Did This Year’s Already-Wild NBA Playoffs Just Gift Us the Greatest Upset Ever?

The Eastern Conference's number-one seed and the overall favorite to win the NBA title, the Milwaukee Bucks, are done in just five games

Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat drives around Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at Fiserv Forum on April 26, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
We thought the NBA Playoffs would be wild, but this is on another level.
Stacy Revere / Getty Images

While we tried hard not to state the obvious as the NBA Playoffs approached this year, it was unavoidable to observe that the tournament appeared “wide open” and, thus, susceptible to unpredictable outcomes. We’re only a handful of games into the postseason’s first round and it continues to be as wild as a science museum on elementary-school trip day — or the Bronx (where peacocks apparently roam free) on basically any day.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who at the start of the playoffs had the fourth-best odds in the Eastern Conference to win it all, at +4500, were ousted by the New York Knicks last night in the first round. Though the Knicks’ odds at a championship were significantly lower, at +12000, they took care of the Cavs in just five games.

Out west, the Golden State Warriors, who were prohibitive favorites to beat their first-round opponent, the Sacramento Kings, found themselves down 0-2 in their best-of-seven series. However, the Dubs are now poised to advance, having won three straight contests, in spite of a Draymond Green one-game suspension for stepping on Kings forward Domantas Sabonis. The underdog Memphis Grizzlies are still hanging around in their series against the Los Angeles Lakers, which featured a LeBron James nutshot from the Grizz’s Dillon Brooks. And after losing their first game to the Los Angeles Clippers at home, the Western Conference’s pre-playoff favorite Phoenix Suns rallied to close out the Clips in just five games.

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But the biggest shocker of them all came last night in Milwaukee when the home team Bucks were eliminated by the Miami Heat in game five of their showdown. Not only were the Bucks the number-one seed and the Heat number eight in the Eastern Conference, but at the beginning of the playoffs, Milwaukee, with perennial MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo in its front court, was the NBA’s overall favorite to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy as Finals champion. However, Antetokounmpo suffered a back contusion after a hard fall in the first game, missing much of that contest (a Bucks loss) and all of game two (an unlikely win for his team), as well as game three (another loss). He returned in game four and played fairly well and then excellently in game five, but is now headed home.

“This has to be the worst postseason ever,” Antetokounmpo said after the game last night, per ESPN. “We have a number in [the locker room] and we were stuck on 15 [wins to the NBA Finals] which is kind of hard to deal with. But at the end of the day, I feel like they were playing to beat us, and we were playing to win a championship.”

In another ESPN piece focusing on the incredible series performance of the Heat’s Jimmy Butler — in which he averaged 37.6 points per game and hit a clutch, game-tying shot at the end of regulation in what proved to be the clinching game — the publication made the case for the Bucks first-round exit being the biggest upset in NBA Playoff history.

The Bucks, who owned the NBA’s best record during the regular season with 58 wins, became the fifth number-one seed to lose to an eighth seed, joining the 1994 Seattle SuperSonics, 1999 Heat, 2007 Dallas Mavericks and 2011 San Antonio Spurs in infamy.

“The Seattle SuperSonics were massive favorites when the Denver Nuggets famously upset them in 1995, but that was a five-game series,” wrote ESPN. That ’99 Heat squad lost to the Knicks who went all the way to the NBA Finals after a lockout-shortened season in which the team had acquired new players that needed time to gel. The 2011 Grizzlies were also not your typical eighth seed because they finished 10 games over .500 and had defeated the Spurs — who were dealing with injuries in the postseason — twice during the regular season. “The best comparison” to this year’s Bucks, ESPN continued, “is the 2007 Dallas Mavericks, who lost in six games to the ‘We Believe’ version of the Golden State Warriors. But even that Golden State team won the season series with Dallas and matched up well with the 67-win Mavericks.”

Meanwhile, the Heat of 2023 barely won their final play-in game against the Chicago Bulls. Today, they’re celebrating as the first team from the play-in tournament to advance past a one seed and arguably as owners of the greatest upset we’ve ever seen in professional basketball.

Next, the Heat will renew their classic rivalry with the Knicks in round two of the playoffs, while the Boston Celtics have emerged as the NBA’s new betting favorites to win the title at +165. But even they still have to get past the Atlanta Hawks, who with a win at home tonight can force an anything-can-happen game seven in their first-round tilt.


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