DENVER (CBS4)– LaPhonso Ellis still remembers the day the Denver Nuggets pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the NBA Playoffs.
“We made history,” former Nuggets star LaPhonso Ellis said. “Still to this day people refer that Nuggets team as the first Number 8 seed to beat a Number 1 seed.”
In the First Round of the 1994 Western Conference Playoffs, the eighth seeded Nuggets trailed the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics 2-0 in the best of five series. Coming back to beat the SuperSonics seemed improbable since they had the best record in the NBA.
But with the series shifting back to Denver, the young Nuggets turned everything around beating the SuperSonics 110-93 in Game 3 and 94-85 in overtime in Game 4. It set up the winner-take-all Game 5 back in Seattle where the Nuggets were confident they could pull off the upset.
“I remember going out for warm ups, those same fans who said we were going to get swept, because they were over the tunnel that we would come in and come out of, I remember walking in and I was confident anyway, you could almost hear a pin drop in that place. Being young and ignorant I was like we got this. We’re going to get them today. We were already comfortable and confident and we felt that we could steal one on their home court,” Ellis recalls.
The stars on the team stepped up for the Nuggets as Dikembe Mutumbo had eight blocks and 15 rebounds. Ellis also chipped in with 19 points, but it was the contributions from two guys off the bench who put the Nuggets over the top. Robert Pack led the team with 23 points and Bison Dele, then Brian Williams, had 17 points and 19 rebounds as the Nuggets upset the SuperSonics 98-94 in overtime.
“That’s what was so special about that team. The starting 5, any of us could hit you for 20 on any given night. But, people didn’t realize how good our bench was because Robert Pack and Bison Dele could come off the bench and give you 20 too,” Ellis said.
For Denver, it was their first series win since 1988 when interestingly enough they defeated Seattle in five games as well. The Nuggets became the first eight seed to defeat the top seed in the current 16-team playoff format. The team would play the Utah Jazz in the next round where they would lose in seven games.
After the season, Ellis received a painting of him hitting a shot over Seattle’s Shawn Kemp from his friend Bart Bacon. Bacon, a graduate of Smoky Hill High School, has been trying to get the painting back ever since because of one small issue.
“He’s been trying to steal it back every since then because he doesn’t like the background crowd. He wants it to actually make it look like people, but he’s not touching that one,” Ellis said.
Today, Ellis hangs the painting proudly in his house and it remains one of the best memories he has from his 11-year NBA career.
“The memories are precious and even my wife who supported me through that she how special it was. What a remarkable moment in time that we got a chance to be a part of NBA history in that way,” Ellis said