Could we be witnessing a historic moment in the NBA playoffs this year?
The Miami Heat, seeded No. 8, pulled off an exhilarating win against the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 on Monday, thanks to Jimmy Butler’s impressive 56-point performance. With a three-game-to-one series lead, the Heat head to Milwaukee for Game 5 on Wednesday.
Miami’s success started in Game 1, when they won 130-117 after Giannis Antetokounmpo exited the game early due to a back contusion. Antetokounmpo did not play in Games 2 and 3, which saw the Bucks win one game and the Heat win the other. Although Antetokounmpo returned for Game 4 and posted a triple-double of 26 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds, it wasn’t enough to overcome Butler’s extraordinary shooting performance.
The Heat’s lead in the series raises the question: how often has an eighth seed eliminated a top-seeded team? If Miami manages to eliminate the Bucks, they will become only the fifth eighth seed to achieve this feat in postseason history.
Historical Examples: No. 8 Seeds that have pulled off upsets against No. 1 Seeds in the NBA Playoffs
In 1994, the Denver Nuggets, led by Dikembe Mutombo, made history by becoming the first No. 8 seed team to eliminate a No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs. They accomplished this feat by upsetting the Seattle SuperSonics in a five-game series, which was the format used at the time for the first round of the playoffs.
Five years later, the New York Knicks became the second No. 8 seed team to eliminate a No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs when they defeated the top-seeded Miami Heat in the first round of the 1999 playoffs. The series was decided in the fifth game, when Allan Houston hit the game-winning shot to eliminate the Heat.
Perhaps the most well-known of all No. 8 seed upsets, the 2007 Golden State Warriors, who were dubbed the “We Believe” Warriors, beat the Dallas Mavericks, who had won 67 games in the regular season, in the first round of the playoffs. The Warriors were led by Baron Davis and coached by Don Nelson, and they defied all odds to pull off the stunning upset.
The Memphis Grizzlies became the latest No. 8 seed team to win a first-round series in the 2011 NBA playoffs. The Grizzlies’ success signaled the emergence of the “Grit-N-Grind” era in Memphis, with the talented trio of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol leading the upset over the San Antonio Spurs.
Although four No. 8 seeds have made it past the first round in NBA playoff history, only one team has advanced to the second round. The 1999 New York Knicks surprised many basketball enthusiasts when they reached the NBA Finals.
The Knicks triumphed over the Miami Heat in the opening round in five games before sweeping the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They went on to beat the Indiana Pacers in six games in the Eastern Conference finals but fell short of their Cinderella story as they lost 4-1 to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.