Basketball Upsets, Betting, NBA Finals

Biggest NBA Finals Underdogs: 10 NBA Teams That Won Championship (That Shouldn’t Have)

(image from Lev Akabas of Sportico)

The NBA Finals have seen some of the most memorable and unexpected moments in sports history. We’re expecting that when the #1 seeded Boston Celtics face off against the #5 seeded Dallas Mavericks in the 2024 NBA Finals. If the Luka Doncic-Kyrie Irving backcourt can lead Dallas to four wins, not only will they be one of the lowest seeded teams to win an NBA championships, but they’ll be one of the biggest underdogs to win a title (according to betting odds).

Biggest NBA Finals Underdogs to Win NBA Title

Over the course of the league’s eight decades, a dozen or so teams have defied the extreme betting odds, upsetting supposedly much more formidable opponents to win the NBA Championship. Here are the 10 of the biggest NBA Finals upsets according to their odds going into the series, where underdog teams rose to the occasion and etched their names in NBA history.

1. Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers (2004)

In 2004, the Detroit Pistons shocked the basketball world by defeating the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers in a totally unexpected gentlemen’s sweep.

The Lakers, boasting a lineup of future Hall of Famers including Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton, were expected to cruise to the title as they cruised through the playoffs up to that point. However, the Pistons, known for their tenacious defense and team-first mentality, had other plans.

The series began with Detroit stealing Game 1 in Los Angeles, setting the tone for what would be a dominant performance. Led by Finals MVP Chauncey Billups and anchored by the defensive prowess of Ben Wallace, the Pistons won the series 4-1.

Using an online essay writing service, there were several excellent articles that detailed how dominant the Lakers were coming into the series and how the Pistons used stifling defense and chemistry to hold the Lakers to just 68 points in the decisive Game 5 for the biggest NBA Finals upset in NBA history. The championship secured Detroit’s first championship since 1990 and proving that teamwork, defense, and being the underdog could overcome star power.

2. Raptors vs. Golden State Warriors (2019)

The Toronto Raptors’ 2019 victory over the Golden State Warriors was as dramatic as it was unexpected. The Warriors, winners of three of the previous four championships, were widely considered favorites, even more so with the addition of DeMarcus Cousins to their already star-studded lineup featuring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

However, the Raptors, led by newly acquired Kawhi Leonard, played fearlessly. While this upset has somewhat of an asterisk as Toronto took advantage of injuries to major Warriors contributors Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, both of whom missed significant time during the series. Leonard’s stellar performance earned him Finals MVP honors as the Raptors won their first championship in franchise history with a 4-2 series victory, culminating in a dramatic Game 6 win in Oakland.

3. Cleveland Cavs vs. Golden State Warriors (2016)

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 triumph over the Golden State Warriors was not only one of the biggest upsets, but one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history. The Warriors, who had set a regular-season record with 73 wins, took a commanding 3-1 series lead and seemed destined for their second consecutive title (after winning an unexpected title in 2015).

However, LeBron James and the Cavaliers had other plans. James delivered one of the most iconic performances in Finals history, leading Cleveland to three consecutive wins, including a thrilling Game 7 in Oakland. Kyrie Irving’s clutch three-pointer and James’ game-saving block on Andre Iguodala sealed the victory, giving the Cavaliers their first NBA championship and ending Cleveland’s 52-year title drought in professional sports.

4. Golden State Warriors vs. Washington Bullets (1975)

The Warriors found themselves on the other side as the one of the biggest underdogs going into the 1975 NBA Finals. That championship series featured one of the most surprising outcomes in league history. The Golden State Warriors, led by Rick Barry, faced off against the Washington Bullets, who came into the series as HEAVY favorites to win the championship.

Despite the odds, the Warriors not only won the series, but dominated the series; sweeping the Bullets in four games. Barry’s outstanding play, which earned him Finals MVP honors, and the emergence of key role players like Jamaal Wilkes and Clifford Ray, were crucial to Golden State’s success. This upset marked the Warriors’ first championship since the franchise’s move to California and highlighted the unpredictable nature of the Finals.

5. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Phoenix Suns (2021)

The 2021 NBA Finals saw the Milwaukee Bucks overcome the Phoenix Suns in a series that featured incredible performances and dramatic swings. The Suns, led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker, took a 2-0 series lead, appearing to be on the verge of their first championship.

However, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks mounted a remarkable comeback, winning four straight games to clinch the title. Antetokounmpo’s historic Game 6 performance, where he scored 50 points, earned him Finals MVP honors and solidified his place among the league’s elite. This victory marked Milwaukee’s first championship in 50 years and showcased the resilience and determination of the Bucks.

These NBA Finals upsets are a testament to the unpredictable nature of sports and the extraordinary efforts of underdog teams rising to the occasion. Each of these series provided unforgettable moments and proved that in basketball, anything is possible.

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