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The 25 Biggest Playoff Series Upsets, 1991-2009

Posted by Neil Paine on December 7, 2009

454003470_Nick_Van_ExcelContinuing our series on huge playoff upsets, I've taken the methodology I laid out on Friday and applied it to every playoff series from 1991-2009 to determine the probability of each team winning, given the distribution of minutes for their players in the series. This is accomplished by finding weighted averages of the team's players' and opponents' seasonal SRS-SPM scores (see Part I for an explanation), and plugging them into the following equation to produce a single-game expected winning %:

xWP = 1 / (1 + exp(0.622 - 0.168(tm_srs) + 0.168(opp_srs) - 1.244(homecourt)))

Again, where homecourt = 1 if the team is at home and 0 if they're on the road. Armed with these single-game probabilities, all that's left is to use them to calculate the odds of winning a series of a given length with a given # of home games. This of course means you need to calculate not only the probability of each series outcome, but also the probability that the series ends in each specific # of games (for instance, winning a series in four games would require 4 consecutive wins -- WWWW -- while you could win in five games four different ways -- WWWLW, WWLWW, WLWWW, or LWWWW).

Let's take an example: In last year's Finals, the Lakers and Magic played these players:

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Kobe Bryant LAL 216 6.38 Dwight Howard ORL 211 6.84
Pau Gasol LAL 210 3.14 Rashard Lewis ORL 210 3.37
Trevor Ariza LAL 185 3.01 Hedo Turkoglu ORL 204 1.95
Derek Fisher LAL 178 -0.09 Rafer Alston ORL 145 1.57
Lamar Odom LAL 166 2.53 Mickael Pietrus ORL 138 -0.36
Andrew Bynum LAL 92 0.90 Jameer Nelson ORL 87 4.92
Luke Walton LAL 75 -2.70 Courtney Lee ORL 85 -1.44
Jordan Farmar LAL 55 -3.19 J.J. Redick ORL 64 -2.85
Sasha Vujacic LAL 20 2.26 Marcin Gortat ORL 51 0.09
Shannon Brown LAL 14 -3.48 Tony Battie ORL 33 -4.27
Josh Powell LAL 10 -7.75 Team 11.05
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga LAL 4 0.18
Team 10.70

With an SRS of 10.70, vs. an opposing SRS of 11.05, the Lakers could expect to beat the Magic at home 63.7% of the time and 33.6% of the time on the road. So to determine their probability of winning a 7-game series vs. Orlando in which they had the home-court advantage, we need to calculate their probability of winning WWWW, WWWLW, etc.:

WP = (.637 * .637 * .336 * .366) + (.637 * .637 * .336 * (1 - .336) * .336) + ... + ((1 - .637) * (1 - .637) * (1 - .336) * .336 * .336 * .637 * .637) = .519

And so on and so forth. Do that for each of the 70 different ways either team can win a 7-game series, and the answer is 0.519, their probability of winning 4 out of 7 games against the Magic with 4 games at home and 3 on the road.

Finally, to judge the impressiveness of each series victory, I subtracted the winner's expected odds of winning the series (given the distribution of minutes they used in the series itself) from 100%, or the actual odds that they won the series. Like the post last Friday, this gives little credit to teams that won series they were "supposed to" win, but gives underdogs a big boost for toppling teams they should have had a slim chance of defeating. Anyway, without further ado, here are the 25 biggest playoff series upsets since 1991:

25. 2008: Lakers 4, Spurs 1 (Spurs xW% = 70.3%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Kobe Bryant LAL 199 7.84 Tim Duncan SAS 199 6.01
Pau Gasol LAL 183 2.41 Tony Parker SAS 188 0.76
Lamar Odom LAL 166 2.49 Bruce Bowen SAS 169 -1.74
Derek Fisher LAL 135 -0.81 Manu Ginobili SAS 158 9.50
Vladimir Radmanovic LAL 129 -0.29 Brent Barry SAS 101 3.71
Sasha Vujacic LAL 126 -0.64 Michael Finley SAS 90 -2.42
Jordan Farmar LAL 98 -0.05 Fabricio Oberto SAS 89 1.27
Luke Walton LAL 80 -1.83 Ime Udoka SAS 54 0.21
Ronny Turiaf LAL 50 0.54 Robert Horry SAS 50 0.97
Trevor Ariza LAL 9 2.32 Kurt Thomas SAS 42 1.50
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga LAL 2 -3.49 Jacque Vaughn SAS 24 -5.27
Team 8.82 Damon Stoudamire SAS 8 -3.93
Matt Bonner SAS 3 -1.02
Team 11.82

