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5 Biggest NBA playoff upsets of the 21st century

The Dallas Mavericks celebrate after winning the 2011 NBA title.
The Dallas Mavericks celebrate after winning the 2011 NBA title.
ANALYST
Modified 20 Apr 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

Sometimes the NBA Playoffs have predictable results because the better teams usually have the upper hand over a seven-game series. However, the league always throws some curveballs that fans love. These upsets are fondly remembered unless you support the losing side. This piece will dive into the biggest upsets of the 21st century in the NBA playoffs.

Biggest NBA playoff upsets of the 21st century

Last year we saw the Denver Nuggets take a surprise series win over the stacked LA Clippers. They came back from a 3-1 hole against a team that was built to compete for the NBA championship.

Like Denver's run during the playoffs last year, we have seen other impressive results from sides that were not favorites.

In this article, we give you the five biggest upsets in the NBA postseason in the 21st century.


#5 Dallas Maverics vs Miami Heat - 2011 NBA Finals

LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts as he runs by Shawn Marion #0 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first half of Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals.
LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts as he runs by Shawn Marion #0 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first half of Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals.

The 2010-11 NBA season was LeBron James' first year with the 'Big Three' Miami Heat. The season looked destined to end with the King's first NBA title of his career, but Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks had other plans.

Miami's trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were expected to dominate the NBA. The second-seeded Heat (58-24) reached the NBA Finals after defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and the Chicago Bulls who were the first seed in the East. However, the West's third seed, the Dallas Mavericks (57-25), stopped the Heat in the six-game 2011 NBA Finals.

The Miami Heat controlled Game 1 with a 92-84 win and were up by 15 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2. However, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry brought the Mavs back and eventually won the game.

Miami took the third game at Dallas, but LeBron James' meltdown in the fourth and fifth games was too much for the Heat to overcome. In the sixth game, Nowitzki's double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds guided Dallas to a 105-95 win and the franchise's first championship.

Also read: Who is LeBron James' wife, Savannah James?


#4 Memphis Grizzlies vs San Antonio Spurs - 2011 NBA Playoffs - First Round

Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2011 NBA Playoffs.

The 2010-11 San Antonio Spurs had a younger version of the 'Big Three' with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili. The team took an impressive title win in 2014. However, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen took a big win in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs over the legendary team from San Antonio.

The Spurs were the top seed in the Western Conference, finishing the regular season with a solid 61-21 record. The Grizzlies, coached by Lionel Hollins, finished 46-36 in the regular season and were the eighth seed in the West.

Memphis won the series against San Antonio in six games, with Zach Randolph leading the team offensively and Tony Allen being a defensive juggernaut on the perimeter.

Randolph averaged 21.5 points and 9.2 rebounds in the series. Gasol and Conley followed him as the next best scorers with 14.2 and 14.3 points per game, respectively.

Memphis eventually fell in the second round against the OKC Thunder's young trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

The Spurs, on the other hand, went on to play in the 2012 Western Finals, the 2013 NBA Finals, and eventually won the NBA championship in 2014.


#3 Denver Nuggets vs LA Clippers - 2020 NBA Playoffs - Second Round

Los Angeles Clippers v Denver Nuggets - Game Six of the 2020 NBA Western Conference Semifinals.
Los Angeles Clippers v Denver Nuggets - Game Six of the 2020 NBA Western Conference Semifinals.

The narrative throughout the 2019-20 NBA season promoted a Western Conference finals matchup between Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the LA Clippers against LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the LA Lakers.

Even though the LA teams dominated the regular season, taking the top two seeds in the West, they did not face each other in the Western Conference Finals. Of course, the 2019-20 postseason was not normal, given the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA suspended the season in March and resumed in July.

In the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the Denver Nuggets played against the LA Clippers in the second round. Doc Rivers' Clippers seemed to be headed towards their finals meeting against the LA Lakers.

Kawhi Leonard led the LA Clippers to a 3-1 lead in the series, before Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray staged a historic comeback. The series was capped off with a 104-89 victory in the seventh game, behind Murray's 40 points and Jokic's triple-double (16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists).


#2 Golden State Warriors vs Dallas Mavericks - 2007 NBA Playoffs - First Round

Stephen Jackson #3 of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket against Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks.
Stephen Jackson #3 of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket against Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki won his only NBA MVP award in the 2006-07 season after he led the Avery Johnson-coached Dallas Mavericks to a 67-15 regular-season record. This was the best in the entire NBA and franchise history.

Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors took the eighth spot in the West and entered the NBA Playoffs with a 42-40 record. Heading into the first round of the postseason, the Mavs were heavy favorites not only to beat the Warriors but also to win the NBA title.

However, the Golden State Warriors with Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson, Matt Barnes, Monta Ellis and Al Harrington, had different ideas. The team had swept Dallas in their three games of the regular season and surely came into the series with a mental edge.

Golden State showed its intentions with a 97-85 win in Game 1. Dallas tied the series with a 13-point win in the second game. However, the Mavs gave the series lead to Don Nelson's 'We Believe' Warriors, as Richardson put up 30 points in Game 3, and Davis scored 33 in the fourth match.

Nowitzki kept Dallas alive with a 30-point effort in the fifth game, but Golden State sealed the series with 33 points from Stephen Jackson and a 20-point, 10-rebound night for Baron Davis in Game 6.


#1 Detroit Pistons vs LA Lakers - 2004 NBA Finals

2004 NBA champions.
2004 NBA champions.

After the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant LA Lakers dominated the NBA from 2000 to 2002, they fell to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2003 NBA Playoffs. In an attempt to reboot the dynasty, the Lakers added veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton to their roster and made a push for the 2004 NBA Finals, after getting past Kevin Garnett's Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals.

From the East, Larry Brown's Detroit Pistons made the finals after a 54-win regular season. The team had a solid postseason run, beating the Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers.

The LA Lakers were heavy favorites to win the championship, but Detroit's defense with Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace was historically good. Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince were also tremendous performers for the team.

Detroit handled the Lakers in the first game with a solid 87-75 victory. Kobe Bryant's 33 points and a clutch basket in Game 2 helped the Lakers tie the series. However, the Pistons dominated LA at The Palace of Auburn Hills and won the three games in Detroit to take the championship.

In Game 3, Detroit held the Lakers to only 68 points, which set the tone for the rest of the series.

Chauncey Billups won the Finals MVP award after averaging 21 points and five assists per game in the series.


Also read: Stephen Curry breaks multiple records with 49-point performance against Philadelphia 76ers

Published 20 Apr 2021
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