The NBA Finals has a long track record of bringing together the best teams and players in an annual clash for the NBA championship. But with 30 clubs starting each NBA season with a chance to make a run for glory, there has been no shortage of teams that have made Cinderella marches to the NBA Finals, and rewarding loyal sports bettors with big paydays in the process.
Here’s a look at some recent teams that silenced naysayers with unexpected and profitable victories in the NBA Finals.
Toronto Raptors (Season opening odds: +1850) vs Golden State Warriors
The Toronto Raptors were one of the most successful regular season teams of the 2010s. The club tallied an average of 53.5 regular season wins during a six-season stretch that featured five Atlantic Division title wins. However, playoff success proved fleeting, with the club reaching the Eastern Conference Finals just once over a crucial five-year stretch.
Yet another series loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018 sparked an offseason shakeup that brought Kawhi Leonard north of the border, followed by a 58-win campaign in 2018/2019. The Raptors also captured the imagination of Canadian basketball fans with an epic run to the Finals that featured stunning series wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks.
With the Golden State Warriors returning to the Finals in search of a third straight title, the Raptors were given little chance of victory by oddsmakers and by media pundits enamored with the Warriors dream team lineup. However, as he had done in the team’s victories over the 76ers and Bucks, Leonard took charge.
“The “Fun Guy” piled up 30 points per game, highlighted by a series-defining 36-point, 12-rebound performance on the road in Game 4. Toronto would go on to win the series in six games, bringing the NBA title to Canada for the first time and earning Leonard a second career NBA Finals MVP award.
Golden State Warriors (+2800) vs Cleveland Cavaliers
While the Golden State Warriors were the feared dynasty when they faced the Toronto Raptors in 2019, just four years earlier they were a long-time doormat looking to rewrite a lengthy history of futility as they prepared to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
They had failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs over the previous 40 years. And while the club approached the Chicago Bulls’ regular season win record with a sparkling 67-15 record, they were expected to be outclassed by King James, who was making his fifth straight trip to the Finals.
Cavs backers had plenty of reason to be confident after Cleveland jumped out to a 2-1 series lead. However, with Steph Curry spearheading the charge, the Warriors rebounded to tally three straight wins by an average margin of 14 points per game to hand LeBron his second straight loss in the Finals and claim their first title since 1975.
Dallas Mavericks (+2000) vs Miami Heat
The Dallas Mavericks emerged as one of the most-successful teams of the 2000s, winning 50 or more regular season games in each of the first 11 seasons of the 21st century. However, they proved to be a massive playoff disappointment, reaching the NBA Finals just once between 2000 and 2010, and exiting the postseason in the first two rounds on eight occasions. Entering the 2010-2011 NBA season, they were trailing the favorites as a distant +2000 bet to win their first NBA title.
However, a sensational performance in that year’s NBA Playoffs by Dirk Nowitzki flipped the script on both the Mavs’ track record of futility and the perception of European players in the NBA. Among the league’s top scorers during the regular season, Nowitzki came out on top in crucial head-to-head matchups with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers and Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder while leading the Mavericks to an NBA Finals clash with LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
With James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade now leading the charge in Miami, the Heat were favored to dispose of Dallas in the Finals in as few as six games.. However, Nowitzki had other ideas. The “Dunking Deutschman” ensured he would never pay for another drink in the city of Dallas by compiling 32.2 points per game and topping 40 points twice during the NBA Finals on the way to a series victory in six games over the stunned Heat.