24. 1993: Bulls 4, Knicks 2 (Knicks xW% = 70.4%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Michael Jordan CHI 249 13.47 Patrick Ewing NYK 251 3.68
Scottie Pippen CHI 240 4.00 John Starks NYK 240 2.93
Horace Grant CHI 216 2.15 Anthony Mason NYK 197 -0.01
B.J. Armstrong CHI 175 -2.57 Charles Oakley NYK 196 2.05
Bill Cartwright CHI 164 -6.36 Doc Rivers NYK 185 4.89
John Paxson CHI 114 -4.66 Charles Smith NYK 162 0.67
Scott Williams CHI 96 1.12 Greg Anthony NYK 91 2.84
Stacey King CHI 83 -4.24 Rolando Blackman NYK 56 -4.30
Trent Tucker CHI 65 -2.09 Hubert Davis NYK 23 -5.73
Will Perdue CHI 28 -0.83 Tony Campbell NYK 19 -2.40
Rodney McCray CHI 5 -6.90 Herb Williams NYK 17 -2.88
Darrell Walker CHI 5 -3.16 Eric Anderson NYK 3 4.60
Team 8.00 Team 9.88

23. 2001: Mavericks 3, Jazz 2 (Jazz xW% = 72.6%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Michael Finley DAL 229 1.07 Bryon Russell UTA 214 1.97
Juwan Howard DAL 223 -1.38 Karl Malone UTA 199 6.47
Dirk Nowitzki DAL 215 5.82 John Stockton UTA 186 5.69
Steve Nash DAL 203 1.75 Donyell Marshall UTA 160 3.23
Shawn Bradley DAL 136 1.04 Olden Polynice UTA 100 -4.31
Calvin Booth DAL 64 2.17 Danny Manning UTA 96 -0.78
Howard Eisley DAL 62 0.30 Greg Ostertag UTA 64 -0.43
Mark Bryant DAL 34 -5.52 David Benoit UTA 61 -4.37
Vernon Maxwell DAL 20 -4.04 Jacque Vaughn UTA 57 -1.75
Eduardo Najera DAL 9 -1.12 John Starks UTA 36 -2.79
Wang Zhizhi DAL 5 -8.93 John Crotty UTA 19 -6.08
Team 6.33 DeShawn Stevenson UTA 8 -9.50
Team 8.72

22. 2000: 76ers 3, Hornets 1 (Hornets xW% = 73.3%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Allen Iverson PHI 177 4.22 Anthony Mason CHH 179 1.33
Theo Ratliff PHI 161 0.03 Eddie Jones CHH 171 5.95
Tyrone Hill PHI 143 -1.64 Derrick Coleman CHH 169 1.32
George Lynch PHI 112 1.39 David Wesley CHH 152 -0.17
Aaron McKie PHI 102 1.17 Elden Campbell CHH 150 -0.49
Toni Kukoc PHI 91 2.67 Brad Miller CHH 62 1.08
Eric Snow PHI 83 1.35 BaRon Davis CHH 57 0.49
Matt Geiger PHI 70 -4.42 Eddie Robinson CHH 45 -3.57
Kevin Ollie PHI 33 0.06 Team 6.67
Todd MacCulloch PHI 9 -0.55
Ira Bowman PHI 3 -2.08
Jumaine Jones PHI 1 -6.32
Team 4.17

21. 1991: Jazz 3, Suns 1 (Suns xW% = 75.0%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Karl Malone UTA 169 8.45 Kevin Johnson PHO 146 6.38
John Stockton UTA 156 8.10 Jeff Hornacek PHO 145 2.69
Jeff Malone UTA 155 -4.07 Tom Chambers PHO 142 0.49
Mark Eaton UTA 107 -0.15 Dan Majerle PHO 110 2.84
Thurl Bailey UTA 106 -3.30 Xavier McDaniel PHO 101 -1.18
Blue Edwards UTA 106 -2.34 Mark West PHO 93 0.86
Mike Brown UTA 97 -3.52 Negele Knight PHO 56 -4.45
Delaney Rudd UTA 37 -4.39 Andrew Lang PHO 55 1.79
Tony Brown UTA 14 -6.23 Kurt Rambis PHO 53 -0.57
Darrell Griffith UTA 6 -5.42 Cedric Ceballos PHO 24 -2.43
Walter Palmer UTA 4 -1.35 Ed Nealy PHO 20 -0.26
Andy Toolson UTA 3 -3.57 Joe Barry Carroll PHO 15 -5.16
Team 4.21 Team 7.00

