Ranking the Most Surprising NBA Finals Outcomes in the Last 20 Years

Andy HuSenior Writer IIJune 11, 2013

Ranking the Most Surprising NBA Finals Outcomes in the Last 20 Years

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    NBA title contending teams come and go throughout the years. Some teams build a dynasty that could contend for a championship for a long time, while other teams are a one-and-done deal. In recent memory, the San Antonio Spurs is the only team that has built a dynasty from scratch decades ago and are still competing in the league today.

    Although a championship is always expected for the favorites, there have been multiple times in the past decade where an underdog has reached the Finals and defeated a team that was favored to win it all.

    Some teams like the early 2000s Los Angeles Lakers and today's Miami Heat are expected to dominate the league, with no chance in the world that any opponent could even touch their greatness. So, an opposing team that overthrows them would be considered an upset and surprise.

    This slideshow will rank the top five most surprising title winners in the past two decades.

5. 2010 Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics

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    To be fair, the outcome of the 2010 Finals wasn't as surprising as how it happened.

    The Los Angeles Lakers were squared to face the Boston Celtics in a rematch of the 2008 NBA Finals, where the Lakers lost Game 6 by an unprecedented 39 points (per Basketball Reference).

    In the 2010 Finals, the Lakers once again found themselves down 3-2 going into Game 6. In a turn of events, the Lakers were able to grab both victories at Staples Center and secure consecutive championships for the first time since Shaquille O'Neal was still in a Lakers uniform.

    Both teams featured the same core of players as the 2008 matchup, but this version of the Lakers were much more mature than the previous team. Pau Gasol arrived in Los Angeles in a mid-season trade in 2008 and he wasn't as comfortable as he was two years later.

    For the Celtics, their "Big Three" of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were starting to show signs of age, and everyone thought that their 2010 Finals appearance would be their last. Although it did seem like age was starting to catch up to them, they were still superstars who led the team over the top seeded Cleveland Cavaliers and defending Eastern Conference champions Orlando Magic before surprisingly falling short to a Lakers team they defeated two years ago in the Finals.

4. 1995 Finals: Orlando Magic vs. Houston Rockets

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    The 1995 Finals was the perfect example of experienced, playoff-tested veterans leading a team over a young, inexperienced team which consisted of a 23-year old superstar named Shaquille O'Neal.

    Although the Houston Rockets won the championship the year before, they entered into the 1995 playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference and won 12 less games during the regular season than the Orlando Magic.

    The Rockets also made an offseason trade in 1994 which jettisoned Otis Thorpe, a major piece of the 1994 Rockets' championship run, in exchange for an aging Clyde Drexler who was already passed his prime.

    However, the Rockets were able to shockingly sweep the Magic, led by a 32-year old Hakeem Olajuwon, who averaged 32.8 PPG in the series.

3. 2006 Finals: Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat

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    The 2006 Finals featured two teams that have never reached the NBA Finals in their respective franchise's history.

    The Dallas Mavericks had the second-best record in the Western Conference and surprisingly knocked out the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs, while the Miami Heat endured a sensational playoff run in their own right.

    The Mavericks started off strong and convincingly won their first two games at home to secure a 2-0 series advantage. They were on the verge of winning Game 3 before the Heat, led by a young Dwyane Wade, rallied late in the fourth quarter to prevent a 3-0 series deficit.

    However, the 2006 Finals was one of the most controversial playoff series in recent memory. Even Phil Jackson suggested that some of the games were poorly officiated and there could've possibly been something going on behind the scenes (via Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas).

    Even so, it doesn't take away from the fact that the Heat were able to pull together one of the best Finals comebacks in history, as they won four straight games en route to the title.

2. 2011 Finals: Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks

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    Five years after that controversial 2006 Finals series, the two teams met up once again in 2011—albeit both rosters were much different compared to the 2006 squads.

    This was the first year that the Heat "Big Three" of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and returning superstar Dwyane Wade played together. They weren't just the favorites to win the title, but they were expected to win multiple titles during the span of this era.

    The Mavericks on the other hand, featured a core of veterans who never have won a championship in their respective careers before. Dirk Nowitzki was 32 years old and this was probably his last chance to win a ring, while other aging players like Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry rounded out the core of this team.

    With a combination of interior dominance on both sides of the floor and Nowitzki playing at an immortal level, the Mavericks were just too much for the Heat to handle.

    The funny thing is, this 2011 Mavericks team wouldn't have won the championship if this was any other year. They had the perfect opportunity and they were in the perfect situation to win in 2011. After that year, younger teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder started to rise and the Heat had more time to play together to become the undisputed best team in the league.

    This Mavericks team was the perfect example of a one-and-done deal, as key pieces like Chandler and J.J. Barea weren't re-signed in the offseason, and the Mavericks got swept in the first round of the playoffs in 2012.

1. 2004 Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons

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    The 2004 Los Angeles Lakers featured four future Hall of Famers and Kobe Bryant in his prime. Karl Malone and Gary Payton were well passed their primes at that time, but along with a 32-year old Shaquille O'Neal, they still combined to form one of the most talented starting lineups in history.

    On the other end of the spectrum, the Detroit Pistons were the complete opposite. They had a starting lineup filled with unknown players and cast-offs who were able to become one of the best defensive teams in the league that year.

    It was only after the Pistons won the championship that players like Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace started to become more recognized around the world.

    Not only did the Pistons win the series, but they convincingly beat them in five games. In some of the games, the Lakers looked like they didn't even stand a chance. The Pistons' team-first approach on both ends of the floor was just too much to handle for a team with great individual players, but different approaches to the game.

    After the Lakers were defeated, the entire team was broken up and they started to rebuild from scratch. O'Neal and Payton went to the Heat, Malone retired, and Bryant was the only major player left from the Lakers' dynasty of the early 2000s.