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The 2008 NBA Playoffs was the postseason for the National Basketball Association's 2007–08 season which ended with the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics defeating the Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers 4–2.

There were four rounds of postseason action, all of them in a best-of-seven format, with teams seeded on a bracket. The team with the better record was not necessarily the basis of seeding teams in the playoffs. Nevertheless, the team with the better record in a match-up had home court advantage.

The theme songs for the Playoffs were "Nine Lives" by Def Leppard and Tim McGraw for the Eastern Conference and "We Made It" by Busta Rhymes and Linkin Park for the Western Conference.

The playoffs were noted for the return of the Atlanta Hawks into postseason action after nine years of absence, taking the #1 seed Boston Celtics into a full seven games before bowing out. Also notable was the race for the Western Conference home court advantage, eventually won by the Los Angeles Lakers who emerged as the Western Conference champions; the debut of the Chris Paul-led New Orleans Hornets in the playoffs after Hurricane Katrina and their 7-game series against defending champions San Antonio Spurs; and the Lakers' and Celtics' revitalization of their franchises, most especially after key trades during the pre-season and regular season. The Celtics ended up playing in 26 postseason games (2 games short of a full length postseason of 28), breaking the 25 game record of the 1994 New York Knicks by one game for the record of most postseason games in a single season played by a single NBA team. Those Knicks, however, only played a Best-of-5 First Round playoff series, and so had two fewer games to accomplish that feat.

The two number one seeds, the Lakers and the Celtics, disputed the NBA championship, reviving their old rivalry, last played in the 1987 Finals. Also, it marked the first time since 2000 that both top seeds from each Conference met in the Finals.


The 2008 format was the same as 2007's format.
  • The top 8 teams from each conference qualified for the playoffs.
    • The top 4 seeded teams were the three division winners and the best division runner-up all ranked on the basis of their standings.
    • The bottom 4 seeded teams were seeded by basis of their standings.
  • All series were in a best-of-seven format with the Games 1–2, 5 and 7 on the home court of the team with the better record (not necessarily higher seed).
    • Exception: For the NBA Finals, the team with the better record played Games 1–2 and 6–7 on their home court.
  • Reseeding (as used in the Stanley Cup Playoffs) was not in use: therefore, all playoff matchups were predetermined via the teams' seedings.

Playoff qualifying

Eastern Conference

The following teams clinched a playoff berth in the East:
  1. Boston Celtics (66–16, clinched Atlantic Division, and home court advantage throughout the playoffs)
  2. Detroit Pistons (59–23, clinched Central Division title)
  3. Orlando Magic (52–30, clinched Southeast Division title)
  4. Cleveland Cavaliers (45–37)
  5. Washington Wizards (43–39)
  6. Toronto Raptors (41–41)
  7. Philadelphia 76ers (40–42)
  8. Atlanta Hawks (37–45)

Western Conference

The following teams clinched a playoff berth in the West:
  1. Los Angeles Lakers (57–25, clinched Pacific Division title, and home court advantage for the Western Conference playoffs)
  2. New Orleans Hornets (56–26, clinched Southwest Division title, winning conference record tiebreaker over Spurs)
  3. San Antonio Spurs (56–26)
  4. Utah Jazz (54–28, clinched Northwest Division title)
  5. Houston Rockets (55–27, winning conference record tiebreaker over Suns)
  6. Phoenix Suns (55–27)
  7. Dallas Mavericks (51–31)
  8. Denver Nuggets (50–32)


This was the outlook for the 2008 NBA playoffs. Teams in italics had home court advantage. Teams in bold advanced to the next round. Numbers to the left of each team indicate the team's original playoffs seeding in their respective conferences. Numbers to the right of each team indicate the number of games the team won in that round. The division champions possess an asterisk (*).

Eastern Conference

First Round

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Atlanta Hawks

Both Game 1 and Game 2 were Celtic routs, keyed by great team defense (Atlanta averaged 79 points in the first two games) and balanced Celtic scoring (six players were in double figures in Game 1, five in Game 2). The most buzz was generated by Mike Bibby stating that Celtic fans were bandwagoners after Game 1, prompting lusty boos every time he touched the ball in Game 2.

