Houston Rockets

NBA Finals: The most unlikely and surprising playoff runs in NBA history

The 2021 postseason has seen numerous upsets with injuries and momentum playing key roles. The No. 1 seed in both Conferences was eliminated in the Semifinals while in the East, for a second-year running, neither of the top two seeds advanced to the NBA Finals.

Keeping the upsets in mind, here's a look at some of the most notable playoff runs the league has seen by unlikely underdogs:

1984 Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns entered the 1984 playoffs as the sixth seed with a 41-41 record. Notably, they capped off the regular season having won six in a row and eight of their last nine.

Led by the duo of Walter Davis and Larry Nance Sr, the Suns used that winning momentum to pull off not one but two upsets in the playoffs. In the first round, the Suns pushed the third-seeded 48-win Portland Trail Blazers to a deciding Game 5, and advanced with a convincing 117-105 win.

They only needed six games in the Conference Semifinals to eliminate the Utah Jazz. In the Conference Finals, their great postseason run came to an end at the hands of Magic Johnson and "Showtime" Lakers in six games.

1987 Seattle SuperSonics

Led by the trio of Tom Chambers, Xavier McDaniel and Dale Ellis, the 1986-87 Seattle SuperSonics made a lot of noise for a team that was the seventh seed and didn't even have a winning record at 39-43.

In a best-of-five first-round series, they defeated the 55-win Dallas Mavericks in four games. Next, they upset the reigning Western Conference Champion Houston Rockets in the Conference Semifinals in six games.

Their season came to a close, however, when they got swept in the Conference Finals by the Lakers - the eventual NBA Champion.

1981 Houston Rockets

Led by Moses Malone, the Rockets were the last Western Conference team to qualify for the playoffs as the sixth seed with a losing record of 40-42.

In the first round, they pulled off a stunner when they eliminated the reigning NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers 2-1 in a best-of-three series. In the Conference Semifinals, they needed all seven games to eliminate the second-seeded 52-win San Antonio Spurs.

Having taken care of the contenders, Houston was matched up against the Kansas City Kings in the Conference Finals, a team that had the same regular-season record as them. They beat Kings in five games and advanced to the first Finals in franchise history.

In the championship series, however, they were no match for Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, who defeated them in six games. Through the 21 playoff games, Malone led the team with averages 26.8 points and 14.5 rebounds.

1978 Seattle SuperSonics

Unlike the earlier teams, the 1977-78 Seattle SuperSonics had a healthy record of 47-35 as the fourth seed in the West.

So, what puts them on this list? A dismal 5-17 record to start the season that ultimately resulted in falling one game short of an NBA title.

After the first 22 games, Lenny Wilkens was hired as head coach and brought instant stability to a young roster, leading the team to win 18 of the next 21 games and 47 overall.

Thanks to the emergence of Dennis Johnson and Jack Sikma in the postseason, Seattle defeated the Los Angeles Lakers (2-1 in the first round), the reigning champion Portland Trail Blazers (4-2 in the Conference Semifinals), and the Denver Nuggets (4-2 Conference Finals). They eventually pushed the Wes Unseld and the Washington Bullets to a deciding Game 7 in the Finals, losing by a mere six points (105-99).

The Sonics would get redemption the following year, knocking off the Bullets in a five-game Finals series

1999 New York Knicks

The 1998-99 New York Knicks are the only eighth-seeded team in NBA history to make the Finals.

They were not your typical eight seed, however, with a record of 27-23 in a lockout-shortened 50-game season. They finished the regular season only six games behind the conference-leading Miami Heat (33-17).

They eliminated the Heat in the first-round in dramatic fashion, thanks to a buzzer-beating series-clincher by Allan Houston in Game 5. They followed that up by sweeping the Atlanta Hawks in the Conference Semifinals and defeating the Indiana Pacers in six games in the Conference Finals.

In their eighth NBA Finals appearance, the Knicks came up short for the sixth time - losing to Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in five games.

1995 Houston Rockets

The 1994-95 Houston Rockets are the lowest-seeded team, at sixth, to win the NBA Championship.

Coming into the season as reigning champions, they limped to a 47-35 record - way off their 58-win total the year prior. They turned in on in the postseason, however, battling their way back to the championship series.

In the best-of-five first-round series, they came from 2-1 down to knock off the Utah Jazz in five games. Against the Phoenix Suns in the Conference Semifinals, they made history by becoming the fifth team ever to overcome a 3-1 series deficit. And in the Conference Finals, they eliminated reigning league MVP David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs in six games.

Having done the hard yards, the experienced squad, led by reigning Finals MVP Hakeem Olajuwon and mid-season acquisition Clyde Drexler, completed their back-to-back title run by sweeping a young Orlando Magic team led by Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway.

1969 Celtics

At the end of the 1968-69 regular season, the Celtics' 48-34 record was good for 4th in the Eastern Division - the final playoff spot.

As the reigning champions, to make it back to the NBA Finals, they needed to beat three teams in the East with better records. A veteran team, led by player-coach Bill Russell, pulled off one upset after another en route to winning their 11th NBA title in 13 years.

They eliminated the 55-win Philadelphia 76ers in five games in the Division Semifinals and then they took care of business against the 54-win New York Knicks in the Division Finals. In the NBA Finals, they rallied back from a 2-0 series deficit against the Los Angeles Lakers - led by the Big 3 of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor - to win a Game 7 on the road in Los Angeles.

Game 7 of the Finals series was the final game of Russell's career.

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