FOUR UNEXPECTED RUNS TO THE CONFERENCE FINALS AND BEYOND
The NBA Playoffs are built to minimize upsets. But occasionally a team finds a way make an unexpected run. A look at four teams in the past 20 playoffs that made unexpected deep runs to the conference finals (and beyond):
2012-13 INDIANA PACERS
Regular season record: 49-32 (Eastern Conference No. 3 seed). It’s not that the Pacers were a bad team. But Indiana was relatively young — its leading scorer in the playoffs was a 22-year-old Paul George — and 54-win New York was supposed to challenge the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Instead, the Pacers knocked out the Knicks in six and took Miami to seven games before falling.
2012-13 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Regular season record: 56-26 (Western Conference No. 5 seed). The Grizzlies hardly were an upstart; they fell to the No. 5 seed on a tiebreaker and featured Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph. Still, nobody expected Memphis to reach the conference finals, given that Oklahoma City stood in its way in the second round. A firstround injury to Russell Westbrook opened the door, and Memphis stormed through it.
2001-02 BOSTON CELTICS
Regular season record: 49-33 (Eastern Conference No. 3 seed). On March 1, the Celtics were four games over .500. But Boston got hot down the stretch of the regular season, and stars Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker cooked at playoff time, averaging a combined 39.6 points in a five-game conference semifinal win against Detroit in which neither team ever cracked 100 points.
1998-99 NEW YORK KNICKS
Regular season record: 27-23 (Eastern Conference No. 8 seed). Yes, it was a lockout year, but nobody saw the Knicks coming. After New York stunned top-seeded rival Miami in the first round and swept No. 4 seed Atlanta in the second, New York lost center Patrick Ewing in Game 2 of the East finals. Guards Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell took over to lead the Knicks to an upset of Indiana. Of these four dark horses, only New York reached the NBA Finals, where it lost to the Spurs.