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Pulling A Cleveland: 15 Biggest Championship Upsets

We aren't halfway through the year yet, but it's becoming increasingly clear that 2016 is becoming the 'Year of the Upset'. The Cleveland Cavaliers provided the most recent example on Sunday night, storming back from 3-1 down before shocking the 73-win Golden State Warriors on their home court for the club's first NBA title. Before that, though, we had already seen the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup despite sitting outside the playoff picture midway through the season, Serena Williams lose Grand Slam finals to Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza and, most incredibly, Leicester City achieving the impossible by winning the Premier League.

But even among those results, the Cavs' title victory stands out. LeBron James willed his hometown team to the city's first Big Four championship of any kind in over 50 years by knocking off league MVP Steph Curry and the historically great Warriors against all odds. Indeed, the degree to which Golden State was favored heading into the NBA Finals is rare for a championship game or series, given that it typically features the cream of that sport's crop. That being said, it isn't entirely unheard of.

In the pages of professional sports history, we've had other David and Goliath narratives play out with a title on the line. Though it's widely anticipated that one team will simply apply their superior skill and talent in pushing aside the other, championship battles can sometimes see the tide turn and lightning get captured in a bottle over the course of either one game or a best-of-seven series. These 15 teams rank among the most notable when it comes to "pulling a Cleveland."

15 1994-95 Houston Rockets

via nba.com

Even though they were the defending NBA champions, the Houston Rockets limped into the 1995 postseason with an aging roster that could only manage a six seed in the West, having gone an underwhelming 17-18 since acquiring Clyde Drexler. But that's when the Rockets turned it on, knocking off the Jazz, Suns and Spurs to earn an NBA Finals date with the much-hyped Orlando Magic and their budding superstar duo of Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway.

14 2001 New England Patriots

via realclearsports.com

13 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks

via thestartingfive.net

Five years ago, at the height of his villainy in the eyes of most NBA fans, LeBron James found himself on the other end of a shocking NBA Finals result. Cleveland Cavaliers fans may want to leave the memory of this time period in the past, but the 2010-11 NBA season seemed like one big party to celebrate the forming of the Miami Heat's 'Big Three', the superstar trifecta of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that had come together the previous summer. James' infamous promise of "not one, not two, not three..." titles was to be put to the test against Dirk Nowitzki and the decidedly less hyped Dallas Mavericks.

12 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks

via nydailynews.com

The 2001 Major League Baseball season looked to be following a Hollywood script before the Arizona Diamondbacks decided to rewrite the ending. The New York Yankees were the reigning three-time World Series champions, had toppled the 116-win Seattle Mariners in the ALCS and carried the hopes of a city still reeling in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, which occurred less than a month before the playoffs started.

11 2003-04 Detroit Pistons

via picstopin.com

The tough, hard-nosed and deep Detroit Pistons of the early 2000's were largely defined by what they didn't have. In an era where Superstars dominated the league's landscape, the Pistons got by with an exceptional group that knew how to play together. None of Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace or Rasheed Wallace were going to win any scoring titles, but they were awfully tough to beat as a unit. That proved in stark contrast to the glitzy Los Angeles Lakers, who boasted a marquee foursome of Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.

10 1994-95 New Jersey Devils

via sportsnet.ca

Sometimes, sports dynasties can start in rather unassuming and surprising fashion. Now known for their aggressive 'neutral zone trap' style of play, the New Jersey Devils were an offensively-challenged afterthought in the strike-shortened 1994-95 season. Even after they went 10-1 through three rounds, few gave them much of a shot against the impossibly talented Detroit Red Wings. While New Jersey was making their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in franchise history, Detroit was making their 19th. In fact, the Red Wings had five players finish with more points than anyone on the Devils could muster during the 50-game regular season.

9 1984-85 Villanova Wildcats

via si.com

8 2003 Florida Marlins

via sun-sentinel.com

7 1941-42 Toronto Maple Leafs

via en.wikipedia.org

To this day, only four NHL teams have rallied from being down 3-0 and come back to win a playoff series (others are the 1975 Islanders, the 2010 Flyers and the 2014 Kings), with only one of those coming in the Stanley Cup Finals. In the 1942 Finals, the Detroit Red Wings appeared all but set to etch their names into the Cup with a 3-0 lead over the Maple Leafs after finishing as the runner-up one year prior. Their wins had grown more and more pronounced as the series wore on, culminating in an emphatic Game three statement in which the Wings responded to two early Leaf goals with five of their own.

6 1968 New York Jets

via mendocinobaby.com

Early Super Bowl contests lacked a compelling 'best against the best' feel because, to most, the AFL was inherently inferior to the NFL and early Super Bowls pitted the champions of each league against one another. In the eyes of many outside observers, that didn't give the AFL champion New York Jets much hope against the NFL's 15-1 Baltimore Colts.

5 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers

via latimes.com

Few in baseball could match the remarkable firepower of the 1988 Oakland A's, led by the imposing duo of "Bash Brothers" Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, who combined to hit 74 home runs in an era before the public was wise to steroid abuse, ace 20-win pitcher Dave Stewart and 45-save Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley.

4 1968-69 Boston Celtics

via nbahoopsonline.com

When you think of the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics teams of the 1960s, you aren't necessarily thinking of an underdog. But the 1968-69 Celtics were fast approaching the end of the line, with a soon-to-retire, 34-year-old Russell unable to average even 10 points. Despite finishing with their lowest win total in a decade, Boston did just enough to reach the NBA Finals against the rival Lakers, armed with an in-their-prime superstar trifecta of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and a newly acquired Wilt Chamberlain. After scraping their way to Game seven despite 94 points from West over the first two games, the Celts caught wind of Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke's ambitious and arrogant title celebration plans.

3 Greece (2004 Euro Cup)

via sunnation.co.uk

Like so many other team sports, soccer can be Superstar-driven at its highest levels. Greece, however, had no such stars on their 2004 Euro Cup roster, relying instead on standout players on club teams that probably would not have made the rosters of most European powers. In fact, their very qualification only came after a 24-year absence from the tournament.

2 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

So there's probably no need to rehash the specifics of Cleveland's dramatic rally from down 3-1, winning three straight games against a team who had lost consecutive games just once all year. Still, it bears mentioning how much was at stake in Sunday's dramatic Game seven finale. The Cavs' title win instantly became the greatest moment in Cleveland sports history while cementing the legacy of James, who fulfilled his promise in bringing a title to his hometown team.

1 2007 New York Giants

via giants.com

What does it take to top the Cavs' remarkable title chase? How about the iconic Helmet Catch that erased the hopes of the New England Patriots to make NFL history? The Pats had gone unbeaten in the regular season, winning 11 of their 16 games by 17 or more points in a dominant showing. They appeared poised to blaze their way to a 19-0 record and a fourth Super Bowl title in seven years when they came up against the fifth-seeded New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Down 14-10, Giants QB Eli Manning anchored an astonishing 83-yard drive with 2:39 remaining, one that included an impossible 32-yard desperation catch by David Tyree on third down in which he fell back-first to the ground with the ball pinned against his helmet. They later scored on a TD pass to Plaxico Burress with 39 seconds remaining to seal the shocking 17-14 triumph.

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Pulling A Cleveland: 15 Biggest Championship Upsets