All NBA First Round Playoff Upsets

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Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers during an NBA regular season game in November 2013.
(Wikimedia Commons/Verse Photography)
Anatoly Pimentel @AnatolyPimentel Nov 20, 2023, 1:42 AM

Throughout the history of the NBA playoffs and since the 1983-84 season, when the league began with the 16-team postseason competition, only five 8-seed teams have defied the NBA odds and defeated the No. 1-seeded teams in the first round. The first team to ever do it was the 1994 Denver Nuggets when they eked out a 3-2 series victory over the Seattle SuperSonics.

The trio of LaPhonso Ellis, Dikembe Mutombo, and Reggie Williams made the impossible possible when they engineered this come-from-behind series victory over the SuperSonics team that was led by Detlef Schrempf, Gary Payton, and Shawn Kemp. Five years after this first major upset in the NBA playoffs, the New York Knicks achieved the same feat by beating the Miami Heat during the 1999 postseason.

This series between the Knicks and the Heat was a back-and-forth affair in the first four games, but when the pivotal Game 5 came, it was a close one, with Allan Houston’s go-ahead basket sealing it for his team and helping them advance to the next round. Besides Houston, the Knicks team was led by Latrell Sprewell and Patrick Ewing.

In 2007, the “We Believe” Warriors came to being with their massive upset of the No. 1-seeded Western Conference team, the Dallas Mavericks, in six games. This unbelievable postseason opening-round upset was spearheaded by Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Jason Richardson, who crushed the title hopes of 2007 regular-season MVP Dirk Nowitzki.

The two latest NBA first-round upsets came in 2011 and 2012, when the Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers were able to capitalize on the injuries sustained by top-seeded teams San Antonio and Chicago. In 2011, the Spurs missed the services of Manu Ginobili in the early part of the series, and his return to the lineup was not enough to salvage their chances against the “Grit and Grind” mentality of Memphis.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia fully maximized the absence of Derrick Rose in a 2012 first-round playoff game with the Chicago Bulls after Rose went down with a devastating knee injury in Game 1. The 76ers went all-out and eventually beat the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, 4-2, to advance to the second round.

The latest first-round NBA upset happened in 2023, as the Jimmy Butler-led Miami Heat defeated the Milwaukee Bucks who were spearheaded by the trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday in five games. It took multiple spectacular performances from Butler to carve out the gigantic upset, including his career-high 56 points in Game 4. Making this upset even more impressive is the fact that they’ve done it without Tyler Herro who got injured in the first game of the series.

All NBA First Round Playoff Upsets

TeamsSeries ResultYear
Seattle SuperSonics (1) vs. Denver Nuggets (8)Denver win over Sonics, 3-21994
Miami Heat (1) vs. New York Knicks (8)Knicks win over Heat, 3-21999
Dallas Mavericks (1) vs. Golden State Warriors (8)Warriors win over Mavericks, 4-2 2007
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (8)Grizzlies win over Spurs, 4-22011
Chicago Bulls (1) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (8)76ers win over Bulls, 4-22012
Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Miami Heat (8)Heat win over Bucks, 4-12023

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About the Author

Anatoly Pimentel

Read More @AnatolyPimentel

Anatoly Pimentel is an NBA and MMA writer previously featured in ASEAN Sports, Asian Persuasion MMA, and Overtime Heroics MMA. He graduated from Adamson University with a B.A in Communication and is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM.

Anatoly Pimentel is an NBA and MMA writer previously featured in ASEAN Sports, Asian Persuasion MMA, and Overtime Heroics MMA. He graduated from Adamson University with a B.A in Communication and is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM.