The road to the NBA championship is paved with sweat, adrenaline, and clutch moments. The regular season alone has a grueling schedule consisting of a mighty 82 games, making even the most well-conditioned ballers wince. But throughout the course of those matchups, some teams rise to the fore and rather than heading into the postseason as afterthoughts, they instead become frontrunners. However, even of those elite sides, there can only be one team that is considered the overall top seed. For the teams that clinch that coveted top spot, expectations naturally run high. But recent years have set a different narrative, one where success isn’t guaranteed by a better record. In this article, we’ll evaluate the playoff journeys of top-seeded teams in recent years and how they performed under the brightest playoff lights.
Giannis’ Bucks Stunned By Fairytale Raptors
The Milwaukee Bucks finished the 2018/19 regular season with the best record in the league, boasting an impressive 60-win campaign led by their star, Giannis Antetokounmpo. This season, they are performing in a similar fashion, and the popular bookies allowing punters to bet on basketball make them a +550 third favorite for glory. However, five years ago, this dominance did not immediately translate into postseason success. The Greek Freak was named the league’s MVP for the first time in his career, but he couldn’t help his side toward a first Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in almost four decades.
The Wisconsin-based outfit comfortably knocked off the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics en route to the Eastern Conference semifinals. There they would meet the second seed Toronto Raptors who were in the midst of their own Cinderella story. Despite the stellar performances from Giannis and Co., the Bucks were unexpectedly vanquished in the Conference Finals. The Fiserv Forum outfit raced into a two-game lead however, that deficit was overturned in devastating fashion, with Kawhi Leonard top-scoring in three of the next four games to secure a stunning six-game series victory.
Milwaukee Dumped Out Early
The following season saw the Bucks once again secure the top seed, reaffirming their regular-season prowess. This time, they seemed poised for redemption, but they did finish the campaign with four fewer victories than the previous year, and that should have indicated that the table toppers were ripe for the picking. They breezed past the eighth-seed Orlando Magic in the opening round and were expected to do the same in the conference semifinals when they came up against the fifth-seed underdog Miami Heat.
Unfortunately for the Milwaukee faithful, their campaign was about to go up in flames. The Florida outfit managed to thwart the Bucks’ daunted attacking prowess while simultaneously showcasing their own ability, with Jimmy Butler in particular proving that he was the ultimate big game player. He reeled off 40 points in game one as well as a further 30 points in game three, leading his side to an unassailable-looking three-game lead. Giannis was outshone by Khris Middleton who managed to drag his team back into the series in game four, but Jimmy Buckets ensured that the Bucks were unceremoniously dumped out once again, netting 17 points in a comfortable, series-winning 103-94 victory in game four.
Jazz Dominance Ended By Upstart Clippers
The Utah Jazz’s 2020/21 campaign epitomized resilience and tactical ingenuity. They clinched the best record in the league, anchored by a formidable defensive front and an electric offense. However, their playoff journey was fraught with challenges. They made short work of a lowly Memphis Grizzlies side that was appearing in the playoffs for the first time in four years in the first round, running out 4-1 victors. However, that was as good as it would get as, despite their regular-season dominance, they unexpectedly stumbled in the Conference Semifinals, succumbing to the Los Angeles Clippers of all teams.
Los Angeles’ “other” team had been the butt of jokes for many a year. But after they brought former champion Kawhi Leonard from Toronto, their fortunes were transformed almost immediately. He combined brilliantly with Paul George to ensure that it was the City of Angels outfit that progressed in six.
Experienced Warriors Extinguish Suns
The Phoenix Suns’ 2021-22 season was a storybook comeback, catapulting from a long playoff drought to the top seed in the Western Conference. Led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the Suns showcased a blend of finesse and grit that resonated throughout the league. Yet, in a cruel twist of fate, their postseason run was abruptly halted in the Conference Semifinals by the eventual champions, the underdog Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns’ early exit was a poignant demonstration of the arduous nature of the playoffs, where the line between glory and defeat is often razor-thin.
Eighth Seed Heat Embarrass Bucks Once Again
Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks entered the playoffs with renewed determination, eager to shake off the ghosts of their previous playoff collapses. However, their quest was marred by a stunning upset in the First Round at the hands of the rank outsider Miami Heat. Jimmy Butler’s ability to make clutch plays was the deciding factor, top scoring in all five games – including a mighty 56 points in game four – to give his side a stunning 4-1 series victory in perhaps the greatest postseason upset of all time. And he wasn’t done there as more brilliance led his team to become the first eighth-seed in almost 25 years to reach the NBA Finals.