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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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