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The Biggest Upsets in NBA Finals History 

NBA: Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans

The NBA Finals Series is the showpiece occasion in basketball. After a long and grueling regular season, followed by some intense playoffs, the champions are finally crowned. 

The finals will always define a season. In the build up to the games, there will have been a number of standout performances, but supporters will always remember who won, and how they got to lift the trophy. 

Current Standings 

Great rivalries between teams and players are often forged during the NBA finals series. If a team loses out to a certain set of opponents, revenge will always be sweeter if they advance to beat the same opponents a year later. 

So who will be the NBA champions of 2023? At the start of the playoffs, NBA championship odds listed the Boston Celtics as favorites following a productive regular season. Boston are great rivals with the LA Lakers who are in second place in those markets.  

The chasing pack is then followed by the underdog section which includes Miami Heat and the New York Knicks. Could either of those outsiders come through and add to the long list of previous NBA upsets? 

2004: The Biggest Shock? 

The format of the finals series is intended to produce the best team across the entire season. There are seven possible games in place and the first team to win four of those matches is crowned as the champions. 

Over the course of those seven games, the team who is at their most consistent best should come through, but that hasn’t stopped the finals from producing a fair few shock results. 

Opinion may be divided as to the biggest upset of all time, but many hoops fans will point to 2004 and the encounter between the LA Lakers and the Detroit Pistons. After a more comfortable passage through the regular season, the Lakers started as hot favorites. In contrast, the Pistons had finished the campaign as the number 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

The Los Angeles team were packed with stars including Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant while Detroit were a workmanlike roster with no standout players. The result seemed inevitable, but the Pistons hadn’t read the script. 

LA leveled at 1-1 after Detroit had won the first game, but that was the end of their story. The Pistons not only upset the odds, they did it in incredible style, eventually winning the five game series by a 4-1 scoreline. 

1969: Celtics Extend their run 

The Boston Celtics were the dominant team of the 1960s but, as they approached the end of the decade, many felt that they had held onto their aging stars for too long. As a result, Boston went into the 1969 finals as the underdogs to a strong LA Lakers team. 

In contrast to the Celtics’ decline, the Lakers were in the ascendancy and had just added the great Wilt Chamberlain to their roster. Boston had scraped through the regular season with a modest, 48-34 record and were merely the fourth seeds from the East. 

The script was laid down but, once again, the outsiders ignored the expert verdict as they scraped through by four games to three. Game seven is regarded by many as one of the best in NBA Finals history as Boston won by 108 points to 106. 

2011: The Heat is Off 

Miami Heat superstar LeBron James made some bold claims when he joined the Miami Heat, but his words would come back to haunt him in 2011. He had cause to be confident as he lined up in an exceptional Heat team which also included Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. 

Miami came up against a Dallas Mavericks team who were short on superstars by comparison, but they could usually rely on some exceptional performances from Dirk Nowitzki. 

Everything seemed to be going to plan as the Heat won game one, but the giant power forward Nowitzki stepped up. The German was influential in the rest of the series, scoring the crucial points as Dallas secured a stunning 4-2 victory. 

1975: Warriors Complete Unlikely Clean Sweep 

Due to the margin of victory, the Golden State Warriors’ win of 1975 has a tangible claim as the greatest NBA finals shock of all. As heavy underdogs, GSW were given little chance against the clear favorites the Washington Bullets. 

Not only did the Warriors upset the odds, they came through with a clean sweep, winning the first four games to claim an unassailable lead. Rick Barry was a deserving MVP finals winner, averaging a healthy 29.5 points across the five games.  

The Next Great Upset 

There’s always scope for more teams to add their name to this list. While many NBA finals do go with the favorites, there will often be some twists and turns along the way. 

The front runners for the 2023 finals series have been confirmed, but will this season end with another great shock?  

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