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6 Surprising NBA Finals Winners

| December 23, 2021 6:57 am PDT

Among the Big Four sports, I’d say the NBA is the “easiest” to have a surprise winner. Because there are less players on the court, it typically takes one or two starts to completely turn around your team.

While we have seen surprise champions over the years, no champion has crazy good value. Once we move closer to the season, the sportsbooks have somewhat of an idea of who the potential surprise teams are.

For each champion, you’ll see their odds from opening night of that particular season. Also, the farthest we could go back was 1985.

Now, let’s check out the biggest longshot NBA champions.

6. 2014 San Antonio Spurs (+1200)

The San Antonio Spurs didn’t come into the 2013-14 season as long shots. They had the fourth-best odds at (+1200).

However, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder came in as big favorites. They were the only two teams with odds under (+1000).

Armed with Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and a young Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs came rocking out the gates.

They began the season 13-1 and were sitting at 25-7 by the time the calendar hit 2014. The Spurs did have a brief skid, losing five of seven at the end of January. However, they weathered the storm and went into the all-star break 38-15.

For the first 23 games post all-star break, the Spurs lost once. They won 19 straight games and went undefeated in March. That propelled them to an NBA-best 62 wins on the season.

What’s interesting about this team is they didn’t have one star. Check out their scoring breakdown.

  • Tony Parker: 16.7
  • Tim Duncan: 15.1
  • Kawhi Leonard: 12.8
  • Manu Ginobili: 12.3

They had a scare in the first round of the playoffs but managed to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in seven games. From there, they knocked off the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder to advance to their second straight finals.

San Antonio dominated the Heat, beating them in five games to win the title. The Spurs won all four games by at least 15 points.

Leonard went on to win Finals MVP with 17.8 points per game and 6.4 rebounds.

This wasn’t one of those cases where a team came out of nowhere. It was more about there being one big favorite, and them not winning.

5. 1994 Houston Rockets (+1200)

Less than a month before the 1993-94 NBA season, Michael Jordan sent shockwaves through the world when he announced his retirement. The Chicago Bulls had just won their third straight title and I have to imagine they would’ve been favored to win a fourth.

The retirement opened things up, as four teams went into the season with odds under (+1000). The Houston Rockets had the sixth-best odds.

Behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe, the Rockets got off to one of the best starts in NBA history.

They won their first 15 games, tying a then record for the most wins to start the season. Houston even made it to 22-1.

Houston had a four-game losing streak in late January, but that was the extent of their struggles. They won the Midwest Division and finished second in the Western Conference. Olajuwon also claimed MVP with these numbers.

  • 27.3 points
  • 11.9 rebounds
  • 3.7 blocks
  • 3.6 assists
  • 52.8 field goal percentage

The Rockets took care of business in the first round of the playoffs, beating the Portland Trail Blazers in four games.

In the second round, the Rockets dropped the first two games at home against the Phoenix Suns. They managed to bounce back, winning in seven games.

Houston advanced to the NBA Finals after defeating the Utah Jazz.

The Rockets came in as the favorites, but the New York Knicks jumped out to a 3-2 series lead. In Game 6, Olajuwon blocked John Starks’ game-winning three to give the Rockets the win. Houston went on to win Game 7 and the championship.

Olajuwon capped off a fantastic season with Finals MVP. He averaged 26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks.

Houston knocked off the two preseason favorites on their way to winning the championship.

4. 2004 Detroit Pistons (+1500)

Despite making the 2003 playoffs, the Detroit Pistons managed to land the second pick in the 2003 NBA draft. They selected Darko Milicic in hopes he would be the final piece to a championship-winning team.

As we know, Milicic went to be one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.

The Pistons came into the 2003-04 season with the seventh-best odds. The Los Angeles Lakers were the clear favorites at (+140).

Detroit wasn’t overpowering, going 16-13 to start the season. In January, we saw them flex their muscle with a 13-game winning streak. Unfortunately, they backed it up by losing nine of their next 13 games.

When it mattered most, Detroit turned it on. They won 19 of their final 23 games to enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

A big reason for their success was their defense. They allowed the second-fewest points thanks to Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace. Check out their numbers in the regular season.

Ben Wallace Rasheed Wallace
Points 9.5 13.7
Rebounds 12.4 7.0
Blocks 3.0 2.0

Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups led the offense, averaging 17.6 and 16.9 points, respectively.

Detroit cruised through the first round of the playoffs, but found themselves facing a 3-2 series deficit in the Conference Semifinals. The Pistons won the final two games, and won the Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals.

They went into the Finals as big underdogs (+500) against the Lakers.

Surprisingly, the Pistons beat the Lakers handily in the Finals. They won the series in five games, holding the high-scoring Lakers under 90 points four times.

Billups won Finals MVP with 21.0 points per game and 5.2 assists.

This was another classic case of defense winning championships.