20. 2004: Pistons 4, Lakers 1 (Lakers xW% = 75.5%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Richard Hamilton DET 222 0.06 Kobe Bryant LAL 231 6.63
Ben Wallace DET 203 4.77 Shaquille O'Neal LAL 213 6.00
Tayshaun Prince DET 196 -0.01 Gary Payton LAL 168 1.10
Chauncey Billups DET 192 3.94 Karl Malone LAL 122 2.93
Rasheed Wallace DET 151 2.59 Devean George LAL 104 -0.67
Elden Campbell DET 68 -0.94 Derek Fisher LAL 101 -1.10
Lindsey Hunter DET 65 -0.33 Kareem Rush LAL 78 -4.78
Corliss Williamson DET 52 -3.76 Luke Walton LAL 77 -0.21
Mehmet Okur DET 39 0.61 Stanislav Medvedenko LAL 72 -3.01
Mike James DET 22 1.04 Rick Fox LAL 30 -2.22
Darvin Ham DET 10 -3.37 Brian Cook LAL 21 -1.11
Darko Milicic DET 5 -2.80 Bryon Russell LAL 8 0.01
Team 7.53 Team 10.10

19. 1991: Warriors 3, Spurs 1 (Spurs xW% = 75.5%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Chris Mullin GSW 179 3.63 Rod Strickland SAS 168 2.44
Tim Hardaway GSW 170 4.79 David Robinson SAS 166 10.86
Mitch Richmond GSW 155 0.25 Willie Anderson SAS 159 -0.91
Sarunas Marciulionis GSW 103 1.45 Sean Elliott SAS 132 -0.14
Mario Elie GSW 92 -0.36 Terry Cummings SAS 124 0.59
Rod Higgins GSW 81 0.56 Paul Pressey SAS 124 -0.80
Tom Tolbert GSW 60 -3.41 David Wingate SAS 38 -5.24
Tyrone Hill GSW 55 -3.23 Avery Johnson SAS 19 -2.78
Jim Petersen GSW 45 -4.46 Sean Higgins SAS 13 -9.18
Vincent Askew GSW 15 -1.25 Sidney Green SAS 11 -3.48
Alton Lister GSW 5 -1.64 Dave Greenwood SAS 5 -1.84
Team 5.49 Tony Massenburg SAS 1 -0.63
Team 8.36

18. 2006: Mavericks 4, Spurs 3 (Spurs xW% = 77.4%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Dirk Nowitzki DAL 306 7.45 Tim Duncan SAS 288 6.15
Josh Howard DAL 258 2.41 Bruce Bowen SAS 265 0.14
Jerry Stackhouse DAL 242 -2.58 Tony Parker SAS 264 0.57
Jason Terry DAL 240 1.72 Michael Finley SAS 255 -1.51
Devin Harris DAL 218 1.35 Manu Ginobili SAS 240 8.24
Erick Dampier DAL 168 -0.62 Brent Barry SAS 158 2.66
DeSagana Diop DAL 106 2.64 Robert Horry SAS 107 3.44
Marquis Daniels DAL 73 -0.38 Nick Van Exel SAS 68 -3.46
Adrian Griffin DAL 38 0.57 Fabricio Oberto SAS 16 -1.79
Keith Van Horn DAL 28 -1.90 Nazr Mohammed SAS 13 -1.43
Darrell Armstrong DAL 10 -3.47 Rasho Nesterovic SAS 11 -2.39
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga DAL 4 -2.91 Beno Udrih SAS 11 -2.37
Josh Powell DAL 4 -5.55 Team 11.80
Team 8.95

17. 2008: Pistons 4, Magic 1 (Magic xW% = 77.5%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Tayshaun Prince DET 208 -0.38 Dwight Howard ORL 210 4.51
Richard Hamilton DET 200 0.87 Rashard Lewis ORL 203 3.13
Rasheed Wallace DET 166 4.91 Hedo Turkoglu ORL 197 2.97
Antonio McDyess DET 133 0.07 Jameer Nelson ORL 168 1.08
Rodney Stuckey DET 128 -0.43 Maurice Evans ORL 143 -0.69
Jason Maxiell DET 102 -0.23 Keith Bogans ORL 139 0.18
Chauncey Billups DET 70 7.08 Keyon Dooling ORL 65 -1.69
Theo Ratliff DET 46 -1.04 Marcin Gortat ORL 22 -1.64
Lindsey Hunter DET 41 -1.29 Carlos Arroyo ORL 16 -2.62
Arron Afflalo DET 28 -2.77 J.J. Redick ORL 6 -4.00
Walter Herrmann DET 24 -3.08 Pat Garrity ORL 4 -7.56
Jarvis Hayes DET 16 -0.64 Adonal Foyle ORL 3 -4.03
Juan Dixon DET 6 -3.93 James Augustine ORL 1 -5.36
Amir Johnson DET 4 4.28 Team 8.57
Team 4.55

