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The 10 Most Surprising Sweeps In NBA Playoff History

By 05.09.11


5. Golden State over Washington, 1975 NBA Finals
One of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history. Washington had the league’s best record (60-22), and had an inside-out combination of Wes Unseld (led the NBA in rebounds per game) and Kevin Porter (led the NBA in assists per game), not to mention another all-time talent in Elvin Hayes. All that the Warriors had was Rick Barry, the best offense in the league but also a defense that was nearly just as bad (think Phoenix circa 2005) and an easily-overlooked 48-win season. Golden State was such an afterthought, they had to change the format of the series because the Warriors couldn’t use their arena during Memorial Day weekend. But somehow, they won four straight games by a total of 16 points, somehow riding their defense (held Washington under 100 points three times) while totally shutting down Hayes.

4. Houston over Orlando, 1995 NBA Finals
It’s amazing how different a series can look after one game. Coming into the Finals, the Rockets were just an overachieving sixth seed that had won only 47 regular-season games. Orlando was the future, a future that was pressing to become the present. Orlando had the home-court advantage, and jumped out to an enormous lead in Game 1. Then Nick Anderson happened and the Magic completely fell apart. The Magic, along with the Spurs, were the two best teams in the league in 1995. Funny, that even after they derailed San Antonio, no one thought the Rockets could take Orlando. They were wrong.

3. Milwaukee over Boston, 1983 Eastern Conference Semifinals
For nine years, the Celtics made it to at least the NBA’s final four every single time. The one time they didn’t was in 1983 when miraculously, they were sent home early by Milwaukee. The Bucks had some talent (Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief), but I think Boston had a little more (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish). Boston was blown out at home to start the series and then blown out again to end it. How shocking was it? The Bucks never did much of anything from then on while the Celtics used basically the same team to win a title the very next season.

2. Chicago over Detroit, 1991 Eastern Conference Finals
Now it might sound like heresy, but back in 1991, people still weren’t sure about MJ. The Bulls had finally passed Detroit over for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and everyone knew they were gaining on Detroit. But just as the basketball world always is, we were slow to claim Chicago the better team. When they met again to decide the winner of the East, the Bulls not only beat Detroit, they embarrassed them in four straight. Detroit, with all of their championship mettle, experience and grit would never get swept by the baby Bulls. That’s what everyone thought. It seems crazy, but most people believed more in the beat-up Pistons than in the coming-into-their-prime Bulls. Looking back, this was inevitable. Once Chicago realized the Pistons couldn’t control them or physically punish them anymore, it became a ridiculous mismatch.

1. Detroit over L.A. Lakers, 1989 NBA Finals
Talk about a passing of the torch. L.A. had beaten the Pistons in the 1988 NBA Finals and arrived in Detroit for Game 1 with a shiny new MVP trophy for Magic Johnson and 16-consecutive wins. The Lakers hadn’t lost for nearly two months and the Pistons still hadn’t proved they could win on the biggest stages. They had doubters. But all of that didn’t mattered as the Lakers got hammered in Game 1. Now, L.A. struggled with some severe injury problems during this series (Byron Scott missed much of the action and Johnson hurt himself during Game 2). Still, no one thought the champs would go this quietly especially since this marked the end of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s career. It sparked a new, two-year run of Detroit “Bad Boy” basketball.

What is the most surprising sweep in NBA Playoff history? Where does this L.A. loss rank?

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