Are the Raptors the worst No. 1 seed to ever be swept in NBA history?

The Toronto Raptors were swept out of the 2018 NBA playoffs with a whimper last night, as they were crushed by the Cleveland Cavaliers 128-93. This made it the third consecutive season the LeBron-led Cavs knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs, including back-to-back sweeps in the Eastern Conference Semis.

However, this season was supposed to be different for the Raptors. Finishing off their best season in franchise history with 59 wins, they were the second-best team in the NBA.

With home-court advantage against a Cavs team that had just been pushed to seven games, it seemed like this year was Toronto’s best chance to finally defeat LeBron. Instead, Toronto may have just become the worst No. 1 seed in NBA history.

No. 1 seeds to be swept in the NBA playoffs

Starting with the league’s first season back in 1948, back when it was known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA), there have been 142 No. 1 seeded teams. Only 13 (9.15%) of these No. 1 seeds have ever been swept in the playoffs.

The Raptors are only the third No. 1 seed (first since the 1969 Washington Bullets) to be swept without reaching at least the Conference Finals. The other No. 1 seed to do this was the 1951 Philadelphia Warriors, who played best-of-three back then.

Team Playoff Year Round swept in Defeated by (seed) Point Diff. Defeated in # of OT games
Rochester 1949 W. Conf Finals Lakers (2) -13 2-0 0
Warriors 1951 E. Conf Semis Syracuse (4) -14 2-0 1
Bullets 1969 E. Conf Semis New York (3) -38 4-0 0
Hawks 1970 W. Conf Finals Lakers (2) -35 4-0 1
Lakers 1977 W. Conf Finals Trail Blazers (3) -23 4-0 0
Lakers 1983 NBA Finals 76ers (1) -40 4-0 0
Lakers 1989 NBA Finals Pistons (1) -27 4-0 0
Magic 1995 NBA Finals Rockets (6) -28 4-0 1
Spurs 2001 W. Conf Finals Lakers (2) -89 4-0 0
Nets 2002 NBA Finals Lakers (3) -37 4-0 0
Pistons 2003 E. Conf Finals Nets (2) -36 4-0 0
Hawks 2015 E. Conf Finals Cavaliers (2) -53 4-0 1
Raptors 2018 E. Conf Semis Cavaliers (4) -56 4-0 1

*The NBA did not have a first-round for the playoffs until the 1974-75 season and did not expand to 16 teams in the playoffs until 1983-84.

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Toronto also lost to a Cavaliers team that was only a four seed, joining the aforementioned ’51 Warriors as the only team to do so. In both cases, the ’51 Syracuse Nationals and 2018 Cavaliers had both lost in the NBA Finals the previous year.

Only the 1995 Orlando Magic lost to a lower seed team, as the Houston Rockets were the six seed that year. Of course, that Rockets team were at least the defending champions from the previous season.

Then there is the fact that the Raptors have the second-worst point differential (-56) among any No. 1 seed to be swept, despite the fact that one of their games went into overtime. Only the ’01 Spurs have a worse point-differential (-89), as they just got crushed by the Shaq-Kobe Lakers in games three and four.

Conclusions

While the Toronto Raptors are not the worst No. 1 seed to be swept in any category, their combination of factors makes them arguably the worst. Being the first No. 1 seed to get swept outside the Conference Finals in 49 years is never a good look.

Add on to that the fact that they were swept by a four seed. Even though it was a LeBron James led-team, the Cavs defense had been awful the entire season and they revamped most of their team during the trade deadline. The only team to be swept by a lower-seeded team had it happen to them from a Rockets team that won back-to-back NBA Championships.

While the ’01 Spurs point differential is much worse then the Raptors, they were playing a team that was in the middle of what would be a three-peat. While Cleveland has made the Finals three-straight years, they have only one once.

Also, that Lakers team had two prime Hall of Fames in Shaq and Kobe to deal with. Before this series against the Raptors, the Cavs looked like they were relying solely on LeBron for the most part to win games against the Indiana Pacers.

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Sources and Info:

Featured Image: “DeMar DeRozan” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_BAA_playoffs (went forward until present day noting which No. 1 seed was swept and by who)

https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/ (searched for each of the swept series and took note of the overall point differential)

Used Google Spreadsheets to make all the table in this article

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