16. 2009: Rockets 4, Trail Blazers 2 (Blazers xW% = 77.9%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Shane Battier HOU 232 2.02 LaMarcus Aldridge POR 234 1.09
Ron Artest HOU 217 3.30 Brandon Roy POR 234 5.93
Yao Ming HOU 213 2.40 Steve Blake POR 226 1.19
Luis Scola HOU 198 0.93 Travis Outlaw POR 166 -0.90
Aaron Brooks HOU 184 -1.52 Joel Przybilla POR 160 0.27
Kyle Lowry HOU 111 1.22 Rudy Fernandez POR 159 2.35
Von Wafer HOU 104 -1.70 Greg Oden POR 93 1.59
Carl Landry HOU 89 -0.56 Nicolas Batum POR 60 0.90
Chuck Hayes HOU 31 -0.21 Channing Frye POR 34 -4.71
Dikembe Mutombo HOU 19 -8.36 Sergio Rodriguez POR 25 -0.88
Brent Barry HOU 4 -1.83 Jerryd Bayless POR 10 -5.26
Brian Cook HOU 4 -6.44 Michael Ruffin POR 5 -4.80
James White HOU 1 -12.51 Team 7.55
Team 4.61

15. 1994: Rockets 4, Suns 3 (Suns xW% = 78.8%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Hakeem Olajuwon HOU 292 8.30 Kevin Johnson PHO 308 1.38
Vernon Maxwell HOU 271 -0.12 Charles Barkley PHO 300 7.31
Otis Thorpe HOU 238 0.86 Dan Majerle PHO 281 1.16
Robert Horry HOU 220 1.87 A.C. Green PHO 238 -0.06
Kenny Smith HOU 216 -1.94 Danny Ainge PHO 173 -1.41
Sam Cassell HOU 151 -0.12 Cedric Ceballos PHO 121 1.06
Mario Elie HOU 142 -0.33 Oliver Miller PHO 120 5.34
Carl Herrera HOU 67 -5.14 Joe Kleine PHO 78 -4.33
Earl Cureton HOU 39 -16.99 Mark West PHO 38 -1.25
Chris Jent HOU 33 -1.49 Frank Johnson PHO 21 -3.57
Scott Brooks HOU 22 -1.31 Skeeter Henry PHO 15 -7.01
Matt Bullard HOU 14 -2.69 Elliot Perry PHO 12 -4.27
Team 4.11 Team 8.32

14. 1994: Rockets 4, Jazz 1 (Jazz xW% = 80.0%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Hakeem Olajuwon HOU 224 8.30 Karl Malone UTA 224 7.84
Otis Thorpe HOU 187 0.86 Felton Spencer UTA 188 -2.52
Vernon Maxwell HOU 184 -0.12 Jeff Hornacek UTA 184 1.84
Kenny Smith HOU 169 -1.94 John Stockton UTA 183 7.11
Robert Horry HOU 158 1.87 David Benoit UTA 118 -4.12
Sam Cassell HOU 99 -0.12 Jay Humphries UTA 112 -2.77
Mario Elie HOU 97 -0.33 Tyrone Corbin UTA 94 -0.70
Earl Cureton HOU 59 -16.99 Tom Chambers UTA 61 -2.19
Chris Jent HOU 20 -1.49 Bryon Russell UTA 22 -0.17
Matt Bullard HOU 2 -2.69 John Crotty UTA 11 1.67
Scott Brooks HOU 1 -1.31 Stephen Howard UTA 2 1.06
Team 3.68 Walter Bond UTA 1 -1.65
Team 8.09

13. 1999: Trail Blazers 4, Jazz 2 (Jazz xW% = 80.4%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Brian Grant POR 223 0.66 Karl Malone UTA 248 7.37
Isaiah Rider POR 197 -2.68 Bryon Russell UTA 224 2.32
Rasheed Wallace POR 197 1.43 John Stockton UTA 191 5.63
Arvydas Sabonis POR 180 4.29 Jeff Hornacek UTA 165 2.28
Damon Stoudamire POR 178 -0.69 Shandon Anderson UTA 159 -2.64
Jim Jackson POR 132 -0.90 Greg Ostertag UTA 154 0.63
Greg Anthony POR 110 4.78 Howard Eisley UTA 98 -3.41
Stacey Augmon POR 93 2.61 Adam Keefe UTA 76 -1.23
Walt Williams POR 91 2.58 Thurl Bailey UTA 66 -3.29
Jermaine O'Neal POR 21 -1.52 Todd Fuller UTA 51 -6.91
Kelvin Cato POR 18 3.69 Greg Foster UTA 7 -6.75
Team 5.10 Jacque Vaughn UTA 1 -0.33
Team 8.45

