If there was one complaint that people had about the 2016 NBA Playoffs, it’s that there were way too many blowouts. Those complaints even carried over into the NBA Finals as the first six games of the series were all decided by double digits, including margins of 33 and 30 points. It might have seemed a little one-sided on some given nights during the NBA Playoffs, but none of the blowouts that happened were historical.
As a matter of fact, none of the games from the 2016 NBA Playoffs were even in the top 20 blowouts in the long history of the postseason. Even the 2015 edition of the NBA Playoffs had a far bigger blowout than any game in 2016. You might remember that matchup between the Bulls and the Bucks where Chicago ran away and hid before advancing to the next round.
So where does that game rank among the biggest blowouts in playoff history, and which game had the highest margin between two teams? Here is a list of the 15 biggest blowouts in the history of the NBA Playoffs. There are a lot of familiar teams and a ton of Hall of Fame players that made it all possible by establishing their dominance.
15 1991 Eastern First Round (41 Points)
There were eight games in NBA playoff history that just missed the cut with 40 point differentials, so the first to make it into the top 15 comes via the 1991 NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference’s first round. The game was the first one in the series between the top seeded Chicago Bulls and eighth seeded New York Knicks. The Bulls made a huge statement in the game, winning by a score of 126-85.
Only two of the Knicks players scored in double digits, with Kiki Vandeweghe (seriously) leading the way with 19. As for the Bulls, they had five scorers with at least 13 points, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen scoring 28 and 25 points, respectively. Even Craig Hodges had a big impact off of the bench for Chicago, scoring 16 points in just 18 minutes and adding three steals. The Bulls would go on to sweep the series 3-0.
14 1998 NBA Finals (42 Points)
The dominance of the 1990s Bulls continues on the list, this time coming seven years later on the biggest stage, the 1998 NBA Finals. While the Bulls were favored to win the series, but it was expected that the Utah Jazz would give them a run for their money. The series was tied 1-1 heading into the pivotal third game at the United Center in Chicago, and it was a 17-14 Bulls lead after the first quarter.
By halftime, the Bulls were leading by a mark of 49-31, which they would extend in each of the final two quarters. By the time it was all said and done, the Jazz were only able to score 54 points, losing 96-54. Karl Malone was the only Jazz player with more than eight points, scoring 22. The Bulls had four scorers in double digits, with Michael Jordan grabbing the lead with 24 points. The Bulls would win the series in six games after a one point win in the clincher.
13 T11. 2010 Eastern Semis (43 Points)
The 2010 NBA Playoffs has already gone down as one of the most memorable in recent history. LeBron James was an upcoming free agent who was perhaps playing his last games for the Cleveland Cavaliers (at the time). The Eastern Conference semifinals drew a lot of attention as the Cavaliers played the Celtics, with Boston winning in six games. With that going on, nobody was talking about the other matchup between the second seeded Hawks and third seeded Magic.
The Magic made a huge statement in the first game of the series, topping the Hawks by a score of 114-71. Three of the Orlando players scored at least 19 points, with Dwight Howard getting a game high 21 points in addition to 12 rebounds and five blocks. The game set the pace for the rest of the series as the Magic would end up sweeping in four games with all four being decided by at least 14 points.
12 T11. 1987 Eastern First Round (43 Points)
Back in 1987, all of the focus in the NBA was still on the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. People weren’t paying too much attention to the Pistons at that point, as they wouldn’t make the NBA Finals until 1988 and they wouldn’t win it until 1989. In 1987, however, they set the tone for their future success in the NBA Playoffs. In the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the third seeded Pistons took on the Washington Bullets.
After winning the first game at the Pontiac Silverdome by 14 points, the Pistons returned to the same stadium to dominate even further. Detroit routed Washington by a score of 128-85 thanks a whopping six players scoring in double digits. Adrian Dantley led all scorers with 24 points while adding two assists and three rebounds. The Pistons then traveled to Washington for game three where they would complete the series sweep.
11 T11. 1984 Western Semis (43 Points)
From 1980 to 1988, the Los Angeles Lakers would end up winning five NBA Championships, and played the Boston Celtics in four NBA Finals series. In 1984, the Lakers were coming off of a season where they were swept in the NBA Finals by the 76ers, but everyone was expecting another Celtics-Lakers matchup in the NBA Finals. The people that wanted to see it would get their wish, but they had to make their way through the conferences first.