In Game 3, Atlanta showed its athleticism with an array of dunks from Josh Smith (27 points) and a strong interior performance by the rookie Al Horford (17 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists), who also jawed with Paul Pierce near the end of the game. There would be more jawing in Game 4 between Zaza Pachulia and Kevin Garnett, but the outcome was a surprise: Thanks to fourth quarter heroics by Joe Johnson and Smith, who combined to score 32 of Atlanta's 34 4th quarter points, the upstart Hawks rallied from a 10 point third quarter deficit in Game 4 to tie the series going back to Boston. Boston dominated Game 5, but in Game 6, six Hawks players finished in double figures to edge the Celtics to force a winner-take-all Game 7. The Hawks were no match for the Celtics in Game 7, as the Celtics held them to 26 points in the 1st half. 3 minutes into the 2nd half, the series' tensions finally boiled over when Marvin Williams was ejected for committing a hard foul on Rajon Rondo. Then after that, Kevin Garnett was noted for trucking Zaza Pachulia while going for a screen.

(2) Detroit Pistons vs. (7) Philadelphia 76ers

Misses down the stretch by Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace kept the Pistons from beating the Sixers at their home floormarker as Andre Iguodala grabbed clutch defensive rebounds to seize the home court advantage. The Pistons responded with a blowout in Game 2. Game 3 was close at halftime, but Samuel Dalembert and Andre Miller helped to break it open with strong overall performances. Detroit was behind by 12 in Game 4 at halftime and in danger of falling behind 3–1 going back home, but three second-half 3s by Rasheed Wallace and strong showings by Tayshaun Prince and Chauncey Billups keyed an eighteen point 3rd quarter turnaround which helped even the series. Detroit dominated Game 5 behind Billups's 14 points and 5 first quarter assists, jumping out to a fourteen point lead and never looking back. Richard Hamilton keyed a similar such start in Game 6, scoring 13 points, as the Pistons took an eighteen point first quarter lead and eventually rolled into the second round.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Toronto Raptors

Scoring 25 points and grabbing 22 rebounds, Dwight Howard gave the Magic their first playoffs win since 2003 as they practically led the entire game. Howard would put up a 29–20 in Game 2, as Hedo Turkoglu scored the final four go-ahead points to give the Magic a 2–0 lead. The Raptors would respond with a strong Game 3 victory keyed by great point guard play from T. J. Ford and Jose Calderon. But Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis and Keith Bogans keyed strong three point shooting in Game 4 and overcame Chris Bosh's 39 points and 15 rebounds to bring the Magic out of Toronto with a 3–1 lead. Howard would finish off the series in Game 5 as impressively as he started–21 points, 21 rebounds, 3 blocks.

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Washington Wizards

LeBron James, labeled as "overrated" by Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson, scored 20 of his 32 points in the second half to help the Cavs draw first blood in their third first round meeting in as many years. The Cavs and Wizards traded blowouts in Games 2 and 3, but Cleveland took a 3–1 lead in the Verizon Centermarker off of Delonte West's last second three pointer. Washingtonmarker stayed alive by winning Game 5 when Caron Butler converted a running shot with only seconds left, capping off his 32 point performance. However, James would lead the Cavs to a dominating Game 6 victory in Washington with a triple double (27 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists); he also received crucial outside shooting from Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson, who combined for 48 points.

This series was marked by several harsh physical plays on LeBron James, with Brendan Haywood, Stevenson, and Darius Songaila picking up technical and flagrant fouls for hard contact on James.

Conference Semifinals

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (4) Cleveland Cavaliers

Although the Celtics had a quick turnaround from their unexpected seven-game series with Atlanta, they managed to hold off the Cavs by winning the first two games in Boston. Kevin Garnett scored 28 points and 8 rebounds and made the go-ahead shot in Game 1. LeBron James would only shoot 8 for 42 from the field in the first two games.

Cleveland would come back to win the next two games, Game 3, a blowout where five Cavs scored in double figures, and Game 4 where James would punctuate the victory with a dunk over Garnett. James's shooting improved in the return to the Garden in Game 5, but received minimal help from his teammates as Rajon Rondo, Garnett, and Paul Pierce all scored over 20 points to push Bostonmarker over the top. Game 6 was an ugly affair, with both teams shooting under 40 percent, but a 32-12-6 performance by James was enough. Boston, the best road team in the regular season, fell to 0–6 on the road.

Game 7 would end in a duel between Pierce (41 points) and James (45 points) that some compared to the great Bird-Dominique duel in the Garden 20 years ago. But timely offensive rebounding (10 in all), 18 second chance points, and a few key shots from the Celtic veteran P.J. Brown helped push Boston into the Eastern Conference Finals.

(2) Detroit Pistons vs. (3) Orlando Magic

The Detroit Pistons opened up with a rout in Game 1, as Detroit's big men keyed in on Dwight Howard and forced him to playoff lows 12 points and 8 rebounds, with five Pistons scoring in double figures. After being quiet in Game 1, the Magic's 3 point shooting picked up (11 for 26, Jameer Nelson making five for eight), but could not overcome 19 turnovers and fell down in the series 2–0. There would also be a controversial call at the end of the third quarter where Chauncey Billups would make a 3 near the end of the 3rd quarter when the clock froze and approximately 0.5 seconds remained, but TNT clocks would later reveal that Billups could not have gotten the ball off in time.

