Great NBA Upsets: Pistons vs Lakers 2004 NBA Finals

This is arguably one of the greatest upsets in NBA Finals history as the Los Angeles Lakers entered this series at -550 odds. This was considered the last great run of the Shaq and Kobe era with Phil Jackson at the helm and it ended in disaster. Phil Jackson went so far as to write a book about the experience which was basically “I hate Kobe: the book”. That’s probably a stretch, but if you’ve read the book you know it is not very kind to Kobe. (Nor should it be.)

The Lakers did the three-peat between 1999-2002 before falling short in 2003. This was supposed to be the return to glory as they added two future Hall of Famers in Gary Payton and Karl Malone for one last run at a ring. The season was marred by the Kobe Bryant rape case, but when it came down to the Finals everyone in the world thought that the Lakers would simply grab another title. The dysfunction could be overcome to win a ring.

That was the thought, but the Pistons had something to say about that. They came in as +400 underdogs and were one of those “everything clicking right at the right time” teams. It was Larry Brown‘s first season in Detroit and he was very motivated by this squad. They made a midseason trade for Rasheed Wallace that changed their team.

Still, they had a tough road to the Finals. They went five games against the Bucks in round one and then they went seven games in round two against the Nets. Once in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers, their series went six games. It was a tough road and it’s easy to see a way that they might not have made it.

Game 1 was in Los Angeles and the Lakers were big favorites at -8, but they came out flat and only managed to score 75 points as the Pistons rolled 87-75. Despite taking the first game, this didn’t do much to change the odds of the series.

For Game 2 in LA, nothing changed and the Lakers were again favored by 8 points. The Lakers looked slightly better in this one, but still needed overtime to grab the win. The final score was 99-91 meaning that the result of this game was merely a push for LA.

With the series heading to Detroit tied 1-1, the bookmakers didn’t do much to change the odds. The first game in Detroit had Detroit as a PICK. A good rule of thumb in looking at lines in basketball is you get -2 just for playing at home so this means that the bookmakers still liked the Lakers. The Pistons destroyed LA 88-68.

The series was now 2-1 in favor of the underdog Pistons, but Vegas still thought that the Lakers were going to even it up and send it back to Los Angeles. The line was once again a PICK and once again the Pistons won, 88-80. Suddenly, the Lakers were on the verge of elimination and the bookmakers were on the verge of potentially losing some big money.

For Game 6 there was finally an adjustment made to the game’s betting line and the Pistons were favored by -3.5 points. Didn’t matter, they won 100-87 and the Detroit Pistons were champions.

What’s so shocking about this upset is just how close it wasn’t. Usually when you see an upset of this magnitude there are a couple of games that could’ve been a coinflip or a lucky break away from going the other way, but that wasn’t the case here. The Pistons dominated the Lakers and killed the dynasty.

A year later Shaq would be gone, Phil would be gone and Kobe would be by himself on a 12th place team. You have to wonder if winning this series could’ve saved them, but when you look at it closely the biggest surprise is that they actually made it this far in the first place.

Great NBA Upsets: Cavs vs Celtics 2010 Playoffs

The 2010 NBA Playoff series between the Cavaliers and Celtics is a famous one for many reasons. It’s the last series Lebron James played with the Cavaliers before leaving for Miami. It’s the series that Lebron “played weird” which led many to believe that his mother was having an affair with teammate Delonte West, one of the weirder NBA rumors out there. It was also one of the biggest upsets in recent NBA Playoffs history.

The 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers were the best team in the NBA that season with 61 wins and they earned homecourt advantage throughout the NBA Playoffs. They were the best team all season and Lebron James was solidifying himself as the best NBA player in the world.

The Boston Celtics won the championship in 2008, but were knocked out early by Orlando in 2009 and many people thought that the run was over for the big three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. They started the season big going 23-5, but then ended up slowing down and limped to the finish with a 27-27 record. By the time they played the Cavs, many thought that the “old” Celtics would not be able to keep up with Lebron James.

The opening betting odds for the series had the Cavaliers -500 to win this one and the Celtics +400 to upset. This is pretty big odds and you usually don’t see an upset at this level and after game one, you wouldn’t be expecting one.

The Cavaliers took Game 1 101-93, overcoming an 11-point deficit in the second half to grab the win. Everything you thought about the Cavs was true at this point. Then Game 2 happened and the Celtics stormed back big, winning 104-86 on the back of a huge 31-12 third quarter and the Celtics grabbed home court.

At this point, everyone was expecting a good series but still had the Cavs winning this and Game 3 solidified that point of view. The Cavs went into Boston, one of the toughest arenas in the NBA, and handed the Celtics their worst home loss in playoff history 124-95. Lebron James had 21 in the first quarter and 38 for the game. Paul Pierce called the loss “embarrassing” and the Celtics changed from this point on.

The Celtics came back with a 97-87 win thanks to a gigantic game from Rajon Rondo who went for 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. The series was now tied 2-2 and, despite the loss, many still thought that the Cavaliers would eventually get this thing done with the series heading to Cleveland for the next game.

Game 5 is the game that everyone points to when they call Lebron James a choker or talk about the Delonte West rumors. It is probably the weirdest game of his career. The Celtics absolutely dominated them with a 120-88 win, but the real story was Lebron. Despite playing 41 minutes (why did he play 41 minutes in a 32 point loss again?) he only had 15 points, 7 assists and six rebounds. He shot 3-14 from the field and was a -22 =/-. Maybe he just had a bad game or he wanted the team to pick him up, maybe this is when he knew he would go to Miami. It’s impossible to know, but this will always be one of the weirdest NBA games of all-time.

The series headed back to Boston for Game 6 and the old Lebron James was back. 29 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists was amazing from him, but it wasn’t enough as the Celtics won 94-85 and took the series.

There were many articles and quotes about those last few games. Many accused the Cavs of quitting in the series, including their owner Dan Gilbert. The Celtics would go on to lose the Finals to the Lakers and Lebron James would move on to Miami.

We’ll never know what exactly happened in that series, but the Celtics +400 were a great bet.