By Dennis Berry
The NBA moved to its current playoff format with 8 teams from each conference and seeding 1-8 in 1984. First round series were best of five games format, which later became best of seven games in 2003. In the playoffs from 1984 to 1993, an eight seed had never beaten a one seed. Since then, it has happened four times.
The Seattle Supersonics entered the playoffs with a record of 63-19. They heavily favored over the Denver Nuggets who went 42-40 in the regular season. Seattle had the All Star duo of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. Denver was lead by Dikembe Mutombo.
Seattle got out to a fast start winning the first two games of the series in Seattle. They blew out Denver in game one, winning 106-82. Game two was closer but the Supersonics still won, 97-87. Seattle was in full control going to Denver.
Denver would not go down without a fight, though. They returned the favor and blew out Seattle in game three 110-93. Then the Nuggets needed overtime to win game three 94-85. Denver had all the momentum going into a deciding game five on the road in Seattle.
Game five was also decided in overtime. Denver won 98-94 to become the first eight seed to win a series against a one seed in NBA history. The lasting image of that series is after the game was over, which was of Mutombo lying on the ground smiling and holding the ball over his head.
Following their upset of Seattle, the Nuggets would go on to face the Utah Jazz. Denver would find itself in a 3-0 hole in the series and then win the next three games to force a game seven. In the end, Denver would lose game seven and the series to the Jazz 4-3.
The 1999 season will always have its own place in NBA history. The lockout limited the NBA to only 50 regular season games. The Heat and Knicks already had a long rivalry established when the teams met in the first round of the playoffs.
The Heat entered the playoffs with a 33-17 record and was lead by Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. The Knicks were 27-23 and were lead by Patrick Ewing, Laterell Sprewell, and Larry Johnson.
The teams split the first two games of the series in Miami. The Knicks blew out the Heat in game one 95-75. Miami was able to recover in game two and won 83-73. The series then shifted to New York.
The Knicks took game three of series in another blowout 97-73. The Heat came back and won game 4 87-72. The win not only forced a game five in Miami, but also kept the Knicks from becoming the first eight seed in the Eastern Conference to win a series against a one seed.
The back and forth series went to New York when Allan Houston hit a runner with only 0.8 seconds to play to give the Knicks a 78-77 win. New York would go on to sweep the Atlanta Hawks in the next round and then defeat the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, despite losing Patrick Ewing. They were the first eight seed to make the NBA Finals, but would lose to the San Antonio Spurs 4-1.
The Dallas Mavericks entered the 2007 playoffs with the best overall record in the NBA at 67-15. The Mavericks were lead by the MVP of the NBA Dirk Nowitzki. The Golden State Warriors went 42-40, included going 3-0 versus Dallas. The Warriors were led by the trio of Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Jason Richardson.
Golden State continued its winning ways against Dallas in the series opener, defeating the Mavericks 97-85. Dallas picked up its first win against the Warriors in game two. The Mavericks won 112-99 to make the series 1-1 going to Oakland.
In game three the Warriors up tempo style was too much for the Mavericks in game three. Golden State won 109-91 and they would win game four 103-99 to take a 3-1 series lead. The Mavericks would head back to Dallas facing elimination in game five.
Dallas kept its season alive with a 118-112 win in game five. They could not keep momentum going in game six and were eliminated after a 111-86 in Oakland. The Warriors style of play just caused too many problems for the Mavericks. It was the first time an eight seed defeated a one seed in a best of seven series.
The Warriors, it seemed, used everything they had in their series against Dallas and were eliminated in the following round. The Utah Jazz knocked out the Warriors 4-1.
The Spurs had been the best team in the NBA throughout much of the 2010-11 season. They stumbled down the stretch, but still entered the playoffs as the top seed in the West with a 61-21 record. The Grizzlies were 46-36 during the season and made the playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history. They not only were looking for their first playoff series win, but their first win in a playoff game as well.
The teams split the first two games in San Antonio. The Grizzlies won game one 101-98. The Spurs came back to win game two, 93-87. Each of the first two games came down to the final minutes.
When the series moved to Memphis for games three and four, the Grizzlies made their move. They won game three 91-88. Then blew out the Spurs in game four 104-86. Memphis was heading back to San Antonio one game away from the franchise's first playoffs series victory.
The season appeared to be over for the Spurs in game five. Every time the Spurs got close, the Grizzlies had an answer. The Spurs were able to force OT after Gary Neal hit a three pointer at the buzzer and went on to win game five, 110-103.
Memphis knew they had to take care of business in game six and not let San Antonio force a game seven. That is what they went out and did, winning 99-91 to win the series 4-2. It was a coming out series for Zach Randolph who was able to dominate the Spurs. Whenever Memphis needed a shot, it went to Randolph.
At the time of this writing, the Grizzlies currently lead the Oklahoma City Thunder 1-0 in the second round of the playoffs.
You can also read Dennis' article summarizing every triple overtime game in NBA playoff history.
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