12. 1991: Pistons 4, Celtics 2 (Celtics xW% = 82.3%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Joe Dumars DET 249 0.47 Reggie Lewis BOS 252 0.52
Dennis Rodman DET 218 2.10 Kevin McHale BOS 217 2.64
Vinnie Johnson DET 198 -1.04 Larry Bird BOS 205 5.93
Bill Laimbeer DET 197 1.75 Dee Brown BOS 189 -1.38
Mark Aguirre DET 159 1.73 Brian Shaw BOS 140 1.01
James Edwards DET 151 -3.72 Robert Parish BOS 131 1.41
John Salley DET 134 3.40 Ed Pinckney BOS 126 4.14
Isiah Thomas DET 104 2.32 Kevin Gamble BOS 122 0.36
Gerald Henderson DET 24 -2.25 Derek Smith BOS 45 -3.51
Scott Hastings DET 18 1.71 Joe Kleine BOS 28 -5.85
William Bedford DET 13 -0.18 Michael Smith BOS 6 -6.12
Team 3.75 Stojko Vrankovic BOS 4 -5.23
Team 7.42

11. 1999: Knicks 3, Heat 2 (Heat xW% = 83.4%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Allan Houston NYK 177 -2.97 Alonzo Mourning MIA 194 5.80
Larry Johnson NYK 176 1.17 Tim Hardaway MIA 182 2.78
Patrick Ewing NYK 172 1.05 Dan Majerle MIA 152 1.18
Latrell Sprewell NYK 159 0.46 Jamal Mashburn MIA 152 -0.86
Charlie Ward NYK 145 3.44 P.J. Brown MIA 144 0.49
Chris Childs NYK 108 1.37 Terry Porter MIA 139 2.58
Marcus Camby NYK 103 1.49 Clarence Weatherspoon MIA 112 -0.42
Kurt Thomas NYK 103 -0.46 Voshon Lenard MIA 57 -3.13
Chris Dudley NYK 38 -1.32 Keith Askins MIA 27 -2.92
Rick Brunson NYK 11 -2.15 Duane Causwell MIA 20 -8.19
Herb Williams NYK 8 -12.06 Rex Walters MIA 13 -3.34
Team 2.14 Mark Strickland MIA 8 -4.07
Team 6.52

10. 1999: Knicks 4, Pacers 2 (Pacers xW% = 83.5%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Allan Houston NYK 253 -2.97 Reggie Miller IND 220 2.15
Latrell Sprewell NYK 227 0.46 Mark Jackson IND 212 2.63
Larry Johnson NYK 195 1.17 Dale Davis IND 189 -0.14
Marcus Camby NYK 188 1.49 Antonio Davis IND 165 0.48
Chris Childs NYK 174 1.37 Jalen Rose IND 156 0.04
Kurt Thomas NYK 123 -0.46 Chris Mullin IND 134 3.62
Charlie Ward NYK 114 3.44 Rik Smits IND 133 -0.22
Chris Dudley NYK 97 -1.32 Derrick McKey IND 100 0.28
Patrick Ewing NYK 65 1.05 Sam Perkins IND 61 -0.51
Rick Brunson NYK 2 -2.15 Travis Best IND 55 0.32
Herb Williams NYK 2 -12.06 Fred Hoiberg IND 15 -6.45
Team 1.19 Team 5.08

9. 2003: Celtics 4, Pacers 2 (Pacers xW% = 84.3%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Antoine Walker BOS 264 0.31 Jermaine O'Neal IND 271 3.14
Paul Pierce BOS 261 5.77 Ron Artest IND 252 5.41
Tony Delk BOS 212 -0.10 Jamaal Tinsley IND 185 1.19
Walter McCarty BOS 207 -0.27 Reggie Miller IND 176 0.95
Eric Williams BOS 196 -0.72 Brad Miller IND 136 3.38
Tony Battie BOS 126 -1.06 Ron Mercer IND 135 -6.20
J.R. Bremer BOS 93 -1.70 Al Harrington IND 103 -2.89
Mark Blount BOS 75 -3.11 Tim Hardaway IND 47 1.81
Grant Long BOS 19 -6.39 Austin Croshere IND 46 -0.24
Kedrick Brown BOS 7 -4.36 Erick Strickland IND 42 -1.10
Bimbo Coles BOS 3 -5.53 Jeff Foster IND 38 -1.06
Mark Bryant BOS 2 -11.57 Jonathan Bender IND 34 -2.21
Team 2.23 Team 6.28

8. 1999: Knicks 4, Hawks 0 (Hawks xW% = 85.0%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Latrell Sprewell NYK 136 0.46 Grant Long ATL 169 2.71
Allan Houston NYK 131 -2.97 Dikembe Mutombo ATL 167 4.58
Larry Johnson NYK 127 1.17 Mookie Blaylock ATL 160 4.56
Patrick Ewing NYK 110 1.05 Steve Smith ATL 144 2.87
Chris Childs NYK 107 1.37 Chris Crawford ATL 104 -4.48
Charlie Ward NYK 90 3.44 Tyrone Corbin ATL 81 -1.11
Kurt Thomas NYK 88 -0.46 Ed Gray ATL 52 -8.42
Marcus Camby NYK 83 1.49 Anthony Johnson ATL 44 -2.37
Chris Dudley NYK 81 -1.32 Mark West ATL 25 -1.31
Rick Brunson NYK 4 -2.15 Roshown McLeod ATL 13 -7.93
Herb Williams NYK 3 -12.06 Jeffrey Sheppard ATL 1 -3.45
Team 1.68 Team 5.87

