4-0
Chance for underdog: 19.3 percent

The Spurs were easily the league’s best regular-season team in 2001, with a Pythagorean record six wins clear of anyone else. The Lakers didn’t care. After sweeping the Trail Blazers and the Kings in the first two rounds, they did the same to the Spurs, with O’Neal and Kobe Bryant combining for 60 points per game. Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles were particularly humiliating, with the Lakers winning by 39 and 29 points, respectively. “Custer has no idea,” Gregg Popovich said after the series, evidently inviting reporters to compare the Spurs’ loss to another resounding defeat.

16. (2) Rockets upset (1) Lakers, 1986

Round: Conference finals
Series result: 4-1
Chance for underdog: 18.8 percent

The Lakers reached the Finals in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989. What happened in 1986? Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson happened. Despite 20-plus points per game from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and James Worthy, the Rockets rebounded from a Game 1 loss to win the next four, as the 23-year-old Olajuwon proved too quick for the 39-year-old Abdul-Jabbar. The Rockets center scored 40 points in Game 3, 35 in Game 4, and 30 in Game 5 before he was ejected for brawling with Lakers reserve Mitch Kupchak. “We tried everything,” Lakers coach Pat Riley said. “We put four bodies on him. We helped from different angles. He’s just a great player.”

So was Sampson, before injuries struck. With Olajuwon out for the closing stretch of Game 5, the Rockets drew up their final play for their other super-talented 7-footer. Sampson complied and drained a twisting buzzer-beater to end the Lakers’ Finals streak.

15. (8) 76ers upset (1) Bulls, 2012

Round: First
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 18.7 percent

The third 8-over-1 upset on the list comes with a glaring caveat: Reigning league MVP Derrick Rose tore his ACL with a minute left in the Bulls’ Game 1 win, and Chicago could scarcely score without him. There were some ugly scores in this series: 79-74 in Game 3, 77-69 in Game 5, 79-78 in Game 6. And while the 76ers deserve some credit, as they were a much better team than their 8-seed status suggests—they ranked fifth in the league in net rating that regular season—it’s better not to pay too close attention to any other aspect of this series. The only positive is that it paved the way for Uncut Gems, via the 76ers vs. Celtics second-round clash that followed.

14. (6) Nets upset (3) Raptors, 2014

Round: First
Series result: 4-3
Chance for underdog: 18.6 percent

At least the Nets won one playoff series after essentially trading three future top-10 picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Despite the Nets’ star power—those two former Celtics plus Joe Johnson and Deron Williams—they underachieved mightily in 2013-14, winning 44 games but with the point differential of a 38-win club. The Raptors, on the other hand, had 50 Pythagorean wins, plus Masai Ujiri’s “Fuck Brooklyn!” exhortation for motivation. Alas, neither team shot well in the series, and a back-and-forth affair came down to the final seconds of Game 7; with the Nets clinging to a one-point lead, Pierce blocked a Kyle Lowry floater and completed the upset.

13. (6) Rockets upset (1) Spurs, 1995

Round: Conference finals
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 18.0 percent

Look, it’s the 1994-95 Rockets again. (Spoiler alert: They’re not even done yet!) This series is likely best remembered for Olajuwon’s dismantling of David Robinson, who was presented with the MVP trophy before Game 2. Olajuwon responded with the following stat lines:

Game 2: 41 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks
Game 3: 43 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 0 steals, 5 blocks
Game 4: An off game that the Rockets lost by 22 points
Game 5: 42 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, 5 blocks
Game 6: 39 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 5 blocks

The Spurs were the top seed in the West, with five wins in six tries against Houston in the regular season. But as this list demonstrates, Olajuwon enjoyed quite a career of beating Hall of Fame centers in the playoffs. Robinson was the unwitting victim this time.

12. (7) SuperSonics upset (2) Mavericks, 1987

Round: First
Series result: 3-1
Chance for underdog: 17.3 percent

Future iterations of the Sonics would gain plenty of experience losing to an inferior opponent, but the 1986-87 version played the opposite role, becoming the first no. 7 seed to beat a no. 2. Dallas had won all five meetings between the teams in the regular season and started off in the same fashion, winning Game 1 with a whopping 151 points. But the Sonics, who’d won just 39 games with a near-even point differential in the regular season (42-40 Pythagorean record), stole a two-point victory in Dallas in Game 2 before winning the next two games at home. Dale Ellis, Tom Chambers, and Xavier McDaniel combined for 77 points per game for Seattle.

11. (7) Warriors upset (2) Jazz, 1989

Round: First
Series result: 3-0
Chance for underdog: 17.2 percent

Two years after the Sonics upset the Mavericks, the Warriors beat the Jazz for the second 7-over-2 upset in playoff history. This series matched two teams with new coaches: Jerry Sloan for Utah, Don Nelson for Golden State. And while Karl Malone and John Stockton excelled for Sloan in the series—30.7 points and 16.3 rebounds per game for Malone; 27.3 points, 13.7 assists, and 3.7 steals for Stockton—Nelson’s up-tempo Warriors were even more dynamic. Two months before Tim Hardaway would join the team in the draft to complete the “Run TMC” trio, the M and C did plenty as a duo: Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond kept pace with Malone and Stockton with 58 points per game, and Golden State’s role players outshot Utah’s. The Warriors would record another 7-over-2 upset two years later, knocking off the Spurs in a series that just missed this list.

