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Top 5 Underdog Runs in NBA Playoff History

The Miami Heat start their postseason in the same place they did a year ago: in the NBA Play-In Tournament. Miami filled NBA news and rumors by reaching the NBA Finals as the eighth seed. The Heat got there by upsetting Milwaukee and Boston, the East’s two title favorites. This underdog run is among the greatest in league history. But other teams did it first and some even did it better.

 

Top 5 Underdog Runs in NBA Playoff History
Houston Rockets Team/AFP PHOTO ROBERT SULLIVAN / AFP

Top Underdog Runs in NBA Playoff History

1994-95: Houston Rockets (NBA Champions)

Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” said Rockets coach Rudy Tomjavonich, who guided Houston to its second consecutive NBA title as the sixth seed. Houston played .500 basketball past the All-Star break and looked to be feeling the effects of a “championship hangover.” But a motivated Hakeem Olajuwon, who lost the MVP to David Robinson, fueled Houston’s championship run.

The Rockets eliminated Utah, Phoenix and San Antonio to return to the NBA Finals. Here, Olajuwon schooled a young Shaquille O’Neal as Houston shockingly swept Orlando. Houston never once had a home-court advantage and was an underdog in every series. Fans who bet online would have raked in a total of $800 for a $100 bet on each series.

 

1968-69: Boston Celtics (NBA Champions)

It’s hard to consider the Celtics in the 1960s as an “underdog.” But context is everything. This 1968-69 team felt like a dynasty on its last legs. Bill Russell was old and playing in his last season. And Boston’s offense was ranked 10th out of 14. Boston finished in the final playoff spot in the East.

But, like the Rockets, the Celtics channeled their championship spirit and outplayed Baltimore and New York to return to the NBA Finals. Boston found a way to edge the Lakers’ powerhouse trio of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain. Despite the NBA betting lines, Boston found a way to defend its title.

 

1998-99: New York Knicks (NBA Finals)

Before Miami did it, the New York Knicks made the NBA Finals as an eighth seed in 1999. New York defeated two playoff nemeses in Miami and Indiana. It also became just the second eighth seed to win a playoff series. Then the team made more history by being the first eight seed to sweep a series when it beat Atlanta.

But just when it felt like New York was the “team of destiny,” it ran into the San Antonio Spurs. Powered by the “Twin Towers” of Tim Duncan and David Robinson, San Antonio ended New York’s underdog run 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Knicks fans now eye NBA basketball updates to see if this season’s team can go on a run like this.

 

1980-81: Houston Rockets (NBA Finals)

Fourteen years before he coached his sixth-seeded Rockets to an NBA title, Tomjanovich played on another sixth-seeded Rockets team that fell just short. Houston barely made the NBA Playoffs as a 40-42 team and was matched up in Round 1 against the mighty Los Angeles Lakers.

But as an underdog NBA pick, the Rockets took down the Lakers by inexplicably winning both games in The Forum. They also made NBA history as the first team with a losing record to make the Finals since the Minneapolis Lakers in 1959. However, like Miami and New York, the Rockets’ “Cinderella Story” ended here as Boston beat Houston 4-2.

 

1986-87: Seattle SuperSonics (West Conference Finals)

These Sonics did not make the NBA Finals but deserve a shoutout. After all, Seattle finished with a 39-43 record and was a seventh seed in the playoffs. But despite the poor record, Seattle upset the 55-27 Dallas Mavericks in the first round. It then beat Houston, which also pulled off an upset, in the next. Unfortunately, Seattle was no match for the Lakers and got swept unceremoniously in the conference finals.

 

 

Questions Of The Day

What are the Miami Heat’s NBA odds to win the title?


Miami is presently listed at +1400 (14/1) per the NBA championship odds.

What is the lowest seed to win an NBA title?


The Houston Rockets won the NBA title as a six-seed in 1995.

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