7. 1998: Knicks 3, Heat 2 (Heat xW% = 86.5%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Allan Houston NYK 206 -1.84 Tim Hardaway MIA 222 4.81
Charles Oakley NYK 189 1.93 P.J. Brown MIA 190 1.02
John Starks NYK 158 1.47 Voshon Lenard MIA 186 -0.07
Larry Johnson NYK 157 -0.69 Alonzo Mourning MIA 138 1.66
Charlie Ward NYK 136 5.15 Jamal Mashburn MIA 129 -0.72
Chris Childs NYK 122 0.57 Eric Murdock MIA 125 3.23
Chris Mills NYK 89 -0.60 Dan Majerle MIA 62 1.76
Terry Cummings NYK 66 -2.02 Keith Askins MIA 58 -1.31
Buck Williams NYK 37 -1.43 Marty Conlon MIA 46 1.92
Chris Dudley NYK 22 -1.29 Mark Strickland MIA 28 -2.27
Anthony Bowie NYK 18 -2.48 Terry Mills MIA 11 -3.00
Team 2.36 Duane Causwell MIA 5 -4.18
Team 7.47

6. 2009: Magic 4, Cavaliers 2 (Cavs xW% = 88.8%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Rashard Lewis ORL 249 3.37 Delonte West CLE 267 1.14
Hedo Turkoglu ORL 243 1.95 LeBron James CLE 262 14.66
Dwight Howard ORL 230 6.84 Mo Williams CLE 249 1.19
Rafer Alston ORL 197 1.57 Zydrunas Ilgauskas CLE 174 -0.97
Courtney Lee ORL 187 -1.44 Anderson Varejao CLE 171 0.93
Mickael Pietrus ORL 169 -0.36 Ben Wallace CLE 86 0.58
Anthony Johnson ORL 77 -2.24 Daniel Gibson CLE 67 -1.51
Marcin Gortat ORL 60 0.09 Wally Szczerbiak CLE 59 -1.43
Tony Battie ORL 17 -4.27 Sasha Pavlovic CLE 51 -2.94
J.J. Redick ORL 9 -2.85 Joe Smith CLE 49 -1.96
Team 9.04 Tarence Kinsey CLE 1 -3.85
Team 14.08

5. 2007: Jazz 4, Rockets 3 (Rockets xW% = 90.7%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
DeRon Williams UTA 286 1.00 Rafer Alston HOU 306 1.58
Carlos Boozer UTA 264 4.28 Tracy McGrady HOU 276 7.35
Mehmet Okur UTA 250 2.68 Shane Battier HOU 269 1.41
Derek Fisher UTA 194 -1.23 Yao Ming HOU 256 4.00
Matt Harpring UTA 189 -1.19 Chuck Hayes HOU 194 1.12
Andrei Kirilenko UTA 183 2.69 Juwan Howard HOU 154 -3.49
Gordan Giricek UTA 121 -3.41 Luther Head HOU 138 0.14
Paul Millsap UTA 83 2.98 Dikembe Mutombo HOU 37 -0.50
Jarron Collins UTA 72 -3.10 Kirk Snyder HOU 8 -1.59
Ronnie Brewer UTA 2 -1.72 John Lucas HOU 7 -2.20
Dee Brown UTA 2 -2.35 Vassilis Spanoulis HOU 2 -7.02
Rafael Araujo UTA 1 -5.37 Jake Tsakalidis HOU 2 -6.39
Team 5.19 Team 10.74

4. 1994: Nuggets 3, Supersonics 2 (Sonics xW% = 91.0%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Dikembe Mutombo DEN 194 4.58 Shawn Kemp SEA 206 6.52
LaPhonso Ellis DEN 190 1.29 Gary Payton SEA 181 1.93
Bryant Stith DEN 167 -0.52 Detlef Schrempf SEA 174 -0.34
Reggie Williams DEN 162 1.94 Kendall Gill SEA 153 0.80
Robert Pack DEN 132 -1.33 Sam Perkins SEA 141 -0.05
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf DEN 125 -1.60 Nate McMillan SEA 109 7.59
Rodney Rogers DEN 112 -0.49 Vincent Askew SEA 95 -0.20
Bison Dele DEN 100 1.12 Michael Cage SEA 93 -1.29
Tom Hammonds DEN 31 -2.88 Ricky Pierce SEA 74 0.04
Darnell Mee DEN 26 -3.59 Steve Scheffler SEA 9 -0.60
Mark Randall DEN 6 -0.48 Ervin Johnson SEA 8 -2.72
Kevin Brooks DEN 5 -13.14 Chris King SEA 7 -1.24
Team 3.17 Team 9.61

