Despite entering the postseason as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat have done the unthinkable and advanced to the 2023 NBA Finals through the play-in tournament. They are the first team in the play-in era to make the Finals from that tournament. Miami is are making its sixth NBA Finals appearance and competing for its fourth world title in franchise history. The Heat have advanced while laughing at the oddsmakers, being priced as the underdog in each of their 2023 playoff series thus far.
Let us look back at how the Heat made it to the this year’s NBA Finals.
Notably, the Heat lost their first matchup of the play-in tournament to the Atlanta Hawks, 116-105. That cast Miami into the loser’s bracket, where — with their backs against the wall — they eliminated the Chicago Bulls despite trailing late in the fourth quarter. For the Heat, that set them up with a first round matchup against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
In lopsided fashion, the Heat managed to upset the No. 1 Bucks in two of the first three games in the series. Of course, Milwaukee was without Giannis Antetokounmpo for Games 2 & 3 and Miami took advantage. With the odds still against them, Jimmy Butler and the Heat dug deep to leave the Bucks bewildered. Miami eventually eliminated Milwaukee in five games behind Butler’s 37.6 points per game in the opening round.
Coming into the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Heat were fully charged after their major upset. Miami next matched up with an old conference rival; the New York Knicks. With the Knickerbockers coming off one of their best seasons in the current millennium, New York entered the series with Miami as the favorite while also holding homecourt advantage. Still, the Heat did well to win a close opening game at Madison Square Garden, ultimately setting the tone for the entire tilt.
After jumping out to a 1-0 lead, the Heat managed to win three of the next five contests to close out the series. Miami did well to win all three of their home contests in this matchup. The Heat eventually moved past New York, winning the series 4-2, but it never felt particularly close.
Just like that, Miami was scheduled for an Eastern Conference Finals clash with the Boston Celtics for the second consecutive season, and third time in four years (2020, 2022 and 2023). With the Heat advancing to the NBA Finals in 2020, and Boston doing so in 2022, the 2023 ECF served as the rubber match.
Despite the Celtics holding home court advantage, Miami went to New England to steal the first two games of the series. Both contests in Boston were competitive, but the Heat used strong second-half play to earn back-to-back victories at TD Garden. Game 3 of the ECF was all Miami from whistle to whistle. Having led by nearly 30 points in the third quarter, the Heat stomped on Boston’s 2023 title hopes by winning 128-102. The Celtics were able to roll back and win three in a row, forcing a decisive Game 7 once again in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Heat managed to recover from a tough Game 6 loss to eventually win Game 7 on the road. On the other side, the West’s No. 1 Denver Nuggets — led by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray — await the Heat to decide who hoists this year’s Larry O’Brien Trophy.