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John Rohde: It's not easy being Cinderella in the NBA playoffs

By John Rohde Published: April 17, 2010
If Cinderella is going to visit the NBA playoffs, she’s going to have to make multiple visits. Her presence must be felt at least four times in a single series.

In the NCAA Tournament, all it takes is a 40-minute appearance from Cindy.

In the NBA playoffs, the opening round is a best-of-seven series.

Since the NCAA Tournament bracket expanded in 1985, no bottom seed has beaten a top seed in the opening round.

Since the NBA playoffs expanded in 1984, three No. 8 seeds have eliminated a No. 1 seed in the opening round.

The Thunder is about to play the Los Angeles Lakers, and no NBA defending champion has ever been eliminated by a No. 8 seed.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks is only 44 years old, but remembers a lot of basketball, including the three times No. 8 defeated No. 1.

Brooks said teams that win a series are simply the better team. Although there might be several contributing factors such as key injuries or bad matchups, there is no arguing with the results of a series.

Here are the three previous bottom-feeder winners:

→1994 — No. 8 Denver def. No. 1 Seattle (3-2): The SuperSonics had just posted a franchise-record 63 victories, while the Nuggets qualified at 42-40.

The Sonics won the first two games and a series sweep seemed imminent in what was then a best-of-five format. Hall of Fame center Dan Issel was coaching his former team and told his players they had nothing to lose as the series shifted to Denver. "To be honest, we just wanted to get some playoff experience this year,” Issel said at the time.

The relaxed Nuggets pounded the Sonics 110-93 in Game 3 and then pulled out a 94-85 overtime win in Game 4. The series was tied and going back to KeyArena, where the Sonics were 39-4 in the regular season and playoffs. "I can’t deny the butterflies felt like rocks,” Sonics coach George Karl said.

The Nuggets committed just 11 turnovers against Seattle’s full-court press in Game 5. On offense, Denver slowed the tempo and worked the ball inside to Dikembe Mutombo, LaPhonso Ellis and Brian Williams.

Mutombo dominated the lane defensively, reserve guard Robert Pack scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, Ellis scored 19 and Williams had 17 points and 19 rebounds as the Nuggets stunned the Sonics 98-94 in overtime to advance.

The Nuggets would lose to Utah in seven games in the next round.

→1999 — No. 8 New York def. No. 1 Miami (3-2): In a strike-shortened season that consisted of 50 regular-season games, the Heat went 33-17 and won a three-way tiebreaker against Orlando and Indiana for the top seed.


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