NBA Playoffs

Has an #8 seed ever upset a #1 seed in the NBA Playoffs? Yes, but none have ever won a championship

When it comes to the NBA playoffs, the most unlikely NBA odds is to wager on an 8-seeded team to knock off the top seed in their conference. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened  – it just doesn’t happen very often.  Since the league went to the 16-team tournament format, there have been six times when a #1 seed was upset by a #8 seed.

This shortlist includes the recent I-cant-believe-it demolition of the #1 Milwaukee Bucks by a Jimmy Butler-led, Tyler-Herro-less Miami Heat team that had to play themselves into the post season. The Heat became the sixth #8 seed to eliminate a #1 seed in the history of the NBA playoffs.

Not only that, when Miami pulled out an overtime win in Game 5 of the series (with Butler’s eighth 40 point playoff game), the Heat also became the first play-in tournament team to win a series.

Every 8 Seed to Win a Playoff Series Over a 1 Seed

With so many lower seeded teams defying NBA playoff standings in this year’s bracket (including another #7-#2 upset), we wanted to pay tribute to every 8-seeded team to advance past a #1 seed in the history of the NBA postseason (and whether or not they went on to win an NBA championship). We’ll start with the most-memorable upset when the Denver Nuggets took down a dominant Seattle Supersonics team led by Shawn Kemp, Detlef Shrempf and Gary Payton.

#8 Nuggets upsets #1 Sonics 3-2 (1994)

The first time an 8th-seeded team beat a number one seed was in the 1994 Playoffs when the Denver Nuggets defeated the Seattle Supersonics in five games (back when the first round was a 5-game series).

Coming into the post season, the Sonics boasted a league-best 63 wins that season and the clear top team in the Western Conference. The Nuggets, on the other hand, had to go on a 20-15 run after the All-Star break to made the playoffs with a 42-40 record.

The Sonics started the series as one might expect, defeating the Nuggets by double digits in both home games in Key Arena. However, the Nuggets responded by winning the next three games pulling out a 98-94 win in the closeout game on the Sonics homecourt.

Dikembe Mutombo was the literal and figurative center of the Nuggets upset, averaging 12.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and an eye-popping 6.2 blocks per game in the series. It also made for one of the league’s most-iconic photos.

Did Denver Go On To Win a NBA Title? Despite upsetting the #1 Sonics, the Nuggets would be eliminated in the second round but not before taking the Utah Jazz to seven games.

#8 Knicks take down #1 Miami Heat 3-2 (1999)

The 1999 first-round playoff series between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat was a closely contested matchup that saw the Knicks upsetting the Heat, 3-2.

In Game 1, the Knicks won in Miami with a final score of 95-75, thanks to the backcourt of  Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. The Heat came back in Game 2, winning 83-73 behind Alonzo Mourning’s 26 points. The Knicks took a 2-1 series lead after winning game 3 97-73.

In Game 4, the Heat won 87-81, tying the series at 2-2. Alonzo Mourning had a dominant performance with 23 points, while the Knicks were led by Allan Houston’s 23 points. The series came down to a winner-takes-all Game 5, which the Knicks won in Miami, 78-77.  Patrick Ewing led the Knicks with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Did the Knicks Win the 1999 Championship? No they didn’t but they came the closest. The 8th-seed Knicks would actually make it all the way to the NBA Finals sweeping the Atlanta Hawks (4-0), defeating the Indiana Pacers in six games before falling to the San Antonio Spurs in five games.

Golden State defeats #1 Dallas Mavs 4-2 (2007)

The We Believe Golden State Warriors finished the regular season with a 42-40 record and snuck into the playoffs by a couple games over the Los Angeles Clippers. For getting the eighth spot in the West, their reward was to face a behemoth in the Dirk Nowitzki Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.

The Mavericks weren’t just the heavy favorites to win the series, but had home court advantage throughout the playoffs with a franchise-best 67-15 record which is one of the best win/losses in NBA history.

However, the Warriors had other plans.

Led by Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson and Matt Barnes, the Warriors won Game 1 in Dallas before the Mavs took game two. The Warriors would win the next two games to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Mavericks won Game 5 that set up the potential series-clinching Game 6 in Oakland. The Warriors did not disappoint, beating the Mavericks soundly 111-86  and become the second #8 seed ever to advance. This was the first #8-#1 upset since the league increased the first round to seven game series.

Did the Warriors Win the NBA Championship That Year? Unfortunately this version of the Warriors wouldn’t get much further; getting eliminated in the second round after just five games with the Utah Jazz.

The #8 Grizzlies upsets #1 San Antonio 4-2 (2011)

The 2010-11 Memphis Grizzlies finished the regular season with a 46-36 record and rolled into the 2011 NBA Playoffs to face off against the Tim Duncan-Manu Ginobili-Tony Parker San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

The Spurs had the second best record in the league and were heavily favored to take the series, but that Grizzlies team wasn’t going quietly not with Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mike Conley Jr., Shane Battier, and Marc Gasol.

The Grizzlies would win game one in San Antonio and took a 3-1 series lead after winning games 3 and 4 in Memphis. The Spurs would take game five to extend the series, but the Grizzlies clinched the series with a Game 6 victory in Memphis. Zach Randolph led the Grizzlies in the clincher with 31 points and averaged 21.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in that first round upset.

Did the Grizzlies Win the 2011 Championship? The Grizzlies would take the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook-James Harden Oklahoma City Thunder in second round and were sent home after seven hard-fought games.

The Sixers Upset Bulls in 6 games (2012)

In a shortened season of 2011-12, the #8 seeded Philadelphia 76ers finished the regular season with a 35-31 record and faced the #1 seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

At 50-16, the Bulls shared the best record in the league with the San Antonio Spurs, but were without star point guard Derrick Rose, who suffered a season-ending injury in the regular season. Still the oddsmakers still expected the Bulls to take the 7-game series.

The Bulls won game 1 in Chicago before the 76ers would take the next three games. The Bulls would win an ugly Game 5 that ended with a 77-69 score.  The 76ers won game 6 by the just one point 79-78 to advance to the second round. A young Jure Holiday led the upstart 76ers in the series, averaging 18.2 points, 5.2  rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. You can read more about this wild series at Philly Voice.

Did the Sixers Win a Championship? The Sixers would continue to surprise in the second round forcing the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen Boston Celtics to a game seven where Philly would lose in the 85-75.

First Round Upsets
Year #8 seed (record) #1 seed (record) series Champion?
1994 Denver Nuggets (42-40) Seattle Sonics (63-19) 3-2 Lost 2nd Round
1999 New York Knicks (27-23) Miami Heat (33-17) 3-2 Lost NBA Finals
2007 Golden State Warriors (42-40) Dallas Mavericks (67-15) 4-2 Lost 2nd Round
2011 Memphis Grizzlies (46-36) San Antonio Spurs (61-21) 4-2 Lost 2nd Round
2012 Philadelphia 76ers (35-31) Chicago Bulls (50-16) 4-2 Lost 2nd Round
2023 Miami Heat (44-38) Milwaukee Bucks (58-24) 4-1 TBD

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