Five biggest NBA Playoffs shocks ever

Baron Davis Warriors
Baron Davis led one of the greatest NBA playoff upsets. Photo from The Mercury News.

Playoffs shocks or NBA Playoffs upsets, whatever you call them, they are entertaining as hell. Every year, or most years, we get one of those major upsets that nobody saw coming.

Some are more shocking than others but NBA surprises are an integral part of every NBA playoffs. Some upsets just happen by chance, some happen because of circumstances like injuries, form, matchups or coaching. All sports fans love a good Cinderella story so let’s take a look at some of the biggest NBA underdog wins over the years.

5) Celtics vs Magic, 2010

In 2010, we got an interesting playoff matchup where the 4th seeded Celtics took on the 2nd seeded Magic. Those who remember the iconic 2010 NBA Finals know that the Celtics won this matchup and that was one of the great NBA upsets. The Magic looked destined for the NBA finals after sweeping their opponents in R1 and R2 but the Celtics ended those hopes.

NBA fans were shocked when the Celtics took a 3-0 lead, ultimately winning the series with 4-2.

How did they do it? Well, the Magic had a great defence spearheaded by Dwight Howard but they got completely torched from the perimeter. Pierce, Wallace and Allen all shot well above 40% from three in this series and Orland did not find a way to match that.

4) Heat vs Bucks, 2020

This NBA Playoffs surprise should be fresh in everybody’s memory as it happened in the Bubble. The Bubble was a huge success story for the NBA who managed to finish its season without any major issues in the middle of a pandemic.


Due to the location, it dramatically shifted the balance of power in the league. There were no fans, no home-court advantage and some teams simply collapsed in that setting.

The Bucks were one of those teams. They entered the Playoffs as the number one seed, taking on the fifth seed Miami Heat. The Heat dominated the series from start to finish, winning it 4-1.

They completely exposed all of Milwaukee’s weaknesses on both ends of the court and caused a major NBA playoff upset. The pivotal moment came in game 3 when the Heat won the 4th quarter 40-13 which set a new record. Yikes.

3) Hawks vs Magic, 2011

Only a year after they suffered a major NBA Playoffs upset, the Magic did it again.

Despite being a matchup between the 4th seed and the 5th seed, this result is considered a big NBA Playoffs shock because the Magic were the far better team.

Dwight Howard was unstoppable but the Hawks had depth, depth that ultimately proved key. The Hawks had fresher players in key moments of the match where Orlando struggled to buy a bucket. Atlanta won all three of its home games by narrow margins (by 3, by 4 and by 3) which highlights their better performance in crunch time.

The significance of this upset is that since then, the Magic have not won a playoff series.

2) Cavaliers vs Raptors, 2018

The infamous 2018 sweep destroyed the hopes and dreams of every Toronto Raptors fan. At the time it seemed like the worst thing that happened to the franchise but in reality, it turned out to be the best one.

GM Masai Ujiri realized his team, as good as it was, was not good enough so he broke up the core and brought in Kawhi Leonard. That move turned into a Larry O’Brien Championship trophy and nobody questions it today.

But back to the upset.

In 2018, the Raptors finished as the best team in the Eastern Conference. They seemed destined for the Finals but they stumbled against the 4th seeded Cavs team. Yes, a Cavs team that had LeBron James, but that team was not a good one. They struggled in every playoff series they played except this one.

Toronto did not know how to stop James and the Cavs shot the ball extremely well. This NBA playoff shocks is the only one that featured a broom on this list but this broom will forever be remembered fondly by the fans of the team that got it.

1) Warriors vs Mavericks, 2007

The Dallas Mavericks played in the 2006 NBA finals. They were up 2-0 against the Heat but ultimately lost it. In 2007, they returned hungry for more and they crushed everyone that season, ending the season with 67 wins. Dirk Nowitzki became the MVP (deservedly) and it seemed like they would be able to get it done in 2007. That was until they met the Warriors.

The Warriors were the 8th seed and matched up against Dallas who were the 1st seed. What ensued was a shocking NBA Playoffs upset with Golden State taking the series 4-2. Despite nobody seeing it coming, it was explainable. GS won all three regular-season games versus the Mavs because they simply had a solid game plan that worked.

Dallas had no way of dealing with Baron Davis, and Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson did a tremendous defensive job on Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk was usually guarded by a big which was favourable for him but once he was matched up with smaller players he had issues.

The Warriors had less than a 5% chance of winning the series but they pulled it off. It is to date, the biggest upset in NBA Playoffs history. The Mavs became the first team since the 1972-73 Celtics to win at least 65 games and not win a title.

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About Drew Tate 18 Articles
Drew Tate is a long time NBA fan and basketball enthusiast. He has followed the best basketball league in the world for over 15 years. After watching it for such a long time, Drew developed an interest in writing about the league, which they have done for the past several years. Drew's main interest in the league is the players whose development he has followed keenly ever since their college days. Besides that, he enjoys anything that involves analyzing the game of basketball.

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