The Wildest No. 1 Seed vs. No. 8 Seed NBA Playoff Matchups Ever

  • Dikembe Mutombo holding ball Seattle


    The 1994 Playoffs would have been crazy enough without a major upset – it was the first time ever the Lakers and Celtics both missed the playoffs. Chaos was destined to reign – and reign it did, with the Denver Nuggets shocking Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, and Co.

    Denver – the first team to topple a No. 1 seed in the first round – was the youngest team in the league and the spitting image of a team with nothing to lose. Led by a fresh-faced Dikembe Mutombo, the Nuggets reeled off three straight wins to topple the Sonics, closing the series with Mount Mutombo clutching the basketball, grinning in disbelief.

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  • Celtics/Hawks


    The Celtics were expected to walk through the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2008. After acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the offseason, Boston stormed to a 66-16 record, seven games clear of the next-best team in the league. Their opponent in the first round, the Atlanta Hawks, won just 37 games in the regular season, and a sweep was assumed.

    Somebody forgot to tell Atlanta that. The Hawks held their end of the bargain, winning all three of their home games, forcing Boston to go the distance and testing the limits of their newly-formed nucleus. Zaza Pachulia’s triumphant scream is the lasting image of their fight in this series. It’s often forgotten – and the Celts trounced Atlanta in Game 7 – but it was a tough test for the eventual champions to start the playoffs.

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  • Allan Houston game-winner Miami Heat


    Abbreviated seasons always seem to bring out the wackier side of sports, and the post-lockout ’99 campaign was no exception. New York almost turned their eight seed into a championship, going on one of the great playoff pushes in the history of the league.

    Plagued by chemistry issues after several splashy offseason moves, the Knicks finally got things together as the postseason fired up. A remarkable Cinderella run to the Finals wouldn’t have been possible without a dramatic opening series against the Heat. Trailing in the deciding game against former coach Pat Riley, the Knicks advanced past Miami after Allan Houston hit a dramatic runner with time expiring. The rest, as they say, is history.

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  • Baron Davis crazy three-pointer Warriors We Believe


    Sure, there have been series where the eight seed has triumphed over their heavily-favored opponents. But none have been more emphatic than the “We Believe” Warriors torching the top-seed Mavericks in 2007, when the MVP-to-be was taken out in the first round of the playoffs.

    Golden State thrived as a band of outcasts coming together, players that seemingly no one else wanted forming into a Voltron of fearless attack. Spearheaded by the still dynamic Baron Davis – hitting ridiculous shots like the one you see above – the Warriors rode an electric home crowd and an ahead-of-its-time three-point barrage to statement wins over Dallas, closing out the series in only six games.

    It was the first time in NBA history that an eight seed didn’t need the full ledger of games to emerge victorious, and doing it against the MVP’s 67-win team was one of the more shocking plot twists in NBA history. Golden State has morphed into a juggernaut current day, and you can feel the echoes of the We Believe team in their freewheeling, crowd-pleasing aesthetic.

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  • Vlade Divac, James Worthy Lakers


    Speaking of MVPs, Charles Barkley was riding high in 1993. Having escaped a dreadful situation in Philadelphia, Barkley turned in his best season to date for his new Suns team, and Phoenix entered the ’93 Playoffs expected to challenge the defending champion Bulls in the NBA Finals.

    Though they’d eventually live up to that billing, Phoenix dropped the first two games of their opening round series with the Lakers. This wasn’t Showtime anymore, but James Worthy, Byron Scott, and a few other holdovers made life troublesome for Barkley, forcing the eventual West champs to a pivotal fifth game. Watching the Lakers leave Phoenix’s floor after Game 2, you would have thought the series was over – it looked like they were fleeing the scene of a crime.

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  • Dikembe Mutombo holding ball Seattle
  • Allan Houston game-winner Miami Heat
  • Baron Davis crazy three-pointer Warriors We Believe
  • Vlade Divac, James Worthy Lakers

The eighth seed in the NBA Playoffs is often seen as a death sentence. In recent years, that would mean playing the likes of LeBron and Wade’s Heat in the East, or going toe-to-toe with the San Antonio Spurs in the West. In the past, it was teams like Shaq and Kobe’s memorable Lakers units. Dealing with the transcendent talent that resides at the top of each conference isn’t fun for anyone.

It’s not all bad being the underdog, though. Without the burden of expectations, the No. 8 seed can play as loose and fast as they want, and no one will judge them for flaming out of the playoffs early. They can throw crazy lineups at their opponents, switching size, tempo, and pressure as it suits their personnel. It’s the kitchen sink approach – throw everything at the opponent and hope that something works.

That type of chaos is so different from the usual ebb and flow of the NBA Playoffs. When things go normally, the cream rises to the top, and the better team coasts to victory without much trouble. Taking a break from that to delve into the absurd is some of the most fun NBA fans have. Months after March Madness has come to an end, the insanity continues at the professional level. What could be better than that?

Quickly approaching is a 1/8 matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder that couldn’t happen in most seasons. You simply don’t see teams with OKC’s talent slide to eight in a normal season, but this year has been anything but normal.

In honor of the impending collision, we’re revisiting some of the best first-round clashes between seeds one and eight. These are the Wildest No. 1 Seed vs. No. 8 Seed NBA Playoff Matchups Ever.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck

image via Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images