The Magic would take a 24–6 lead at home in Game 3 and use a 38–17 4th quarter to blow out Detroit; they were paced by 33 points by Rashard Lewis. Billups would injure his right hamstring early in the game and miss the remainder of the series, but they would not need him for Game 4 as Richard Hamilton scored 32 points and the Pistons came from 15 back in the 3rd quarter. Tayshaun Prince would make the go-ahead basket with 8.9 seconds left and Hedo Turkoglu missed a layup as time ran out.

Billups's starting replacement, Rodney Stuckey, struggled in Game 4, but came back with a strong Game 5. The Magic would outshoot the Pistons 48 to 36 percent, would make 36 percent of their 3s compared to 21 percent for Detroit, and outrebound them 46 to 38, but turned the ball over 21 times while Detroit had only 3. Rip Hamilton again led Detroit with 31 points, and Prince made the crucial defensive play by blocking Turkoglu's layup in the waning seconds. Detroit advanced to their sixth straight Eastern Conference Finals, the longest Conference Finals streak since the Los Angeles Lakers went to eight straight in the 80s.

Conference Finals: (1) Boston Celtics vs. (2) Detroit Pistons

Detroit walked into the NBA Eastern Conference Finals for the sixth straight season. Boston held off the Pistons in Game 1 on 79–88, but let Detroit rally a strong performance in Game 2 to win it 103–97 (marking Boston's first home court loss in the post-season). However, they let the Celtics win their first road playoff game 94–80 in Game 3. Game 4 saw the Pistons win 94–75, however they lost Game 5 106–102 despite a scoring run late in the game. In Game 6, the Pistons strolled into the fourth quarter leading 70–60, but a lack of focus, a poor game from Rasheed Wallace, and a rally-destroying turnover by Tayshaun Prince ultimately led to their demise, as the Pistons would end their season losing 89–81. With that, the Celtics moved on to the NBA Finals, and they would face the Los Angeles Lakers for the 11th time.

Western Conference

First Round

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Denver Nuggets

In Pau Gasol's playoff debut with the Lakers, he scored 36 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 blocked shots as the Lakers beat the Nuggets in Game 1. Kobe Bryant gave the fans a vintage performance in Game 2 by scoring 49 points and adding 10 assists in a blowout at Staples Center. The Nuggets were routed at home in Game 3, with Carmelo Anthony stating the team quit in the second half. Game 4 was closer, but Bryant led the Lakers with 14 points in the last five and a half minutes to close out the Nuggets at the Pepsi Centermarker. It was the first time the Lakers advanced to the second round since the 2003–04 NBA season.

(2) New Orleans Hornets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

In his playoff debut, Chris Paul scored 35 points, dished out 10 assists, and stole the ball 4 times to lead the Hornets to a comeback home win against the Mavericks. He would replicate that type of performance in Game 2 with 32 points and 17 assists. Dallas would come out with a dominant Game 3 performance at home after inserting Jason Terry into the starting lineup, but New Orleans would win the final two games of the series, keyed by David West in Game 4 and Paul's triple-double in Game 5.

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Phoenix Suns

Michael Finley made a game-tying three in regulation, Tim Duncan scored 40 points, including a rare three-point field goal to force a second overtime, and Manu Ginóbili clinched victory with a drive to the basket to break the 115-all deadlock with 1.8 seconds left to win a classic Game 1. Tony Parker would then pace the Spurs to their next two victories in the series, scoring 32 and 41 in Games 2 and 3 respectively. At the brink of elimination, Phoenix responded with a strong Game 4. But costly missed free throws by Shaquille O'Neal and key turnovers by Steve Nash helped San Antonio to prevail in Game 5, led again by Parker's 31 points.

Also notable was Gregg Popovich's use of the Hack-a-Shaq throughout the series to disrupt the Suns offense when Shaquille O'Neal was on the floor. O'Neal would shoot 64 free throws in the five games, making 32 of them.