10. (2) Lakers upset (3) Spurs, 2004

Round: Second
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 16.8 percent (The Lakers were the higher seed because L.A. had won its division while San Antonio didn’t, but the Spurs had a better record and received home-court advantage in the series.)

The Lakers and Spurs met in every postseason from 2001 through 2004, with the winner eventually making the Finals. The Lakers won in 2001 and 2002, the Spurs in 2003, and the 2004 series was the closest of them all. Once again, the Spurs were a much better regular-season team (62 Pythagorean wins, versus 52 for the Lakers), but once again, the Lakers completed the upset. The teams split the first four games, each winning two at home, and the turning point came in an ugly Game 5. With the Spurs leading 71-70, Bryant made a jumper with 12 ticks remaining, only for Tim Duncan to respond by hitting an 18-foot fadeaway with O’Neal draped all over him, with just four-tenths of a second left. Cue Derek Fisher.

9. (4) Celtics upset (2) Magic, 2010

Round: Conference finals
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 15.7 percent

Like the Cleveland team they had defeated the previous postseason, the Magic had swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs; like that Cleveland team, however, the Magic ran into a roadblock in the conference finals. The Celtics had done the hard work of defeating LeBron’s top-seeded Cavs in 2010, and they rolled over the Magic, too, winning the first three games of the series before finishing them off in six. Pierce (45 percent), Rasheed Wallace (43), and Ray Allen (42) all tormented the Magic’s Howard-centric defense from 3-point range.

8. (5) Heat upset (1) Bucks, 2020

Round: Second
Series result: 4-1
Chance for underdog: 15.2 percent

Forget just winning the series; the Heat dominated from opening tip to final buzzer, exploiting all of Milwaukee’s weaknesses on both ends with shrewd game-planning and impeccable execution. And when the possessions mattered most, Miami’s advantage widened: The most decisive win came in Game 3, when they shut down the Bucks’ chance to make the series competitive with a 40-13 fourth-quarter—the largest such margin in playoff history.

7. (6) Rockets upset (3) Jazz, 1995

Round: First
Series result: 3-2
Chance for underdog: 15.0 percent

Finally we arrive at the third upset from the 1994-95 Rockets on this list. (Their fourth upset, over the Suns in the second round, came with a 32.3 percent chance.) The Jazz tied with the SuperSonics for the best Pythagorean record in the league—more on those Sonics soon—but like every other team that faced the Rockets that postseason, they never figured out how to slow Olajuwon. The Rockets center scored 35 points per game in the series, including 33 in Game 5, and teamed with Clyde Drexler (25 per game, 31 in Game 5) to propel the defending champs to the next round. Malone (30 points per game in the series) and Stockton (a game-winning layup with 2.4 seconds left in Game 1) tried their best, but as always fell just short in the playoffs.

6. (6) Bulls upset (3) Cavaliers, 1989

Round: First
Series result: 3-2
Chance for underdog: 14.4 percent

Everyone knows how this series ended, but the context isn’t discussed nearly as much. The Cavaliers had the best Pythagorean record in the NBA in 1988-89 (60 wins) and had won all six regular-season games against the Bulls. They should have cruised to a win in this first-round series.

Michael Jordan had other ideas. He had already eliminated the Cavs in five games in the 1988 postseason, scoring 50 and 55 points in the first two wins, and his game-by-game scoring log in the 1989 series shows the blend of volume and efficiency that characterized his whole career:

Game 1: 31 points on 21 shots
Game 2: 30 points on 22 shots
Game 3: 44 points on 34 shots
Game 4: 50 points on 28 shots
Game 5: 44 points on 32 shots

The Bulls took games 1 and 3; the Cavs took games 2 and 4. And in the decisive contest in Cleveland, with the home team up by one point after a Craig Ehlo layup with three seconds left, Jordan took an inbounds pass, dribbled past Ehlo, and rose for one of the most iconic shots in league history.

5. (8) Nuggets upset (1) SuperSonics, 1994

Round: First
Series result: 3-2
Chance for underdog: 9.3 percent

There was no reason at all to expect Denver to beat Seattle in the 1994 playoffs. Not at any point in the regular season, when Seattle was the best team in the NBA—63 actual wins and 64 Pythagorean wins—with Jordan retired. Not when their 1-versus-8 series began, given that no no. 8 seed had ever upset a no. 1 before. And certainly not when the series shifted to Denver after two games, both Seattle victories by double-digit margins.

But the Nuggets came back in a true team effort. In Game 3, Reggie Williams scored 31 points; in Game 4, which went to overtime, LaPhonso Ellis posted a 27-point, 17-rebound double-double; in Game 5, also an overtime thriller, Bison Dele contributed 17 points and 19 rebounds, while Dikembe Mutombo added eight points, 15 rebounds, and eight blocks. Most importantly, the Nuggets defense clamped down on the Sonics’ stars, holding one of the league’s top offenses to under 100 points in every contest after Game 1. In the two overtime periods in the series, the Sonics scored a combined nine points. Fittingly, their last shot of Game 5 missed, allowing Mutombo to secure the rebound and roll on the floor, sobbing, with great tears of joy.

