Biggest NBA Playoff Upsets

Last night in Oakland, California, the Golden State Warriors defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the of Western Conference Finals. Without Kawhi Leonard in the lineup, the Spurs closed +13.5 on the spread and +1000 on the moneyline at the market-setting Pinnacle sportsbook. This was particularly noteworthy because San Antonio had never closed as bigger than 13-point underdogs in our historical database (which goes back to 2005).

This type of massive spread was unprecedented not only for the Spurs but for the entire league. We have seen massive underdogs in the first and second round of the NBA playoffs, but this type of line was almost unthinkable for a Conference Finals game. Prior to Tuesday night, the biggest spread we had tracked in the Conference Finals was 11.5 — both of which occurred in last season’s Eastern Conference showdown between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors.

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have dominated their competition all season long, and a rematch of the past two NBA Finals seems inevitable. If San Antonio is able to avoid the sweep and send their series back to Oakland, they would likely be at least 10-point underdogs once again. The Boston Celtics, who are 4-point home ‘dogs in Game 1 of their series, will likely approach double-digit underdogs once the series moves to Cleveland. In other words, both teams will need to post massive upsets just to steal a road game.

To put these potential accomplishments into historical context, I wanted to examine the biggest moneyline upsets in our archived database. As you can see, all of the biggest moneyline payouts have come during the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Date Round Underdog Favorite ML SPD Final Score
4/18/16 First Dallas Mavericks @Oklahoma City Thunder +1102 +14 85-84
5/6/13 Second Chicago Bulls @Miami Heat +925 +13 93-86
5/17/06 Second Cleveland Cavaliers @Detroit Pistons +901 +11 86-84
4/17/11 First New Orleans Pelicans @Los Angeles Lakers +720 +11 109-100
4/22/07 First Golden State Warriors @Dallas Mavericks +590 +10.5 97-85
5/5/15 Second Memphis Grizzlies @Golden State Warriors +538 +10.5 97-90
4/28/10 First Milwaukee Bucks @Atlanta Hawks +523 +9 91-87
4/19/09 First Philadelphia 76ers @Orlando Magic +505 +9.5 100-98
4/28/12 First Orlando Magic @Indiana Pacers +497 +9.5 81-77
4/20/08 First Philadelphia 76ers @Detroit Pistons +485 +9.5 90-86

Since 2005, underdogs have gone 337-741 straight up (SU) and 507-547-24 against the spread (ATS) during the NBA Playoffs. Even with the large payouts on moneyline underdogs, $100 bettors would have lost $6,516 by taking every underdog to win straight up during the postseason.

It’s not surprising to see that the top ten biggest moneyline upsets involve the visiting team, but the biggest upset involving a home team came back in 2008 when the Atlanta Hawks (closed +450) upset the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. For what it’s worth, the visitor has closed as the underdog in 80.2% of playoff games during this time period.

One interesting trend is that there’s only one round where bettors would have made money taking every underdog — the Conference Finals. Although it’s a negligible profit, underdogs have gone 52-88 SU (37.1%) with +3.85 units won during this round over the past twelve seasons.

The table below displays the biggest moneyline upsets in the Conference Finals.

Date Underdog Favorite ML SPD Final Score
5/20/09 Orlando Magic Cleveland Cavaliers +430 +8.5 107-106
5/16/16 Oklahoma City Thunder Golden State Warriors +338 +7.5 108-102
6/5/12 Boston Celtics Miami Heat +334 +7.5 94-90
5/24/13 Indiana Pacers Miami Heat +302 +7.5 97-93
5/24/10 Orlando Magic Boston Celtics +282 +7 96-92

Interested in checking viewing real-time odds and public betting trends for every NBA playoff game? Sign up now for a 4-day trial of Sportsbook Insider Pro. Subscribers would also receive access to our money percentages, steam moves, reverse line movement alerts, Best Bet picks and many other unique features.

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David Solar

David Solar is the Content Manager at Sports Insights. He specializes in sports betting analytics and creating data-driven betting systems. He can be reached directly at david@sportsinsights.com or on twitter at @TheDavidSolar.

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