26 April, 2023
The Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat’s first-round series took another unexpected turn on Monday night when Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 56 points and the Heat staged a 14-point rally in the fourth quarter of Game 4 to grab a 3-1 lead.
The Heat are suddenly only one victory away from eliminating a Bucks club that finished the regular season with 58 victories and secured the top overall seed in the playoffs. Even if Giannis Antetokounmpo has recovered from his back ailment, there is no assurance that Butler will continue to play at this caliber, giving the Heat a genuine chance to break records.
The Heat will become the fourth No. 8 seed to accomplish so in a best-of-seven series, and the sixth No. 8 seed overall, to win a first-round series since the league’s postseason expansion to 16 clubs in the 1983–84 season. Additionally, they fell as the top seed in 1999, making them the first club to be on both sides of such an upset.
Here’s a look at other No. 8 seeds that have accomplished the trick in the past, with the Heat poised to make basketball history.
The Nuggets became the first No. 8 seed to win a series in ten years, and they did so in the most spectacular way imaginable. They lost both games by double digits and were defeated 0-2 by a SuperSonics team that had won 63 games and ultimately advanced to the Finals. At that moment, the Sonics’ advancement looked only ceremonial.
Instead, the Nuggets dominated Game 3 at home, winning with a field goal percentage of 60, and then won Game 4 in OT despite a field goal percentage of just 36.9%. Even then, it was widely believed that the Sonics, who won 37-4 that season, would win Game 5 in Seattle. No, the Nuggets won 98-94 in overtime on the strength of Dikembe Mutombo’s eight points, 15 rebounds, and eight blocks.
The Heat finished 33-17 during the 1999 lockout-shortened season and prevailed in a three-team tiebreaker for the top spot. Even though this postseason’s circumstances were unusual, the Heat were still predicted to win the series, especially since they had the home-court advantage.
But the Knicks established the tone by winning Game 1 by a score of 20 points. From that point on, the sides swapped double-digit victories up to the decisive Game 5, which was a winner-take-all match. Allan Houston attempted a shot with the Knicks behind by one in the final seconds. The shot hit the front of the hoop, rebounded off the backboard, and dropped into the net to win the series.
In the end, the New York Knicks became the first and only No. 8 seed to reach the Finals, when they were defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in five games.
The Dallas Mavericks won 67 games in 2007, following a Finals loss in 2006, which was the greatest record in the NBA by six games and is tied for the seventh-highest regular season record ever. Although they were the favorites to win the championship, they did face a potentially challenging first-round opponent in the Golden State Warriors, who had won 16 of their last 21 games and had dealt the Mavs two of their greatest losses during the regular season.
It came out that Baron Davis and company actually had the Mavs’ phone number. Thanks to a boisterous Oracle Arena crowd, the Warriors won all of their home games after winning Game 1 on the road. The fact that they appeared to have it easy is even more amazing; three of their four victories were by double digits, including a 25-point rout in Game 6.
The “We Believe” Warriors ultimately lost to the Utah Jazz in the second round in five games, but they will always be remembered in the Bay Area.
The Grizzlies won 46 games and were just the No. 8 seed; that would have qualified them for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference this season. This is proof that the Western Conference was highly competitive in the early 2010s. Even yet, the Spurs were expected to contend for a championship since they dominated for a large portion of the regular season on way to 61 victories.
Instead, they saw the emergence of the “Grit-N-Grind” Grizzlies, who in a razor-thin series, absolutely refused to lose. Five of the six games were decided by single digits, with the Grizzlies winning Games 1 and 3 by three points each. This was the Grizzlies’ first postseason series victory in team history and the beginning of their most successful period.
For the first time since Michael Jordan’s retirement, the Chicago Bulls entered the title race in the early 2010s. They reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 under Derrick Rose‘s leadership, and in the lockout-shortened 2012 season, they were given the No. 1 seed in the East.
Another matchup with the Miami Heat appeared to be in the cards going into the 2012 postseason, but Rose tore his ACL in the last seconds of Game 1 of the Bulls’ first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls managed to win that game, but they were eliminated in six games and never again achieved such heights.