3. 2019 Toronto Raptors (+1850)

Coming into the 2018-19 season, it was the Golden State Warriors vs. the field. The Warriors had won three of the last four titles and looked unstoppable with Kevin Durant.

The Toronto Raptors made a big move before the season. They acquired Kawhi Leonard in a deal that sent DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs. Before the season even began, the Raptors odds jumped from (+6600) to (+1850).

Toronto immediately put itself on everyone’s radar. They won 12 of their first 13 games. Following a three-game losing streak, they won eight straight to start 20-4.

They had their rough stretches in December in January but overall, they remained one of the best teams in the league.

The Raptors ultimately finished second in the Eastern Conference with a 58-24 record.

In the first round, the Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. It wasn’t as easy in the Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers.

It went to seven games, with the final game coming down to the final shot. Leonard hit a fadeaway from the corner that bounced off the rim and into the basket to give Toronto the series win.

The Raptors dropped the first two games of the Conference Finals, but came storming back with four straight wins to make the NBA Finals.

Despite not having Durant, the Warriors came in as big favorites. Toronto jumped out to a 3-1 series lead before Durant returned in Game 5. His return didn’t last long, as he ruptured his Achilles.

Toronto went on to win their first title in franchise history. Leonard capped off his lone season in Toronto with a Finals MVP.

  • 28.5 points
  • 9.8 rebounds
  • 4.2 assists
  • 2.0 steals

As I mentioned in the intro, it only takes one star to change your franchise.

2. 2011 Dallas Mavericks (+2000)

Going into the 2010-11 season, all the talk was about the new-look Miami Heat. They made one of the best signings in NBA history with LeBron James. He, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh made up the big three.

Further down the list, we saw the Dallas Mavericks open with (+2000) odds.

Following a 3-2 start, the Mavericks took off. They went 21-3 over their next 24 games.

Dallas had a rough stretch from late December to early January. They lost 10 of 13 games to fall to 27-15. How do they follow that up? Winning 18 of their next 19 games.

The Mavericks eventually finished the season tied for second in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Honestly, Dallas didn’t have too much trouble before the NBA Finals. They beat the Portland Trail Blazers in six games, swept the Los Angeles Lakers, and knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.

It was a great season for the Mavericks, but not many were giving them a chance against the Heat.

Miami won Game 1 and had Game 2 in hand until the Mavericks erased a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit. Dirk Nowitzki had the game-winning layup with 3.6 seconds remaining.

The Heat won Game 3, but Dallas responded to win three straight and win their first NBA Finals in franchise history. Nowitzki won Finals MVP with a very impressive performance.

  • 26.0 points
  • 9.7 rebounds
  • 2.0 assists
  • 41.6 field goal percentage

Sometimes, it’s about who wants it more and Dallas wanted it more in 2011. On their way to the championship, they knocked off three of the five preseason favorites.

Ultimately, it was one of those scenarios where if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. That’s exactly what the Mavericks did.

1. 2015 Golden State Warriors (+2800)

It’s weird to think there was a time where the Golden State Warriors came into the season as underdogs.

Before the 2014-15 season, they had their foundation in place. The biggest change in the offseason was the hiring of Steve Kerr. Kerr immediately unlocked the potential of Steph Curry and the Warriors.

Golden State began the season 21-2 and honestly, they never slowed down. They never lost more than three games in a calendar month. The Warriors closed the season 23-4 to finish with a franchise-record 67 wins.

Their historic season was in large part to Curry and Klay Thompson.

Steph Curry Klay Thompson
Points 23.8 21.7
Assists 7.7 2.9
Rebounds 4.3 3.2
Steals 2.0 1.1
Three-Point Percentage 44.3 43.7

Curry won his first of back-to-back MVPs.

In the first round of the playoffs, Golden State made easy work of the New Orleans Pelicans. They faced some adversity in the Conference Semifinals, falling behind 2-1 in the series. From there, Golden State won three straight games to win the series.

Golden State continued to roll by winning the Western Conference Finals in five games. That set up a matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland came into the season as the championship favorite.

The Warriors won Game 1, but the Cavaliers bounced back to take a 2-1 series lead.

Just like the Conference Semifinals, they overcame a 2-1 series deficit with three straight wins. This time, it earned them their first title in franchise history.

Andre Iguodala was a surprise Finals MVP (+12500), as he recorded 16.3 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.3 steals.

This season, everything came together for the Warriors. Kerr was able to unlock their potential, leading to the championship.

Betting on the NBA Finals

There are times where team-play wins the championship but for the most part, you want to pick the teams with at least one superstar. It also doesn’t hurt to have a top-tier head coach.

Those are good factors to consider when looking for longshots to win the NBA Finals.

Whether it’s the preseason or postseason, you can always bet on the NBA Finals. Be sure to check out our NBA Finals betting page.

Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with GamblingSites.com since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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