The eighth seed has historically been the most overlooked seed, and is the toughest spot that a team can find themselves in. Finishing the regular season as the eighth seed provides you with very little draft mileage and almost always guarantees an early exit from the NBA playoffs.
5 most successful NBA playoff runs by an 8th seed
There have been a few exceptions to this rule, with only a handful of eighth-seeded teams making it past the first round of the playoffs. Among those Cinderella stories, the 1998-99 New York Knicks team stand out as the only eighth-seeded side to have made it to the NBA finals.
Here are their stories…
#1 1993-94: Denver Nuggets stun the Seattle Supersonics
The Denver Nuggets going up against the Seattle Supersonics in the first round of the NBA playoffs was a David and Goliath story. The Seattle Supersonics had bested their previous franchise record by notching 63 wins. The Denver Nuggets had finished as the eighth seed in a weak Western Conference and seemed to have no chance of making it past the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets were led by Hall of Famer ‘Mt. Mutombo’, whose defensive ability was the only shining light for the team. The Seattle Supersonics had jumped out to a two-game lead in the five-game series. The Gary Payton-led Seattle Supersonics were all but guaranteed to dispose of the Denver Nuggets.
Mutombo and co. had other ideas and won two straight games to force a Game 5. The Denver Nuggets utilised a push from their bench, which was led by Robert Pack, and won the last game in overtime. The Utah Jazz, however, cut their Cinderella story short by beating them in seven games in the next round of the NBA playoffs.
#2 1998-99: New York Knicks have a historic run in the NBA playoffs
During the 90’s, the New York Knicks looked like a team that was destined for long-term greatness.
Entering the 1998-99 season, the New York Knicks were dealing with an aging core and stars such as Patrick Ewing didn’t have too many good years left. The front office led by Ernie Grunfled had gone to work during the 1998 off-season and added some younger pieces such as Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell, who would serve as the ideal supporting cast for Ewing.
The New York Knicks had entered the lockout-shortened season having won the majority of their first ten games and having dominated teams defensively. Among other impressive statistics was their ability to limit their opponents' shooting percentage to less than 40% over the first twenty games. The team started falling apart mid-season due to multiple star players sustaining injuries, and their playoff hopes looked bleak.
The Jeff Van Gundy-led Knicks never gave up and won six out of their last eight games in order to edge past the Charlotte Hornets for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The first round of the 1998-99 NBA playoffs saw the New York Knicks take on the Miami Heat, who were managed by Pat Riley. After an intense back and forth, the Knicks snatched the series in dramatic fashion with a last second bucket by Allan Houston in Game 5.
They progressed to the next round of the NBA playoffs and made quick work of the Dikembe Mutumbo-led Atlanta Hawks, and had found a new star in Marcus Camby. The New York Knicks were set to meet the Indiana Pacers in the Conference Finals. Defeating the Reggie Miller-led Indiana Pacers seemed almost impossible after Patrick Ewing went down in Game 1 of the series.
Jeff Van Gundy defied the odds yet again and turned the rotation around in record-breaking time, mobilising the younger Knicks to take over the series. Five games later, the New York Knicks became the first and only team to reach the NBA finals. Unfortunately, their fairy tale journey in the NBA playoffs was cut short by the San Antonio Spurs, who disposed of them in five games.
#3 2006-07: Golden State Warriors defeat the Dallas Mavericks
The Golden State Warriors were the first eighth seed to defeat the top-seeded team in the NBA playoffs, and they did so in style.
The 2007 season witnessed the Dallas Mavericks emerge as one of the NBA’s biggest powerhouses and they had topped the entire league with 67 wins. They were bolstered by the 2007 MVP and future Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki. The Dallas Mavericks were looking to make a deep run in the NBA playoffs after losing the finals last year.
The Golden State Warriors entered the NBA playoffs 25 games behind the Dallas Mavericks at the 8th seed. The 2007 Warriors did not have a stacked roster and relied on their passion to fuel them forwards. Aptly so, the fans had adopted the slogan ‘We Believe’ throughout the regular season.
The Golden State Warriors got off to a blazing start, stunning the Dallas Mavericks in their own building. That game gave them the momentum they needed to cruise through the first round of the NBA playoffs. Steven Jackson was instrumental to the post-season success of the Warriors, and shot from behind the arc with unprecedented efficiency throughout the season.
This series victory was even sweeter for head coach Don Nelson, who was recently removed from the Dallas Mavericks by their owner, Mark Cuban. The ‘We Believe’ tour ended in the next round of the NBA playoffs as they were crushed by the Utah Jazz. Nevertheless, the 2007 Golden State Warriors made everyone believe.
#4 2010-11: Memphis Grizzlies narrowly defeat the San Antonio Spurs
The Memphis Grizzlies had had an underwhelming season until the first round of the playoffs, and no one was surprised. Entering the NBA playoffs as the eighth seed, no one was rallying behind the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies were the only team in the NBA at that point of time that didn’t seem like they had a home court advantage. No sane person could get behind a team that was 0-12 in the NBA playoffs prior to this series.
The San Antonio Spurs had an expected season of dominance under head coach Gregg Popovich. They had entered the first round of the NBA playoffs without Manu Ginobili, which at the time felt like a minor setback. The Argentinian baller was only out for a single game, but it proved to be the most critical.
Zach Randolph had emerged as the unlikely hero for the Memphis Grizzlies and helped drive them past San Antonio to take Game 1 away from home. That was the only home game that the San Antonio Spurs lost in that series, but the rest is history.
The Memphis Grizzlies became the second 8th seed in NBA history to make it past the first round of the NBA playoffs in its new format.
#5 2011-12: Philadelphia 76ers get lucky against the Chicago Bulls
Some NBA fans have credited luck as the reason for the Memphis Grizzlies getting the better of the San Antonio Spurs, but no team in the history of the NBA has gotten as lucky as the 2012 Philadelphia 76ers did. The Chicago Bulls were unstoppable in the previous two seasons and finished this season as the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.
The Chicago Bulls narrowly missed the NBA finals last season after being dominated by the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals. After winning the MVP award last season, Derrick Rose intended to lead the Chicago Bulls to another deep run in the NBA playoffs. Fate had other plans for him, as he suffered a career altering injury in the first game of the NBA playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Philadelphia 76ers had stumbled into the NBA playoffs for the second year in a row and were projected to have another early exit. After losing Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls were not able to get anything going offensively and the Philadelphia 76ers were gifted a ticket to the next round of the NBA playoffs, where they lost against the Boston Celtics.
The 2020-21 NBA season shares some similarities with the 1998-99 season as they were both shortened. With two elite teams now vying for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, there seems to be potential for history to repeat itself. Only time will tell whether we will witness another eighth seed do the impossible and have a deep playoff run.
Published 14 Aug 2020, 23:27 IST