Twenty-seven years ago, the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets shocked the world by defeating the Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the 1994 playoffs.
The win marked the first time in NBA history that a No. 8 seed had defeated a No. 1 seed in a playoff series. The best part? The team rallied from the brink of elimination to pull it off.
Before 2003, the first round of the playoffs was a five-game series that heavily benefited the home team. With the first two games on the higher-seeded team’s home floor, the series could quickly turn into a single-elimination matchup.
After dropping each of the first two games in Seattle by double digits, the Nuggets returned home to find themselves in this exact scenario.
Denver was able to fend off the sweep with a 110-93 victory in Game 3. The team showed even greater poise in Game 4 when they dominated in overtime in route to a 94-85 win.
With the series tied 2-2, the Nuggets would have to secure a win in Seattle if they were to complete the comeback. Robert Pack rose to the occasion.
While going head to head with future Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton, Pack led the way for the Nuggets offense and finished with 23 points in a 98-94 overtime victory.
However, it was Dikembe Mutombo’s 15 rebounds and eight blocks that made the greatest impact. The third-year center cemented himself as a perennial defensive force in the series.
With averages of 12.6 points 12.2 rebounds and an astounding 6.2 blocks, Mutombo’s performance marked a return to the All-Star form of his rookie season.
Over the course of the next nine seasons, Mutombo would go on to notch eight more All-Star appearances. The lone miss? The 1999 lockout-shortened season where no All-Star game was held.
The series also helped to inspire a rule change. With both the 1994 Nuggets and 1999 Knicks pulling first-round upsets from the eighth spot, the league ultimately decided to change the format.
In 2003, the league gave the first round the respect it deserves with a full seven-game format and since the Nuggets made history that year, only four other teams have accomplished the feat.
The anniversary of this impressive accomplishment serves as a reminder that even the most hobbled of teams are capable of making deeper playoff runs than experts expect.
With a play-in tournament and injuries that have sent contenders towards the bottom of the standings, the west could get wild this season. Even with Jamal Murray’s season-ending injury, it’s important to remember that our Nuggets will always have a shot.