7 NBA Final Upsets We Should Have Seen Coming
On June 12, NBA fans watched the Golden State Warriors put the Cleveland Cavaliers season to rest. Game 4 wrapped up a one-sided NBA Finals series, one where many sports fans still couldn’t believe that a Lebron James-led Cavs performed so poorly. Some might even consider it an upset, despite the fact that it was an answer to the Cavs crushing the Warriors’ NBA Finals hopes just a year before. Revenge, redemption, or just a desire to shut up the critics can be powerful motivators for aspiring NBA champions.
With that in mind, here are seven NBA Finals upsets we really should have seen coming.
1975: The Golden State Warriors Dismantle the Washington Bullets
The 1975 Warriors avoided humiliation at the hands of the heavily favored Washington Bullets with a brilliant defensive strategy – and the immense talent of a few key players. Phil Smith came off the bench and scored 20 points in Game 1. Rick Barry, the MVP of the series, contributed 36 and 38 points in Games 2 and 3 respectively.
These contributions continuously erased double-digit deficits, proving that a team with big moment players aren’t always underdogs as much as they are heavily underestimated.
2011: Dallas Mavericks React To Miami Heat Gloating With Comeback Win
Imagine having to play through one of the most important basketball games in your life while having a torn tendon in your middle finger. That was the case for the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki even as he led his team to a nail-biting 95-93 win over the Miami Heat. The Heat, which had just acquired none other than “King” LeBron James, would ultimately blow a 2-1 lead and allow the Mavericks to go on a three-game winning streak.
Where did that fire come from? The Mavericks credited premature celebrations by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and lingering disappointment from their 2006 collapse. That mocking moment was enough to infuriate the previously fading Mavericks at the worst possible time for the Heat.
1969: Sixth Time Is NOT The Charm As Los Angeles Lakers Fall To Boston Celtics
The 1960s was inarguably a golden era for the Boston Celtics, the winners of consecutive NBA Championship titles from 1959 until 1966. On top of this, the Celtics closed out the 60s with back-to-back Final wins over the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite the sheer, unapologetic ruthlessness displayed by the Celtics throughout the decade (and in five previous wins over the Lakers), somehow everyone expected the sixth time to be the charm. Instead, it would be the sixth time in several years that Boston bested their bitter Los Angeles rivals.
1995: Houston Rockets’ Experience Trumps Orlando Magic Much-Hyped Youth
Sure the Houston Rockets stumbled into the Playoffs with the sixth-best record in the Western Conference. However, it seemed necessary to add insult to injury by ruling out the Rockets as an aging squad. On the other hand, the Orlando Magic boasted much-hyped young stars Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Despite dethroning the heavily favored Chicago Bulls, it was the much overlooked Rockets that would teach the Magic a valuable lesson at the end of a 4-0 shutout: Never rule out the deadly combination of age and experience.
1989: Detroit Pistons Deny Los Angeles Lakers “Threepeat”
All the Los Angeles Lakers could think about in 1989 was marching past the Detroit Pistons to claim a third NBA Championship in a row. Meanwhile, the Pistons could only reflect on how the Lakers shattered their championship dreams in 1988 following a grueling seven game series. A year later, they left zero doubt as they stunned the Lakers with a perfect 4-0 series blowout.
It’s amazing anyone could look at that kind of massive emotional trauma and assume Detroit was going to roll over for the Lakers. Heartbreak can be a powerful motivator, just ask the 2017 Warriors — or the next team on this list.
2014: San Antonio Spurs Avenge 2013 Loss By Pummeling Miami Heat
The 2013 Finals remain a subject of controversy. Most notably, the questionable referee calls that some felt cost the San Antonio Spurs Game 6 of the series, and ultimately led to a Game 7 win for the Miami Heat. The rage associated with seeing something they felt belonged to them taken away by controversial calls was front and center during the 2014 “rematch.”
This time, there would be no back and forth. The Spurs avenged their 2013 disappointment with a 4-1 rout.
1993: Chicago Bulls Prove Second-Guessers Wrong In Phoenix Suns Rout
It’s easy to understand why everyone expected the Phoenix Suns to come out on top in 1993. The Suns had a stellar regular season and Charles Barkley bested the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan for the regular season MVP award. However, the Bulls were familiar with the playoff pressure and had the mental toughness necessary to disprove doubters. As for the Suns’, they were already war-weary upon entering the Finals; they’d just escaped with a hard-fought 4-3 conference win over the Seattle Sonics.
With most of the Suns’ energy drained on their course to the Finals, there just wasn’t enough left in the tank to hold off a comparatively rested Chicago Bulls team. Chicago took advantage and downed Phoenix 4-2.
Simply put: It’s just not over until it’s over in the NBA Finals. You never know what gesture, matchup history or inspiring display of sportsmanship will lead to a shocking NBA Finals scenario.