Whether it ends in lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Miami Heat have penned themselves in the history books.
Prior to their run to the NBA Finals in 2023, only one No. 8 seed before them had reached the ultimate stage – and that happened in 1998-99.
Miami has eliminated the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks, No. 5 New York Knicks and No. 2 Boston Celtics in its path to facing the top-seeded Denver Nuggets from the Western Conference, with stars in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo receiving crucial help from usual role players in Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson and more.
So, even if they eventually lose to the Nuggets for the title, they’ve already cemented themselves as one of the best No. 8 seeds in NBA playoff history.
Who are some others? Let’s take a look:
Miami Heat, 2023
To continue off Miami’s story is a must given the recency of its journey. Remember, Tyler Herro went down with a broken right hand in the first-round series against Milwaukee. That’s a 20-points-per-game guard the team doesn’t have at its disposal.
The Heat would go down as the greatest eighth-seed team in league history if they pull off an NBA Finals upset, but they’ll still be considered one of the best if they don’t.
New York Knicks, 1999
Before the Heat, there were the Knicks in the 1999 playoffs. The Jeff Van Gundy-led squad started off the lockout-shortened season on the right foot, but injuries to key players, most on the older side, saw them grab the No. 8 seed come playoff time. From there, they upset No. 1 Miami in a best-of-five series, then swept No. 4 Atlanta 4-0 in the second round.
Next came the Reggie Miller-led No. 2 Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, which already seemed like a tough matchup before Patrick Ewing’s Game 1 injury dampened the odds. However, New York found a way and won the series 4-2. The top-seeded San Antonio Spurs won the Finals via a gentleman’s sweep, but it nonetheless was a run to be proud of for the Knicks given the circumstances.
Memphis Grizzlies, 2011
After the 2023 Heat and 1999 Knicks, no other No. 8 seed advanced past the second round. From there, each No. 8 seed to win a playoff series was one and done.
Next, then, come the 2011 Grizzlies, who upset the top-seeded Spurs and completely disregarded their consistent regular-season play.
Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol were the stars of the show in the era just before 3-point dominance, while gritty veterans in Tony Allen, Shane Battier, Sam Young and more all played vital roles in the 4-2 series upset. They weren’t exactly a one-hit wonder, either, as they took the No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder – boasting the young group of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka – to seven before losing 4-3.
Golden State Warriors, 2007
The “We Believe” era started here. The Warriors were 25 games behind the Dallas Mavericks, who had cruised to 67 wins, in the standings. Dallas had aspirations of returning to the NBA Finals after losing to the Heat in the series the season prior, but Golden State proved nothing is guaranteed in the NBA, even when you collect 67 regular-season wins in dominant fashion.
Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Jason Richardson all averaged 40 minutes per game and posted crucial scoring totals, with Matt Barnes, Monta Ellis and Mickael Pietrus all chipped in, too. Golden State won the series 4-2, with three of those wins being by double-digit figures. They would fall via a gentleman’s sweep in the second round, however, to the Utah Jazz.
Honorable mention: Philadelphia 76ers, 2012
The 2012 Sixers are the only other No. 8 seed to have won a playoff series, which came against the Chicago Bulls. That was the series in which Derrick Rose, a young league MVP with a bright playing career ahead, tore his ACL, and Chicago didn’t recover without him.
Philadelphia pushed the No. 4 Boston Celtics to seven games in the second round but lost.