Five teams in recent memory that unexpectedly made the NBA Finals
The NBA Finals are upon us and the stage has been set with the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks dueling for the crown. In fact, for the first time in 50 years, all The NBA Finals will be composed of players who’ve never won a NBA championship. Thus, we will be assured of seeing new faces being crowned as champions this year.
There’s no question that favorite teams often successfully make their way to the NBA Finals. Throughout history, we’ve seen the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, or the Golden State Warriors come into the season as clear-cut favorites and make their way to the grandest stage. However every now and then, we see under-the-radar teams pull off some surprises and make their way to the Finals.
2020-2021 Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns made a lot of noise in the regular season, as they came into the postseason as the second seed of the Western Conference with a 51-21 record. However, no one really expected them to make it all the way to the NBA Finals.
The team is headlined by Chris Paul and young guns in Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. With Chris Paul’s disappointing playoff history and the lack of experience by this team, the Suns had a lot of questions surrounding them.
But fortunately, the Suns proved its doubters wrong. They got the job done in the postseason by surprisingly eliminating the defending champs in dominant fashion, as the LeBron James-led Lakers fell in six games to hand LBJ’s first-ever first-round exit in his career. After this tremendous feat, the Suns went on to sweep the Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals who were led by the newly crowned MVP Nikola Jokic. And just recently, the Suns dispatched the Clippers in six games.
Thanks to the postseason breakout of DeAndre Ayton and the red hot-shooting of Devin Booker, the Suns weathered the injury suffered by CP3 and his absence due to COVID protocols. CP3’s timely return in the Conference Finals would help the Suns clinch a NBA Finals appearance which would be the franchise’s first since 1993.
As of this writing, the Suns are up 2-1 in the series against the Milwaukee Bucks as they prepare for Game 4 on Wednesday.
2019-2020 Miami Heat
Coming into the playoffs as the fifth seed of the East, there’s no doubt that odds are highly stacked against you. However, the Heat certainly shocked everyone with their Cinderella playoff run last year all the way to the NBA Finals.
Led by Jimmy Butler, the Heat ruled the Eastern Conference. In the first round, Butler and the crew made easy work of the Indiana Pacers by sweeping them. Afterward, despite facing the number one seeded Bucks led by MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Heat eliminated them in five games. Thanks to Butler’s leadership and the emergence of Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, the Heat were also able to surpass another legitimate contender in the Boston Celtics.
Although the Heat made a magical run to the NBA Finals, unfortunately, they couldn’t win the championship. With the Los Angeles Lakers’ duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Butler and crew couldn’t match the firepower of the Purple and Gold. Furthermore, untimely injuries to Adebayo and Dragic dampened their championship hopes, as the team eventually conceded to the Lakers in six games.
2006-2007 Cleveland Cavaliers
With the Pistons dominating the East and the Heat entering the season as the defending champs, nobody expected a young LeBron James to barge into the NBA Finals. With James still a rising star, critics were doubtful whether he was ready to take the Cavs to the pinnacle. Furthermore, James had a subpar supporting cast that season.
But despite the odds, James proved his doubters wrong and that he was the future of the NBA. In that season, James led the Cavs to a 50-32 record, which was good for second-best in their conference. The Cavs also got past their rivals come postseason by sweeping the Wizards and eliminating the Nets.
However, what truly shocked everyone was how LBJ led the Cavs in taking out the Pistons. Although the Cavs opened the series with a 0-2 deficit, the team came alive by winning the next four games. In fact, Game Five of the series would go down in history books as it required two overtime periods to decide the winner. LBJ would drop a monumental 48 points including the game-winning shot.
Although the Cavs surprisingly made the NBA Finals, their success story would end there. After the franchise finally made their first Finals appearance, the inexperienced Cavs were swept by the seasoned Spurs who had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.
2018-2019 Toronto Raptors
After repeated eliminations for the past years, people often wrote off the Raptors especially when LeBron James was ruling the East. And in 2019 when LBJ took his talents to L.A., things started to open up for the Raptors. First, the Raptors got the services of Kawhi Leonard in exchange for DeMar DeRozan. Furthermore, their season also saw the emergence of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. But despite these, people didn’t really see the Raptors going deep in the postseason or into an NBA Finals.
The most pressing concern for the Raptors was a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard. In fact, reports even surfaced that he had “no interest” to even suit up in a Raptors uniform. Aside from this, the Eastern Conference had a lot of star-studded contenders like the Celtics, 76ers, and the Bucks.
Although the road wasn’t smooth, the stars eventually aligned for the Toronto Raptors. After surprisingly dropping the playoffs opener against the seventh seeded Magic, the team was seemingly doomed for another early playoff exit. However, things turned around from there. The Raptors finished off the Magic in five games and went on to miraculously send the Sixers home in seven games in the following round as Leonard would hit the game-winner in Game 7.
The miracle didn’t end there as the Raptors dispatched the number one seeded Bucks during the Eastern Conference Finals to advance. And as we all know, they infamously dethroned the Golden State Warriors in six games in the NBA Finals to give the franchise its first-ever championship.
2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks
Apart from the Raptors, another team that unexpectedly made the NBA Finals and won the championship was the 2010-2011 Mavericks. The team faced tremendous odds before capturing the franchise’s first championship.
One of those odds came midway through the season when Caron Butler injured his knee. Given that he was the second-best player of the team, it was a huge blow for the Mavs. But despite this, the Mavs finished third in the West and dominated in the postseason.
The Mavs took down the Blazers in six games to open their playoff campaign. Afterwards, they surprisingly swept the defending champions, Kobe-led Los Angeles Lakers, despite being the clear underdogs of the series. And then, the Mavs got past the KD-led Thunder in five games to clinch a NBA Finals appearance.
And despite facing the heavy favorites in the Heat in the Finals who were led by LBJ, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh, the Mavs didn’t shy away from pulling off the upset. Dirk Nowitzki led the charge for the Mavs in giving the Big Three a miserable Finals debut. He registered 26.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game to take home the Finals MVP. This Mavs squad put together arguably the biggest upset in NBA Finals history.