The Miami Heat were teetering on making the wrong kind of history but, in the end, they completed their unlikely run to the NBA Finals, where they’ll play the No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets.
On Monday, the Heat blew out the Celtics, 103-84, in Game 7 to become the first No. 8 seed in a full-length season to reach the NBA Finals (the 1999 Knicks made it in a lockout-shortened season).
Since 2006, the Heat have reached the Finals seven times, more than any NBA team in that span. It was an up-and-down regular season that nearly came to an end in the play-in tournament, but the Heat, led by Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra, have already executed one of the most improbable postseason turnarounds in league history.
Now Butler has a chance to win his first championship ring, and Spoelstra an opportunity to add to his hall-of-fame worthy resumé. Game 1 is Thursday night in Denver.
Here’s the full NBA Finals schedule:
(All times Eastern and all games televised on ABC)
Game 1: Thursday at Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Game 2: Sunday at Denver, 8 p.m
Game 3: June 7 at Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Game 4: June 9 at Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Game 5: June 12 at Denver, 8:30 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 6: June 15 at Miami, 8:30 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 7: June 18 at Denver, 8 p.m. (if necessary)
How the Heat got here
After beating the Bulls in the play-in tournament to earn the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, the Heat shocked the basketball world by upsetting the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s back injury certainly played a role, but Butler led the Heat with a Michael Jordan-esque performance that included a 56-point eruption in Game 4.
The Heat then dispatched the Knicks to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, where they rolled to a commanding 3-0 lead. But Celtics battled back, ripping off three straight wins to force a a Game 7. Had the Heat lost on Monday, they would have become the first team in league history to blow a 3-0 lead in the playoffs. Instead, they blew out the Celtics in Boston and advanced to their second Finals in four seasons.
How the Nuggets got here
Unlike the Heat, the Nuggets were expected to get this far. The No. 1 seed in the West features the two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and fire-breathing point guard Jamal Murray.
In the first round, the Nuggets handled the Timberwolves in five games, then knocked off the Devin Booker and Kevin Durant-led Suns in six games before sweeping the Lakers in the West finals. They’ve been off since last Monday, waiting to learn their NBA Finals opponent. They are a mighty foe, and the obvious betting favorites to win the championship.