In the Western Conference semifinals, the Lakers certainly looked prepared for the NBA Finals as the top dogs took on the fourth seeded Mavericks. In game one of the series at the Forum, the Lakers destroyed the Mavs by winning 134-91. Seven Lakers scored at least 10 points, and Mike McGee had the most with 25 points. The Lakers continued to dominate the series, winning in five games, but ultimately lost to the Celtics in seven games in the NBA Finals.
10 T8. 1997 Western First Round (44 Points)
Now that Michael Jordan had already been back for a year and won an NBA title after a brief retirement, the 1997 NBA Playoffs seemed like a bit of a formality leading to another inevitable Chicago Bulls championship. In the Western Conference, second seeded Seattle tried their hand at being the team to take down Chicago, but it would be the Jazz that ended up making it to the Finals.
The SuperSonics still did make a big splash in the first round, though, as they took on the seventh seeded Phoenix Suns. After Phoenix picked up a surprise win in the first game, the SuperSonics came back in a big way. Seattle held Phoenix to just 15 points in the fourth quarter while scoring 37, winning the game 122-78. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp both scored 23 points while Hersey Hawkins and Detlef Schrempf added 19 and 13, respectively. Seattle would end up winning the series in five games.
9 T8. 1985 Western Finals (44 Points)
Once again in 1985, everyone was anticipating the Lakers and Celtics to square off once again in the NBA Finals, especially after playing each other the year before and clinching the top seeds in 1985. Boston steamrolled their way through the Eastern Conference, losing just four games along the way. As for the Lakers, they fared even better, losing just twice. One of those games came in game two of the Western Conference Finals to second seeded Denver in one of the highest scoring series anybody had ever seen.
After winning both games in Denver to take a 3-1 lead, the Lakers looked to close out the series at home to take on the rival Celtics again. Even though Denver put up 109 points, it was still one of the biggest blowouts in playoff history as the Lakers put up 153. Seven Lakers scored at least 12, with James Worthy, Mike McGee and Byron Scott all scoring 21 or more. The Lakers would go on to get their revenge and win the 1985 NBA Finals.
8 T8. 1958 Western Finals (44 Points)
You have to go way, way back to find our next biggest playoff blowout. This one comes from 1958, when there were only eight teams in the NBA. The Warriors were in Philadelphia, the Syracuse Nationals hadn’t become the 76ers yet, the Lakers were still in Minnesota, the Hawks were still in St. Louis and the Kings were still the Cincinnati Royals. Six of the eight teams made the NBA Playoffs, with the St. Louis Hawks getting the top seed in the west.
They received a bye and awaited Detroit, who had just beaten Cincinnati. St. Louis took the first two games of the series with the Pistons getting back into it with a game three win. The Hawks were quick to shut them out of the series, though, winning 145-101 in game four for the eighth biggest blowout in playoff history. Cliff Hagan led the way for St. Louis with 28 points while Bob Pettit added 23. The Hawks would win the next game, then win the NBA Finals against the Celtics.
7 T6. 1995 Eastern First Round (47 Points)
In 1995, all eyes were on the Chicago Bulls yet again as Michael Jordan returned during the regular season. The Bulls, who were once 23-25, finished 47-35 to clinch the fifth seed and made it to the second round, but would lose to the Orlando Magic. The attention should have been on Orlando, especially after they clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 57-25, boasting both Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway.
Before taking on the Bulls, the Magic were set to take on the eighth seeded Celtics. A huge statement was made in the first game when the Magic outpaced the Celtics 124-77. All five starters and three more reserves scored at least 10 points for the Magic. Shaq set the pace with 23 points and 11 rebounds while Horace Grant pulled in 14 of his own. The Magic would win the series 3-1 and make it to the NBA Finals before being swept by Houston.
6 T6. 1986 Western First Round (47 Points)
Yes, the Lakers make the list yet again after dominating a poor team in their conference. Those that were around in the 1980s and like parity would have really hated the decade as the Celtics and Lakers had the top seed just about every year. 1986 was no exception and the Lakers were 62-20 heading into the playoffs. In the first round of the NBA Playoffs, they faced the eighth seeded San Antonio Spurs, who finished with a paltry regular season record of 35-47.