3. 1993: Spurs 3, Trail Blazers 1 (Blazers xW% = 91.4%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
David Robinson SAS 176 9.35 Rod Strickland POR 156 3.06
Sean Elliott SAS 151 -0.09 Terry Porter POR 152 1.61
Dale Ellis SAS 118 -1.30 Clifford Robinson POR 131 3.19
Avery Johnson SAS 115 0.04 Buck Williams POR 119 -0.90
Willie Anderson SAS 114 -7.12 Clyde Drexler POR 116 7.58
J.R. Reid SAS 94 -2.28 Jerome Kersey POR 98 0.12
Antoine Carr SAS 72 0.28 Mark Bryant POR 83 -2.85
Terry Cummings SAS 69 -3.40 Kevin Duckworth POR 58 -4.29
Vinny Del Negro SAS 35 -1.05 Mario Elie POR 52 0.58
Lloyd Daniels SAS 26 -2.12 Joe Wolf POR 20 -2.90
Larry Smith SAS 11 -2.59 Team 7.16
David Wood SAS 4 -2.37
Team 0.58

2. 2007: Warriors 4, Mavericks 2 (Mavs xW% = 95.3%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Stephen Jackson GSW 243 -0.69 Josh Howard DAL 245 3.26
BaRon Davis GSW 240 5.16 Dirk Nowitzki DAL 236 7.69
Jason Richardson GSW 238 1.14 Jason Terry DAL 227 2.49
Matt Barnes GSW 170 1.12 Jerry Stackhouse DAL 165 -0.79
Monta Ellis GSW 152 -1.58 Devin Harris DAL 159 1.90
Mickael Pietrus GSW 124 -1.74 DeSagana Diop DAL 136 1.42
Al Harrington GSW 113 -0.98 Devean George DAL 107 -1.82
Andris Biedrins GSW 109 0.30 Greg Buckner DAL 40 -2.01
Kelenna Azubuike GSW 11 -3.54 Erick Dampier DAL 36 -0.17
Adonal Foyle GSW 3 -1.02 Austin Croshere DAL 32 -1.91
Sarunas Jasikevicius GSW 3 -4.11 Maurice Ager DAL 23 -9.12
Josh Powell GSW 2 -5.23 Jose Barea DAL 3 -5.44
Team 3.31 Team 10.56

1. 1995: Lakers 3, Supersonics 1 (Sonics xW% = 96.6%)

Player Team MP SRSPM Player Team MP SRSPM
Nick Van Exel LAL 183 0.34 Gary Payton SEA 172 4.25
Vlade Divac LAL 159 5.32 Shawn Kemp SEA 160 3.24
Cedric Ceballos LAL 142 -0.17 Detlef Schrempf SEA 153 3.86
Elden Campbell LAL 129 -0.78 Sam Perkins SEA 141 1.85
Anthony Peeler LAL 119 -2.58 Nate McMillan SEA 113 4.64
Eddie Jones LAL 102 2.73 Vincent Askew SEA 93 -1.29
Sam Bowie LAL 54 -2.65 Kendall Gill SEA 72 -0.20
George Lynch LAL 36 -3.79 Ervin Johnson SEA 54 -5.10
Anthony Miller LAL 13 -0.76 Byron Houston SEA 1 -2.97
Sedale Threatt LAL 11 0.08 Steve Scheffler SEA 1 -2.25
Tony Smith LAL 10 -2.68 Team 11.52
Antonio Harvey LAL 2 -4.80
Team 2.24

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18 Responses to “The 25 Biggest Playoff Series Upsets, 1991-2009”

  1. Raj Says:

    I have to say, I'm surprised the '95 Rockets didn't make one of these. I guess adding Drexler really helped that much (as the playoff win shares seem to indicate).

  2. Luke Says:

    Wow... Hakeem practically won the '94 title all by himself. Only two of his teammates even had a positive SRSPM.

  3. Gerrit Says:

    Hey Neil. Is there anywhere on the site where I could find the up to date SPM scores for this year? Seeing as how you do so much with it on the blog, it would make sense to add it to the site proper.

  4. Rashard Lewis Says:

    Gerrit, you can get the team SRS at Basketball-reference.com.

  5. DSMok1 Says:

    Neil, I think this list is very prone to skew from garbage-time play. It would probably be better to look at team SRS or season-average minutes or something of that sort... thought all would be skewed by good teams playing bad players in garbage time. Hmmm. Tricky to quantify!

