Two days into the playoffs, and we’ve already witnessed two massive Game 1 upsets. The Trail Blazers beat the Lakers 100-93, with the Magic taking home a 12 point victory over the 56-win Milwaukee Bucks. It hasn’t been your typical opening to 1-8 matchups in the postseason. But it’s enough for people to hop on a potential ‘first-round upset’ train.
Well, to some extent: both the Lakers and the Bucks are still favored to win their series, with only slightly worse odds than before Game 1, while strangely the Bucks are now 13-point favorites to win Game 2, up from the 11 points they were supposed to win by in Game 1.
Nevertheless, Precedents for something like that have been set five times in the history of the NBA, so it’s possible – not probable tough.
The first time such upset was pulled off was during the ’94 NBA Playoffs when the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets overcame a series 2-0 deficit to stun the Seattle Supersonics in a best-of-five. After losing the first two games with an average margin of 17 points, Denver went on a three-game winning streak which advanced them to the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs. The Win or Go Home game 5 finished 98-94 in favor of the Nuggets, behind Robert Pack’s 26 points performance off the bench.
In ’99, the New York Knicks became the second eight-seeded team to advance to the second round, after they knocked off the Miami Heat in another best-of-five thriller. Up until Game 5, it was a series of blowouts, with no game being within 10 points margin. But the decisive game went down to the wire, with Allan Houston hitting a series-clinching runner to put the Knicks up 78-77 with 0.8 left on the clock. Terry Porter tried to win it for the Heat, but his 28-foot three-pointer hit the back rim. The Knicks would later become the only No. 8 seed in NBA history to make it into the NBA Finals, with their historic run being stopped by Tim Duncan and the Spurs ‘Gentleman’s sweep’ style.
NY bouncing the Heat was the last time such upset happened in a best-of-five series. In ’03, the NBA decided to extend the first round to a best-of-seven. The first time a No. 8 seed defeated a No. 1 seed in a best-of-seven was in ’07 when the Golden State Warriors bounced the 67-win Dallas Mavericks, which to this day is considered as one of the biggest playoffs collapses in NBA history. The Warriors stomped the Mavs in six games, with an average margin of 10 points, with their standout performance being in Game 6 when Dallas was blown out 111-86. The Warriors rallied behind the “We Believe” slogan, as their first playoff performance in 14 years went down in history books as the first 1-8 upset in a best-of-seven series.
It was in ’11 when the NBA witnessed another such upset, as the Memphis Grizzlies took down the favored San Antonio Spurs in six games. It was the first postseason campaign for Memphis after five years, their matchup against the Spurs was supposed to be as lopsided as it gets. However, after winning Game 1 on the road, the momentum was with the team from Tennessee. They went on to win three out of five games left, ousting the 61-win Spurs. Zach Randolph played a key role for the Grizz, with a standout 31 points outing in a series decisive game 6.
The last time we’ve seen the No. 8 seed advancing to the second round of the Playoffs was in ’12. But the story behind it hasn’t been the Philadelphia 76ers knocking off the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in six games. Instead, it was Derrick Rose going down with an ACL injury, with 1:20 left on the clock in Game 1, while the Bulls were up 12. It was a series-shifting moment that the Sixers ended up capitalizing on, and advancing to the second round. But it went under the radar – it was all about the youngest MVP in NBA history tearing his ACL.
Orlando/Milwaukee – you’re up next. It may be a stretch, but as we’ve seen so far – the bubble is a weird place where nothing is off the table. Not even another 1-8 upset.