The Five Greatest Underdog NBA Playoff Runs Of All Time

Basketball enthusiasts eagerly anticipate the NBA playoffs as one of the most thrilling periods of the year. It’s a time when the best teams from the regular season compete for the chance to become champions. But every now and then, a team comes along that nobody expects to do much.

This season, that honor went to the Miami Heat. Despite finishing way down in seventh throughout the Eastern Conference’s regular season, the Florida-based outfit embarked on a run for the ages in the postseason. In the first round of the playoffs, inspired by the scintillating form of Jimmy Butler, they managed to knock off the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks with a convincing four-games-to-one series victory.

In the Eastern Conference semifinals, Butler and Co. would come against Derrick Rose and his New York Knicks however, they would once again have too much for their opponents. The Heat would surprise everyone once more, securing a 4-2 series victory and a spot in the Conference Finals against the heavily favored Boston Celtics. The TD Garden outfit had been in inspired form all year long, however, that went out of the window almost immediately as they came up against a Miami team with fate on their side.

The Heat raced into a three-game lead, and it looked as though yet another NBA Finals appearance was a foregone conclusion. But if they thought getting over the line would be a walk in the park, they thought wrong. The Celtics came roaring back to tie things up at three games apiece and looked set to end Miami’s fairytale run, but they didn’t bank on the brilliance of Butler.

In a raucous TD Garden, Miami managed to silence the home faithful. Jimmy Buckets would be the top scorer with 28 points as the visitors ran out convincing 103-84 victors. That would set up a mouthwatering NBA Finals however who betted at various bookmakers like Bovada, in the end, the Western Conference’s top seeds had too much for their underdog opponents, eventually securing a 4-1 series victory and a first Larry O’Brien Championship trophy in franchise history.

in honor of this year’s heroic underdogs, we decided to take a walk down memory lane and take a look at the greatest underdog NBA Playoff runs of all time. These underdog teams shocked the world by upsetting some of the best teams in the league and embarking on incredible postseason runs. Without further ado, here they are.

The 1999 New York Knicks


One of the most amazing underdog tales in NBA history, the New York Knicks’ 1999 playoff run marked a turning point for the team. Consider the numerous obstacles the Knicks encountered in order to appreciate the enormity of this achievement. They were missing their star player, Patrick Ewing, who was sidelined with an injury going into the playoffs.

Moreover, the team was seeded eighth – the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference. Despite the odds, however, the Knicks rallied together, winning each successive series with grit, determination, and an unwavering commitment to team success. Their journey culminated in a nail-biting finish against the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals, with the Knicks eventually losing in five games.

However, their efforts and achievements during this playoff run still resonate today as a testament to the power of perseverance and teamwork, and as one of the greatest underdog stories in NBA history.

The 2007 Golden State Warriors


In 2007, the Golden State Warriors embarked on an unforgettable playoff run that will forever be remembered as one of the greatest underdog stories of all time. This team wasn’t the star-studded one that would dominate the league a decade later and was instead a team of young, unproven players led by Baron Davis. Despite their lack of experience, the California-based outfit managed to defeat the heavily favored top-seed Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs before ultimately falling to the Utah Jazz in the second.

The 1994 Denver Nuggets


One of the greatest underdogs runs in history is frequently cited as the Denver Nuggets’ playoff run from 1994. Despite having a 42-40 record throughout the regular season, the squad nonetheless advanced all the way to the Western Conference semifinals. With their tough play and never-say-die attitude, the Nuggets, led by players like Dikembe Mutombo, LaPhonso Ellis, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, won the hearts of basketball fans all across the country.

In the first round of the playoffs, the eighth-seeded Nuggets famously upset the number-one seed Seattle SuperSonics, becoming the first eighth-seed in NBA history to do so. Although they were eventually eliminated by the Utah Jazz in the second round, the 1994 Denver Nuggets’ playoff run will forever be remembered as one of the most thrilling and improbable in NBA history.

The 1981 Houston Rockets


One of the most spectacular underdog accomplishments in NBA history is the 1981 Houston Rockets playoff run, which has withstood the test of time. The Texas-based team wasn’t considered one of the favorites to advance far in the postseason. In spite of the odds, they upset the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round. They then defeated the San Antonio Spurs before losing to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.

Led by the likes of Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, and Mike Dunleavy Sr., the Rockets showed immense grit and determination on their path to the Finals. Their feat displays that anything is possible in sports, with hard work, resilience, and a little bit of luck.

The 1995 Orlando Magic


One of the greatest underdog teams in NBA history is the 1995 Orlando Magic, who will go down in NBA history as the Magic. With Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway at the helm, the Magic surpassed all expectations and stunned the basketball world with their incredible playoff run. They managed to stun the much-favored Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in back-to-back series despite being the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.

Their resilience and determination were on full display as they fought hard to earn their spot in the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. Although they ultimately fell short in the Finals, their remarkable journey solidified their place in basketball lore as one of the most unforgettable underdogs runs of all time.