What’s the lowest seed to ever win the NBA Finals? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Brooklyn Nets’ 2021-22 season has been a roller-coaster ride to say the least.
From the Kyrie Irving-vaccine mandate situation to James Harden forcing his way out midseason and Ben Simmons still not having made his Nets debut, there’s been a major off-court storyline all season in Brooklyn. Throw in Joe Harris’ season-ending injury and Kevin Durant’s MCL sprain, and the Nets had to literally earn their way into the playoffs.
Brooklyn finished in seventh place at 44-38, ending the season on a 21-18 stretch, before defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Play-In Tournament for the No. 7 seed. Now, Brooklyn is staring down a path to a championship that could look something like Boston Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks-Miami Heat-Phoenix Suns.
Despite their daunting road ahead, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Nets were the last team standing in June. Brooklyn enters the 2022 NBA Playoffs with the fifth-best odds (+900) of winning the NBA Finals, according to PointsBet, trailing the Suns, Bucks, Celtics and Golden State Warriors.
But is there a historical precedent for a seven seed to win it all?
Has a No. 7 seed ever won the NBA Finals?
The Nets would be making history by hoisting the 2022 Larry O’Brien Trophy. Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, no seven seed has ever won the NBA championship. In fact, over that span, just four No. 7 seeds have made it past the first round (h/t The Ringer).
What’s the furthest a No. 7 seed has advanced in the NBA playoffs?
No No. 7 seed has made it further in the postseason than the 1986-87 Seattle SuperSonics. Seattle had a losing record in the regular season at 39-43, but stunned the No. 2 Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. Led by one-time All-Star Dale Ellis, the SuperSonics took down the Mavs in four games.
Then, Seattle had a second-round matchup versus Hakeem Olajuwon and the No. 6 Houston Rockets, who were coming off a first-round upset of their own over Clyde Drexler and the No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers. Seattle edged out Houston in a tightly-contested six-game series, with three of their four victories coming by five points or less.
The SuperSonics’ magical run came to an end in the Western Conference Finals, as they were swept by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the eventual-champion Los Angeles Lakers. Seattle is the only No. 7 seed to ever make it as far as the conference finals.
What’s the lowest-seeded team to ever reach the NBA Finals?
While a No. 7 seed hasn’t reached the NBA Finals before, a No. 8 seed has. In the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, the New York Knicks went 27-23 to grab the East’s eighth and final playoff spot. In a win-or-go-home Game 5 against No. 1 Miami in Round 1, Allan Houston hit a go-ahead shot with under one second remaining to push the Knicks into the conference semifinals.
Patrick Ewing and Co. met the No. 4 Atlanta Hawks in the second round and rolled to a four-game sweep. Then, in a conference finals where five of the six games were decided by single digits, the Knicks defeated the Reggie Miller-led Indiana Pacers to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals.
New York ran into the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals and fell in five games, as Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan combined for their first of five championships over a 15-year stretch.
Only five No. 8 seeds have ever made it past the first round of the playoffs, and the 1998-99 Knicks are the only ones to advance beyond Round 2.
What’s the lowest-seeded team to ever win the NBA Finals?
The 1994-95 Rockets stand alone as the lowest-seeded team to ever win the NBA Finals.
As the reigning NBA champions, Houston entered the 1995 postseason as a No. 6 seed following a 47-35 regular season. The Rockets went the distance with their opponent in each of the first two playoff rounds, first beating the No. 3 Utah Jazz in five games and then the No. 2 Suns in seven games.
Olajuwon and Co. actually came back from a 3-1 deficit against Charles Barkley and the Suns. The second-round triumph was capped by a one-point road win in Game 7, where Mario Elie drilled a tie-breaking 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds that became known as the “Kiss of Death.”
After splitting the first two games in the West Finals versus San Antonio, Houston took Games 5 and 6 to make it back to a second consecutive NBA Finals. The Rockets beat the Knicks in seven games the prior year, and this time they were matched up with Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic.
Hakeem got the better of Shaq in the series, powering the Rockets to a sweep and a historic repeat.