The difference in talent between the two teams was very apparent during the series, especially in the first game as the Lakers won by a score of 135-88 at the Forum. Byron Scott was the leading scorer for Los Angeles with 24 points as Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and three other scorers would find double digits. However, the Lakers would be upset in the Western Conference Finals by the Rockets while the Celtics won yet another NBA Championship.
5 1971 Western Semis (50 Points)
By the time the 1971 NBA Playoffs rolled around, there were a total of 17 teams in the NBA as Portland, Cleveland and Buffalo (now the LA Clippers) were all added. Sadly, none of those teams would make the playoffs as the old guard held it down. A total of eight teams made the NBA Playoffs that year, with the Milwaukee Bucks clinching the top seed in their division. The Bucks started the playoffs with a matchup against the San Francisco (now Golden State) Warriors, and they wouldn’t get much of a fight.
The Bucks won the first three games with ease before dropping game four by two points. Looking to close out the series, Milwaukee did it in a big way. After leading at halftime 69-35, the Bucks continued their dominance in the third quarter and finished the game with a 136-86 win. Jon McGlocklin led the scoring with 28 points, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar added 23. Milwaukee would storm through Los Angeles in the next round and then swept Baltimore in the finals to win their only title.
4 2015 Eastern First Round (54 Points)
The only blowout since 2010 to make the list, this one comes via the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs. The Hawks and Cavaliers were the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference with 60 and 53 wins, respectively. Coming in third was the Chicago Bulls, who were slated to take on the sixth seeded Bucks that were entering the playoffs with an even 41-41 record. Chicago took a quick 3-0 series lead before the Bucks stormed back with wins in the next two games.
Game six took place in Milwaukee and the Bulls closed out in style with a 120-66 victory to advance. At halftime, the Bulls had a 65-33 lead and it only got worse from there. All of the Bulls starters scored at least 11 points as Mike Dunleavy of all people had the most points with 20. Joakim Noah had a double-double and even E’Twaun Moore got on the score sheet.
3 1973 Western Finals (56 Points)
Back in the early 1970’s, it wasn’t the Celtics that were frequently taking on the Lakers, but the New York Knicks. With eight teams in the playoffs, the second seeded Lakers had a tough time with the third seeded Bulls in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, winning four games to three. The Lakers thought that the Bucks would be awaiting them in the Western Conference Finals, but it was the fourth seeded Warriors that pulled the upset.
The Lakers took the first two games of the series from Golden State, winning by two and then 11 points. Game three was a road game for the Lakers, but it didn’t effect them at all. The Lakers pulled out to a 53-34 halftime lead, and then scored 73 points in the second half to finish off a 126-70 win. Jim McMillan was the star of the night, scoring 28 points. The Lakers won the series in five games, and then lost to the Knicks in five games in the NBA Finals.
2 T1. 2009 Western First Round (58 Points)
One of the few recent blowouts to make the list, most experts predicted that the 2009 NBA Finals would be between the Lakers and either the Cavaliers or Celtics. A lot of people have already forgotten that the Lakers weren’t a foregone conclusion for the Western Conference as the Denver Nuggets actually had the second seed, and boy did they look impressive in the first round against the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans).
Denver won the first two games of the series before dropping the third by two points. Not deterred by their loss, the Nuggets would blow out the Hornets in game four, winning 121-63 to take a 3-1 series lead. Carmelo Anthony was on fire, scoring 26 points and adding six rebounds and seven assists while six other Nuggets scored at least 11. Denver made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before finally succumbing to the Lakers in six games.
1 T1. 1956 Western Semis (58 Points)
The biggest blowout in NBA Playoffs history comes from way before any of us will probably remember. At the time, there were a total of eight teams, and even the Pistons played in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Six teams made the 1956 NBA Playoffs with Fort Wayne and Philadelphia getting byes, so the semifinals were actually the first round. In that round, the St. Louis Hawks took on the Minneapolis Lakers.
The Hawks pulled out a squeaker in the first game, winning 116-115. The second game wouldn’t be nearly as close, as the Lakers dominated at home by a score of 133-75. After putting up 25 points in the first quarter, the Lakers would score 36 in each of the final three. All 10 players for the Lakers scored in double digits, and leading scorer Slater Martin didn’t even reach 20 points (he scored 19). The Hawks would win game three to clinch the series 2-1, though, but Philadelphia topped Fort Wayne in the NBA Finals.