4. (5) Hawks upset (4) Magic, 2011

Round: First
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 9.3 percent

The Magic were the East’s no. 4 seed in 2011, the Hawks no. 5, but the two teams looked much further apart under the surface. Orlando’s Pythagorean record was 56-26; Atlanta’s was 39-43. Yet in Game 1, despite 46 points and 19 rebounds from Howard, the Hawks eked out a win—and set the tone for the rest of the series. Despite Howard’s singular dominance, the Hawks’ depth proved crucial. Orlando’s role players couldn’t buy a bucket, as the team shot 26 percent on 3-pointers for the series, and Atlanta won all three home games by narrow margins: Game 3 by four points, Game 4 by three points, and Game 6 by three points. One year after losing in a notable upset to the Celtics, the Magic lost another—and haven’t won a single playoff series since.

3. (4) Cavaliers upset (1) Raptors, 2018

Round: Second
Series result: 4-0
Chance for underdog: 9.2 percent

The 2017-18 Cavaliers were not a good team. By point differential, they’re the worst Finals team since the playoff field expanded to 16 teams. They weren’t much better in three out of four playoff rounds: They needed seven games to beat both the Pacers (in Round 1) and Celtics (in Round 3), and were outscored against Indiana; in the Finals, they lost in a sweep. But for one round, they turned the Raptors into roadkill—the third straight season they eliminated Toronto.

The Raptors were easily the best regular-season team in the East that season, with 59 actual wins and 60 Pythagorean wins. But they just couldn’t stop LeBron or the shooters surrounding him. In Game 1, they squandered a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter before losing by one in overtime; in Game 3, they lost on a James buzzer-beater off glass. They didn’t just lose a series they had a 90 percent chance to win—they were swept, including a 35-point laugher in the finale. At least the postscript worked out better for Toronto: James left for the Western Conference after the season, and the Raptors’ continued playoff failures led Ujiri to break up his core, trading DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard that summer. That exchange worked out fairly well.

2. (5) Lakers upset (4) SuperSonics, 1995

Round: First
Series result: 3-1
Chance for underdog: 8.2 percent

The Sonics’ first-round loss the previous season was more memorable, but their 1995 defeat in the 4 vs. 5 matchup was just as improbable. Seattle tied for the league’s best Pythagorean record that season, at 61-21, while the Lakers checked in at 40-42. But after Seattle won Game 1 in a 25-point blowout, the Lakers stole three consecutive contests by a combined 10 points. Nick Van Exel led the way with 25 points in 46 (!) minutes per game, and Vlade Divac, Cedric Ceballos, Anthony Peeler, and Elden Campbell chipped in double digits as well.

The biggest punch for Seattle came in Game 2, when a 110-points-per-game offense ground to a halt and scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter; Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, and Detlef Schrempf—all All-Stars that season—combined to shoot 0-for-7 in the quarter. “Home-court advantage isn’t that important,” coach George Karl said after the loss. “It’s nice to have in your back pocket, but playoffs generally are won by winning on the road. Now, we have to do that.” Except they didn’t do that, just as they hadn’t done that against Denver the previous postseason.

1. (8) Warriors upset (1) Mavericks, 2007

Round: First
Series result: 4-2
Chance for underdog: 5.9 percent

Led by MVP Dirk Nowitzki and coming off a Finals trip in 2006, the Mavericks won 67 games in 2006-07, and though they outperformed their peripherals by a bit, they were still 61-21 by point differential, the second-best mark in the league. The “We Believe” Warriors, meanwhile, were outscored in the regular season, and unlike with the SuperSonics’ losses in the mid-’90s, Dallas had seven games to exert its theoretical advantage.

Except the Mavericks didn’t have an advantage over those particular Warriors. Golden State won all three regular-season matchups and used an unorthodox lineup that troubled Dallas in every meeting; it relied on a big, physical point guard in Baron Davis to frustrate the Mavs’ defensive scheme, and used wings like Stephen Jackson, not traditional bigs, to guard Nowitzki. In the playoffs, the Warriors took Game 1 by 12 points, then lost Game 2 after Davis and Jackson were ejected for two technical fouls apiece. Back at home, a raucous crowd helped the Warriors win two more games, and after Dallas stayed alive with a Game 5 victory—in which Jackson was ejected again—the home environment did the job again in a Game 6 blowout. In the final contest, Jackson scored 33 points on seven made 3s, while Nowitzki scored eight points on 2-for-13 shooting, fueling the “choker” label that would last until the 2011 title run.

Dallas became the first team since the 1972-73 Celtics to win at least 65 regular-season games and not win the title; Golden State spawned a slogan, and an eminently memorable upset. Given all the surrounding context, it might have the no. 1 upset in modern playoff history by pure emotion and feel; it fits that the numbers agree and give the 2006-07 Warriors their rightful upset crown.


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