With another victory over Golden State, the Thunder will pull off one of the greatest upsets in NBA history. Sure, upsets aren’t the same in the NBA as they are in other sports like the NHL and college basketball, so I get how this might not feel like an unbelievable upset. And after all, how big of an underdog can a team with two of the best players in the game on the same team be?
But let’s look at how this potential upset compares to other historic NBA upsets in terms of differences in win totals and point differential per game. For the record, Golden State finished 73-9 with a point differential per game of +10.8 and Oklahoma City finished 55-27 with a differential of +7.3. The fifth biggest upset, according to that article I linked, was in 2011 when the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (46-36, +2.3) upset the 61-win San Antonio Spurs (61-21, +5.7). That upset was shocking, but the difference in those two teams’ win totals (15) and point differential (3.4) is a little smaller than the difference between the Warriors and Thunder win totals and point differential (18 and 3.5 respectively).
Next on that list of great upsets was when the Boston Celtics (50-32, +3.7) upset the top-seed Cleveland Cavaliers (61-21, +6.5) in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Again, the difference in win totals (11) and point differential (2.8) is smaller than the spread between OK City and Golden State. After that, there is the 2004 NBA Finals, when the Detroit Pistons (54-28, +5.8) upset Kobe, Shaq, and the Lakers (56-26, +3.9). The Pistons actually had the superior point differential, which makes me question how big of an upset this really was. But I suppose it only proves my point that the Thunder beating the Warriors would be a superior upset.
The next two upsets on this list, admittedly, are greater upset than if the Thunder beat the Warriors. In 1994, when the Denver Nuggets became the first eight seed to knock off a one by beating the Seattle Super Sonics, the 42-win Nuggets were clearly inferior than the 63-win Sonics, owners of the league’s highest point differential that year at +9.0. And in 2007, which many say is the greatest playoff upset in NBA history, Baron Davis and the Warriors (42-40, -0.3 point differential) knocked off Dirk Nowitzki and the 67-win Mavericks in what was a 25-win difference between the two squads.
Nonetheless, if the Thunder close out Golden State in one of the next three games, it is clearly one of the biggest upsets of all-time. I could also argue that the Thunder’s win over San Antonio in the semifinals could go down as one of the bigger upsets of all-time as well.
Taken together, the fact that the Thunder are on the verge of defeating not one, but two of the greatest regular season teams of all-time is historic. While all the talk this season has been whether the Warriors would surpass the ’96 Bulls, it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are on one of the most impressive postseason runs ever, staking their claim as one of the greatest teams of all-time.