On This Date in Sports May 7, 1994: Mutombo Slams Seattle

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

In perhaps the most stunning upset in NBA history, the Denver Nuggets eliminate the Seattle Supersonics in five games, becoming the first eight seed to win a postseason series. The Nuggets who won three straight after Seattle started with two blowout wins, won the finale 98-94 in overtime, with Dikembe Mutombo on the ground and embracing the ball after the final buzzer sounded.

After losing to the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 Western Conference Finals, the Seattle Supersonics looked for the next piece and acquired Detlef Schrempf and Kendall Gill in the off-season. The helped the Sonics top 60 wins for the first time in franchise history at 63-19 under coach George Karl, the best record in the NBA in the 1993/94 season. The Denver Nuggets meanwhile were making their first playoff appearance since 1990, posting a 42-40 record under coach Dan Issel to grab the last playoff spot in the West.

Heading into the 1994 playoffs, no eight seed had ever beaten a number seed in the ten seasons since the playoffs expanded to eight teams in each conference. When the series between the Supersonics and Nuggets began, it appeared as if this time things would be no different as Seattle dominated the opener, winning Game 1 at the Seattle Center Coliseum 106-82 as Detlef Schrempf and Gary Payton each topped 20 points to lead the way. The Sonics continued to play good team basketball in Game 2, recording a 97-87 win as six players scored double digits, led by Payton and Schrempf again.

Looking to sweep the best of five series the Supersonics went into Denver for Game 3 with an air of confidence. However, the Nuggets came out firing as John Elway helped fire up the crowd at the McNichols Sports Arena, scoring 41 points in the first quarter. The hot start set the tone, as Denver won the game 110-93 with Reggie Williams scoring a game-high 31 points, while Dikembe Mutombo added 19 points with 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. Looking to finish the Nuggets in Game 4, the Supersonics held a 63-58 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. However, on a night of cold shooting, Seattle could not find the range when the game mattered most as Mutombo had a monster game defensively blocking eight shots with his now famous finger waving in the air. The Nuggets center also scored ten points and had 16 rebounds as the game went to overtime tied 82-82. In overtime, nothing went right for Seattle, as they were outscored 12-3 as the Nuggets evened the series with a 94-85 win with LaPhonso Ellis scoring a game-high 27 points.

Back home, the Supersonics were glad to see a loud crowd in their favor after feeling a Rocky Mountain low in the Mile High City. Game 5 was close throughout, as Dikembe Mutombo’s wagging finger became a source of frustration for Seattle. The Sonics got strong games from Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf, each scoring 19 points with Kemp adding 13 rebounds. The Nuggets meanwhile were spurred on by the play of Robert Pack and Brian Williams off the bench. Pack had a game-high 23 points while Williams who later changed his name to Bison Dele added 17. The Sonics would force overtime as Kendall Gill scoring a team-high 22 points in a clutch basket at the end of regulation to tie the game 88-88. In overtime, the Denver defense again was too much as Mutombo had eight blocks for the second straight game adding 15 rebounds including one as the game came to an end with the Nuggets record a 98-94 win.

The news hit the NBA like a thunderbolt, demonstrating how open the playoffs were without Michael Jordan, as Dikembe Mutombo celebrated on the floor clutching the basketball in front of a stunned and silent crowd in Seattle.

The Nuggets would go on to face the fifth seed Utah Jazz in the second. After winning their first playoff series in six years, the Nuggets again dug themselves a deep hole falling behind 3-0. However, the no-quit Nuggets won the next three games to force a seventh game. It was just the second time that a team forced a seventh game after losing the first three games in NBA history, the first coming in the 1951 NBA Finals between the Rochester Royals and New York Knicks. Like the Knicks, the Nuggets ran out of magic in the end, losing the finale 91-81. To date, only one other team the Portland Trail Blazers against the Dallas Mavericks made such a come comeback with no team in NBA history ever winning Game 7 after trailing 0-3.