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How many times has a No. 8 seed upset a No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs?

After winning Friday’s final games of the NBA Play-In Tournament, the New Orleans Pelicans and Miami Heat enter this weekend as No. 8 seeds in their respective conferences. And they both face a tough road in the 2024 NBA playoffs.

Since the NBA expanded to 16 playoff teams in the 1983–84 season, only six of 80 teams (7.5%) have ever won a first-round series as a No. 8 seed against a No. 1 seed. The most recent example was last year, when the Heat upset the Milwaukee Bucks before advancing to the NBA Finals.

This year’s No. 8 seeds could be without their top scorers Zion Williamson (Pelicans) and Jimmy Butler (Heat), both of whom are unlikely to play in the opening round against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics, respectively. Still, these teams will look to defy the odds and join the list of some of the biggest upsets in NBA playoff history.

1994: Denver Nuggets defeated. Seattle SuperSonics, 3-2

Before the Nuggets made history in this series, many openly wondered if it was even possible for a No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed after the NBA expanded the postseason field a decade earlier.

Those cries grew louder after Denver lost its first two games by double digits, but the Nuggets rode three different top scorers – Reggie Williams (Game 3), LaPhonso Ellis (Game 4), Robert Pack (Game 5) – to an 0 score. 2 down and eventually won the series with an overtime victory in Game 5.

This series was also a masterclass for Dikembe Mutombo, who averaged 12.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 6.2 blocks, surpassing Seattle’s Shawn Kemp and helping cement the ’94 Nuggets in basketball history.

1999: New York Knicks def. Miami Heat, 3-2

The lockout-shortened 1998-99 NBA season was unusual in many ways, and this is certainly not the most shocking upset on this list, as these teams were separated by just six wins in that 50-game campaign.

Still, the Heat – led by Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway – should clearly beat the Knicks in the first round. Instead, New York stole Game 1 and traded wins before Allan Houston hit the winning shot in Game 5 to win the series.

The Knicks went on to reach the NBA Finals before losing to the San Antonio Spurs and then-rising star Tim Duncan, who won Finals MVP in his second season in the league.

2007: Golden State Warriors final Dallas Mavericks, 4-2

It might be hard to imagine Golden State as a plucky underdog after the past decade, but the “We Believe” Warriors would be blown away by a Mavericks team that won 67 games after reaching the NBA Finals the year before.

Instead, the trio of Baron Davis (25 PPG), Stephen Jackson (22.8) and Jason Richardson (19.5) outscored MVP winner Dirk Nowitzki (19.7) in a six-game victory that many still consider as the biggest upset in the NBA playoffs. history.

The magic ended soon after for the Dubs, who lost 4-1 to the Utah Jazz in the second round. Two years later, they drafted a young guard named Stephen Curry, and the rest is history.

2011: Memphis Grizzlies final San Antonio Spurs, 4-2

Before the Warriors ruled the league in the 2010s, the Spurs were the NBA’s preeminent dynasty, having won 61 games in the first round of the 2011 postseason.

Their matchup was against the “Grit and Grind” Grizzlies, with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol patrolling the paint and Mike Conley making life difficult for the Spurs’ star guards.

Duncan averaged just 12.7 points over six games in this series, in which Memphis won three of the first four games and closed the game at home behind Randolph’s 31 in Game 6.

2012: Philadelphia 76ers final Chicago Bulls, 4-2

A win is a win, but this series probably deserves an asterisk given the circumstances surrounding the 76ers’ victory.

Behind MVP winner Derrick Rose, the Bulls won 50 of 66 games – good for a 62-win pace – in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season to set up this Round 1 matchup. Then Rose tore his ACL in the final minutes of Game 1, and Philadelphia won three in a row before closing out the game with a 1-point home win in Game 6.

The Sixers fell in seven games to the Boston Celtics in Round 2, while the Bulls still haven’t advanced past the second round in more than a decade since.

2023: Miami Heat final Milwaukee Bucks, 4-1

Another series marred by a superstar injury, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo left early in Game 1 with a back injury and missed Game 2 and Game 3 before returning for the final two games of this series.

At that point, the Heat had secured a 2–1 series lead on an inspired effort from Jimmy Butler, who then scored 56 points in Game 4 and added another 42 in Game 5 to close out the 58-winning Bucks.

Miami went on to win the East for the second time in four seasons, although the Nuggets proved to be too much in the NBA Finals.

Complete history of No. 8 seeds upsetting No. 1 seeds in NBA playoffs

Year 1st round disrupted Play-off result
1994 Nuggets over SuperSonics (3-2) Lost in the second round
1999 Knicks over heat (3-2) Lost in NBA Finals
2007 Warriors over Mavericks (4-2) Lost in the second round
2011 Grizzlies over Spurs (4-2) Lost in the second round
2012 76ers over Bulls (4-2) Lost in the second round
2023 Heat over Bucks (4-2) Lost in NBA Finals

Has a No. 8 seed ever won the NBA Finals?

Of the six teams that defeated a No. 1 seed as well as a No. 8 seed, only two — the 1994 Knicks and the 2023 Heat — have advanced to the NBA Finals.

Both ultimately met their end in the championship round in a five-game loss to the No. 1 seed. The Knicks fell to the Spurs in the first title victory of their eventual dynasty, while the Heat were the latest victims of the Nuggets’ first-ever championship run.

The other four No. 8 seeds who scored a seismic upset in the first round all lost in the second round. In total, No. 1 seeds have won 74 of 80 possible matchups, with No. 8 seeds entering the 2024 NBA playoffs.