Eighth-Seeded Denver Nuggets Defeat Seattle SuperSonics: This Day in Sports History

Liam McKeone
Denver Nuggets Dikembe Mutombo (L) blocks the shot
Denver Nuggets Dikembe Mutombo (L) blocks the shot / JIM DAVIDSON/Getty Images
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The Seattle SuperSonics were the best team in the Western Conference, and indeed the league, at the conclusion of the 1993-94 season. Led by the young star duo of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, Seattle claimed the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs with a 63-19 record. The Denver Nuggets, on the other hand, struggled to the finish line and barely qualified for the postseason at 42-40 and claimed the No. 8 seed. Nobody knew what was in store when the playoffs began. On May 8, 1994, the Nuggets became the first eighth seed in NBA playoff history to defeat a No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs.

Seattle faced off against Denver in the spring of 1994. In his third NBA season, Payton had made his first All-Star game while averaging 16.5 points, 6.0 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game in addition to being named to his first All-Defense team. Kemp, in his fourth season, had earned his second All-Star selection en route to averaging 18.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, already firmly established as one of the league's best dunkers. The Nuggets, on the other hand, were led by Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf at 18 points per game and Dikemebe Mutombo's interior presence; the multi-time DPOY averaged a league-leading 4.1 blocks along with 12 points per game.

Nobody gave Denver much of a chance heading into the series, and that opinion was hammered home when Denver lost the first two games of a best-of-five series. But, backed by career performances from role players like Brian Williams, Reggie Williams, and Robert Pack, Denver won their two home games to force the series back to Seattle for a deciding Game 5.

The elimination game was a barn-burner. Denver was trailing heading into the final frame before rallying back to send it to overtime. They then pulled off what was previously thought impossible and pulled out a four-point victory to eliminate the SuperSonics and become the first-ever eighth seed to defeat a one-seed. They would promptly go on to lose to the Jazz in round two, but not after rallying back from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7. But history was made.

The most famous successor of that Nuggets team is the We Believe Warriors, who defeated the powerhouse Mavericks in 2007 as an eighth seed in the first round. As big of an upset that was, the Nuggets beating the Sonics was bigger. Seattle would go on to bigger and better things with Payton and Kemp as their deadly one-two punch, but such a monumental moment in basketball history will never be forgotten.

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