When it happened for the first time back in 1994, no one could believe it.
Lasting is the image of Denver Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo lying on the floor holding the basketball in the air and smiling a joy that no other player for an eight-seed had ever felt in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
A brief history of eight-over-one playoff upsets
In one of the greatest playoff upsets in sports history, the Nuggets had just shocked the world before that silly phrase became vogue. Mighty Seattle, with its superstar duo of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton leading a total of six players who averaged double figures in points, a team that went 63-19 — a full five games better than the next best record in the NBA — had blown it.
They were the first No. 1 seed ever to lose in the first round of the NBA playoffs. And they did it by losing three straight after being up 2-0 in the best-of-five series.
The SuperSonics’ hangover seeped into the following season when they didn’t even win their division and lost to the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
Since then it has happened three more times: the 1999 Knicks over Miami; the 2007 Warriors over Dallas; and last year’s Grizzlies over San Antonio. Certainly the more it happens the less astonished the sports world is, especially in comparison to 1994, but still, the one seed is supposed to beat the eight seed and if they don’t they can expect an off-season of questions and doubts surrounding their organization.
The eight-over-one feat will happen again this year. Mark it down.
No shame in Bulls’ likely first round exit
The Bulls, tied with San Antonio for the best record in the NBA at 50-16, will not enjoy the spoils of triumph as the Spurs have already done in sweeping the Jazz. The Bulls, down 3-1, would actually be the shockers of the sports world if they summoned whatever it’s going to take to win three games in a row against Philadelphia.
No one is going to blame the coach or question the heart of this team when the end comes. You don’t lose the magnificence of the 2011 MVP Derrick Rose to an ACL tear late in the fourth quarter of your only win and expect to be the same team.
You don’t lose the fight and heart and ten-and-ten production of Joakim Noah and wonder why you couldn’t steal Game 4 in front of a hostile crowd in Philly.
No one in their right minds is expecting the Bulls to win this series. No one with a shred of intelligence is going to compare this team to any of the other No. 1 seeds that have been humbled in the first round. Sadly, it is this exact humility that the NBA will miss for the rest of this post-season, because the Bulls, as talented as Rose is, have created a name for themselves with their character, hard work, and tenacity on the court.
It is their character that shines most when this team plays. And it is cruel irony that a league largely devoid of humility will have to miss out on its best team because of something as simple as bad luck.
Said Sixers coach Doug Collins: “Things change so quickly. Joakim Noah the other day steps on an ankle. We saw Derrick Rose blow out a knee. You’ve got to take care of your business. A closeout game is the hardest game to win in sports. We’ve got to go into Chicago with the idea that we’ve got to get that win as bad as they do.”
Clearly Collins is aware that anything can happen, but he also knows that his team is in the driver’s seat, and against a team he once coached and still has a tremendous amount of admiration for. For a competitor like Collins, that has to bother him to some degree.
According to reports, Noah will be a game-time decision tonight in Game 5 in Chicago. It might not mean the difference in winning and losing the series, but it would do the team and the city, not to mention the entire NBA, a ton of good if the Bulls could summon their signature character to squeeze out one more victory this season.