(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Houston Rockets

The Jazz had a balanced game from Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams to steal the home court advantage away from the Rockets. A similar such performance in Game 2 put Utah in a commanding 2–0 lead going back to Salt Lake City. Rafer Alston's return to the Houston lineup after injury, along with Tracy McGrady's 27 points and Carl Landry's key block of Deron Williams on the crucial possession helped Houston to steal Game 3 on the road. Williams responded with a strong performance in a Game 4 victory, plus got some help from Mehmet Okur with his offensive rebound off of his two missed free throws. The Rockets controlled Game 5 to stay alive, but despite getting 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists from McGrady in Game 6 and 15 pts from Luis Scola, the rest of Houston's team shot 10 for 39 from the field and could not overcome losing Alston to an ankle injury as the Jazz blew the game open with a 27–11 3rd quarter.

Conference Semifinals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Utah Jazz

The Lakers took Game 1 in Staples Center, winning by 11 against the Jazz. After being presented with the season's NBA MVP award in Game 2, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to victory with 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. However, as the series shifted back to Utah, the Jazz responded, winning Games 3 and 4 behind the performances of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, who bounced back after two poor games in Los Angeles. The Lakers came back with authority as they took Game 5 with Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom scoring 20 plus points each. The Jazz looked to force a Game 7 but the Lakers did not trail and closed out the series in Game 6 with a 108–105 win at Utah, where the Jazz were 37–4 during the regular season. Bryant led the team with 34 points as the Lakers advanced to the Western Conference Finals, which they had not reached since 2004. This was the first playoff meeting between the two teams since the 1998 Western Conference Finals.

(2) New Orleans Hornets vs. (3) San Antonio Spurs

The Hornets, who earned the home-court advantage via winning the Southwest division, were able to gain a quick 2–0 lead in the series over the veteran Spurs. But when the series shifted to San Antonio the Spurs regained their edge, returning the favor in games 3 and 4. Game 5 back in New Orleans shocked many as the Hornets played off the home crowd to a 22 point rout. The home teams were clearly dominating in this series as Game 6 was more of the same in San Antonio. However, that all changed when a much anticipated Game 7 saw the Spurs erect a 15 point lead after 3 quarters, which proved to be enough (even after the Hornets cut the deficit to 3 with 1:35 left) to send them to another Western Conference Finals.

Conference Finals: (1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (3) San Antonio Spurs

The series pitted the two best teams in the Western Conference over the last 10 years. Having the home court advantage, the Lakers started out as a favorite and did not disappoint their home crowd as they overcame a 20-point deficit in Game 1 and won behind Kobe Bryant's 27 points, 25 of which were scored in the second half. Game 2 was a cruise for the Lakers as they made a 9–0 run before halftime, led all game and built the lead to 30.

The Spurs easily took Game 3 at home with Manu Ginóbili carrying the Spurs after two terrible games at L.A, making 5 3-pointers and finishing with 30 points; Tony Parker and Tim Duncan added 42 more. In Game 4 the Lakers never trailed (the Spurs missed several opportunities to take the lead) and led comfortably late, but a furious run by the Spurs and several mistakes by the Lakers (Bryant attempting a running fallaway with plenty of time on the shot clock, Gasol missing two free throws) gave San Antonio a chance to tie or win with seconds left. On a disputed no-call, Derek Fisher jumped into Brent Barry's path, but no foul was called and Barry missed a last second 3-pointer.

Heading home up 3–1 in the series, the Lakers trailed in the first quarter by 17 but was able to cut the lead to six by halftime. Again, Bryant stepped up by scoring 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, enabling the Lakers to surge ahead and seal the series, helping them to reach the NBA finals for the 5th time in 9 seasons and the first time in the post-Shaq era.

The Lakers were able to reach the NBA Finals again as the no. 1 seed. The last time this happened to the team was during the 2000 NBA season, where they beat the Indiana Pacers 4–2. They also improved to 4–0 against San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals. They renewed their rivalry with the Boston Celtics as the two matched up for the 11th time in the NBA Finals.

NBA Finals: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Broadcast notes


TNT's coverage of the 2008 NBA Playoffs was strong in audience delivery, with the playoff averages showing year-over-year growth among households (+15%), viewers (+14%), adults 18–34 (+25%), adults 18–49 (+22%), adults 25–54 (+24%), men 18–34 (+30%), women 18–34 (+5%), men 18–49 (+23%) and men 25–54 (+22%). [506851]


  1. Bibby: Boston Fans are "Bandwagon Jumpers", AOL Fanhouse
  2. Dwight Howard's 20–20 Game Leads Magic Past Raptors,
  3. James Scores 20 of his 32 in Second Half,
  4. Lakers Take 3-0 Series Lead Over Nuggets,
  5. Paul Lifts Hornets over Mavs for Game 1 Win,
  6. Duncan Scores 40 to Lead Spurs to Game 1 Win Over Suns,
  7. Jazz beat Rockets 93-82 in series opener,
  8. Tentative 2008 Playoff schedule

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