  6. Lou Says:

    Regarding #9, Boston upsetting Indiana in 2003, is there a way to build into the model the fact that it was Isiah Thomas coaching the Pacers? I mean, that has to make it less of an upset, especially considering his coaching opponent was Jim O'Brien.

  7. Romain Says:

    There are some weird results in this list...

    1993 Spurs - Blazers : the Blazers did have 3 very strong seasons from 1990 to 1992 but they were clearly declining in 1993 as most of their best players (Drexler, Porter, Williams) were starting to show their age... Anyway this was a 1st round between #4 and #5 seeds so I would hardly call it an upset, let alone rank it n°3

    Other than that, who could seriously think that the Knicks had a 70% chance of taking out the two-time defending champs Bulls in 1993? I know they had home court advantage but still...
    And I just don't get why the Lakers beating the Spurs in 2008 ranks as an upset? They were clearly the best team of the 2 that year, by far. I love the Spurs but they were already starting to get old at that point.

  8. Neil Paine Says:

    Spurs-Blazers is skewed, I think, by the fact that Willie Anderson missed a great deal of the season and played horribly when he did see the floor, so SPM-SRS sees him as -7.1 when in the surrounding seasons he was only marginally below-average. That's a sample-size thing where I should probably have used a multi-year weighted average for players who missed a lot of time in the RS but came back for the playoffs.

    Bulls-Knicks, I don't think it's a big stretch to think the Knicks should have been favored by a decent amount -- they won more games in the RS, they had the HCA, and the Bulls were essentially a 3-man team; the rest of their players were below-average, some significantly so. That was an underrated series win for Jordan and Chicago, because they were not as dominant as in past years.

    Spurs-Lakers is more puzzling because SA didn't have the HCA, but like those '93 Bulls, L.A. had only 3 above-average players among the guys getting major minutes. The San Antonio guys after their Big 3 were significantly better on paper than the Lakers after their Big 3, but it just didn't translate in the series.

  9. Jason J Says:

    Man, those 90's Sonics teams tremendously underperformed in the playoffs. You forget because they made it the one year, but they really had the best regular season team in the west from 1994-96 and fell crushingly early twice. I chose to blame Earvin Johnson, Derrick McKey, and the Sasquatch.

    Jazz show up here a couple of times, too. Does that support the theory that Stockton and Malone couldn't raise their game in the post season or that their teammates were too reliant on them?

  10. Romain Says:

    The Sonics also had a great run in 1993, they beat a really good Houston team in the 2nd round and it took an amazing Barkley to take them out in 7 in the WCF: 43 pts - 15 rbs - 10 asts in game 5 and 44 pts - 24 rbs in game 7 for Sir Charles !!!

    This reminds me of how good Barkley was at his peak. People consider Karl Malone as a better PF mostly because he had an amazing longevity (13 straight years as a top 5 scorer, I'm not sure anyone else did that... maybe Jabbar?), but in terms of peak value I'm not sure he beats Barkley

  11. Jason J Says:

    My feeling on Charles / Karl has always been that I'd take Charles from '87 - '93, and Malone the rest of the way. Once Barkley slowed down to where he couldn't defend 3s anymore and Karl started really putting a lot of attention into good team defense, the gap opened up pretty significantly.

  12. Mike Says:

    Once again, we see how foolish some of these formulas are. Are we to believe that Charlie Ward was the best player, most valuable player, most critical player on the 98 and 99 Knicks?

  13. Neil Paine Says:

    Sure, why not? Ward led the 98 Knicks in Win Shares as well:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/NYK/1998.html

    Feel free to prove that he wasn't, though.

  14. Greg Smith Says:

    I'm very surprised the Rockets' 1995 Finals sweep of the Magic didn't make the list.

  15. Fai Says:

    Warriors over the Mavs should've been first. There was NO way we were supposed to win that. Everyone already written us off and expected the mavs to either sweep us or at least take it to 5. That is by far the greatest upset in NBA Playoff History.

  16. Andres Says:

    The Knicks did some serious damage in 1999, though I think it should be noted that it was the lockout season, so only 40 or so games were played. The Knicks started off really poorly after trading for Sprewell and Camby, but they came on strong at the end of the season. Had it been a full 82 game season, I think they would have finished with better stats and those upsets wouldn't have been so glaring.

  17. Mike Says:

    RE: Charlie Ward

    That's an utterly laughable premise and burden of proof is entirely on you there.

    Did Charlie Ward improve greatly towards the end of the decade? Absolutely. Was he an underrated, solid NBA PG? Again, absolutely. But anyone claiming he was the best player on those teams is nuts. And any formula supporting that is a completely broken model.

    Proving why Charlie Ward was not the best player on the Knicks in the late 90s is as unnecessary as defining 'the.'

  18. Roy Johnson Says:

    The fact that the Orlando/Cleveland series from last year is number 6 proves that this so called math stat system is flawed.