After a regular season like no other that featured a four-month shutdown due to COVID-19, the 2020 NBA playoffs are finally underway. As per usual, 16 teams are battling for the NBA championship but most believe that only maybe half of those have a real chance of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in October.
One of those teams is actually the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers, a team that snuck into the postseason following some breathtaking performances from Damian Lillard in the Orlando bubble. These Blazers are looked at as one of the most dangerous No. 8 seeds in NBA history and many are picking them to knock off the top-seeded LA Lakers in the first round.
In related news, nobody was giving the No. 8 Orlando Magic much of a chance against the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks, but the Magic certainly gave Giannis & Co. all they could handle in Game 1 and pulled off a big upset.
So with these No. 8 seeds playing so well, we thought we’d take a look back at just how many No. 8 teams have knocked off a No. 1 since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984.
1994: The No. 8 Denver Nuggets upset the No. 1 Seattle Supersonics after being down 0-2
The No. 8 Denver Nuggets were given zero chance to defeat the No. 1 Seattle Supersonics, who’d won 63 games in the regular season, in the first round of the 1994 NBA playoffs. Things didn’t look any better after Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and the Sonics took Game 1 by 24 points. A 10-point win in Game 2 gave Seattle a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series but Denver refused to give up. Dikembe Mutombo & Co. won Game 3 on their home floor by 17 and then won by nine in Game 4. Back in Seattle for Game 5, Denver pulled off the biggest upset in NBA playoff history with a four-point win, 98-94. The image of Mutombo on the ground holding the basketball in his hands while crying remains an iconic image in Nuggets history.
1999: The New York Knicks took out the top-seeded Miami Heat and went on to the NBA Finals
The 1999 NBA playoffs had an interesting look to them as teams had played just 50 games in the regular season. Only six games separated the No. 1 Miami Heat (33-17) and the No. 8 New York Knicks (27-23) in the Eastern Conference and this best-of-five series also came down to the wire. The crazy thing is that the first four games all had double-digit margins of victory. The Knicks won Game 1 by 20 and Game 3 by 24 while Miami took Game 2 by 10 and Game 4 by 15. But the deciding Game 5 was settled by a single point as the Knicks took a 78-77 victory behind a game-winner from Allan Houston. The No. 8 Knicks then swept the No. 4 Atlanta Hawks and took down the No. 2 Indiana Pacers in six before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. They’re still the only No. 8 seed in NBA history to reach the Finals.
2007: The No. 8 ‘We Believe’ Warriors ousted the No. 1 Mavericks
Before the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant led the Golden State Warriors to multiple NBA titles, there were the “We Believe” Warriors that included players such as Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Al Harrington, and Matt Barnes. This team of interesting characters held the No. 8 seed in the 2007 Western Conference playoffs with a 42-40 record, a full 25 games back of the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who the year before had gone to the NBA Finals. But Golden State took it right to the Mavs. They stole Game 1 in Dallas and won all three games on their home floor to take the series in six. (The first round moved to the best-of-seven format in 2003.)
2011: The Memphis Grizzlies won their first-ever NBA playoff series by eliminating the top-seeded Spurs
Coming into the 2011 NBA playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies had never won a postseason series. In fact, in their three postseason appearances, the Grizzlies hadn’t even won a single game. They were swept by the Spurs in 2004, the Suns in 2005, and the Mavericks in 2006. But 2011 was to be different. The No. 8 Grizzlies took Game 1 against Tim Duncan and the top-seeded Spurs in San Antonio and, like the Warriors had in 2007, won all three games on their home floor to win the series in six games. Zach Randolph scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the deciding game to lead Memphis to the second round, where they nearly pulled off another upset before losing in seven games to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
2012: The No. 8 76ers cruised past the Bulls after Derrick Rose went down with an injury
The 2011-2012 Chicago Bulls came into the NBA playoffs with the top record in the Eastern Conference at 50-16, the result of yet another shortened season due to labor issues. They weren’t expected to get much of a fight from the No. 8 Philadelphia 76ers, who came in at 35-31. Derrick Rose had won NBA MVP the season before and seemed to be in top form heading into the playoffs but things took a horrible turn when Rose went down with what would turn out to be the first of numerous injuries that would hinder his career. In the final minute of Game 1, with Chicago up big, Rose tore his ACL and the series was pretty much over from there. The Sixers won the series in six games.
All stats and scores courtesy of Basketball Reference