Last season, the eighth-seeded Miami Heat advanced all the way from the NBA play-in tournament to the NBA Finals. Getting to the championship series as such a low seed is extremely rare, but it is also far from normal for a low-seeded team to even make the conference finals. Now, the Indiana Pacers are playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, and they are giving the juggernaut that is the Boston Celtics a run for their money, as was evident in Game 1 of the series, an overtime thriller that went down to the wire. Indiana is proving that they belong at this stage, but the team didn't even make the playoffs last year. Additionally, their current roster looks much different than it did at the start of the season, and they are only a six-seed in these playoffs.

All of those facts means that the Pacers are one of the most surprising teams to make the conference finals, considering the third round of the NBA playoffs are usually reserved for teams that everyone knows are dominant. Indiana's run to the Eastern Conference Finals – and relative success in Game 1 – was enough to persuade us to look at what other Cinderella stories made it this far in the postseason. Check out the gallery below to see the five most surprising teams that made the conference finals in NBA history.

5. 2023-24 Indiana Pacers (6-seed)

TJ McConnell on the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline acquisition of Pascal Siakam made Indiana's run to the Eastern Conference Finals this year less of a surprise, but coming into the season, few would have guessed the Pacers would find this much success. Last season, the Pacers finished with 35 wins and missed the postseason in its entirety.

There were positive signs, most notably Tyrese Haliburton, who was becoming a rising star in the league. But the team's youth and lack of defense led fans to believe the team was still a few years out from contending. A lack of defense hasn't mattered, though, as Indiana's offense has been that dominant. At 123.3 points per game, the Pacers were by far the highest-scoring team in the league this year.

Still, you usually have to lock in on defense to find postseason success, so even after trading for a Haliburton's co-star, many thought the team's regular season success wouldn't translate to playoff basketball. That narrative hasn't been proven true thus far.

The Pacers beat a former championship winning team who added a future Hall of Famer (Damian Lillard) in the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, although the Bucks were depleted by injuries. Then, the Pacers' offense proved superior to a grit and grind squad in round two when the Pacers topped the New York Knicks in seven games.

Few have given Indiana a chance against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, and they did lose Game 1 of the series. However, the team was up late, and they didn't lose until the game went to overtime. The closely contested match in Boston proved that the Pacers are legit, and there is a legitimate chance that they can steal a few games from the Celtics or even advance to the NBA Finals, considering they play even better on their home court that they haven't gotten back to yet.

4. 2023-23 Miami Heat (8-seed)

Miami Heat 2022-23 Eastern Conference Finals victory
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Lower-seeded teams make deep playoff runs is becoming more of a regularity, as evidenced by the fact that before the Pacers, there was the eighth-seeded Miami Heat of last season that not only made the Eastern Conference Finals but made it all the way to the NBA Finals.

Before Miami made the Finals, they were only the fifth 8-seed to ever even win in the first round. Before that, they not only had to play in the NBA play-in tournament, but they lost their first play-in game before qualifying for the playoffs.

Once the Heat finally got to the Conference Finals, it looked like they were going to sweep the Celtics. Miami went up 3-0 on Boston, but the Celtics fought back and won the next three games. The Heat were able to clinch a spot in the Finals by winning Game 7, and they, therefore, avoided becoming the only team to ever give up a 3-0 lead.

It was a weird season for Miami last year, but the Jimmy Butler-led Heat teams have always taken their games up a notch once postseason basketball comes, even if they showed signs of struggle during the regular season. For that reason, they can't rank higher than the other teams on this list, but considering they are one of two 8-seed to make the conference finals, they are still a notable postseason surprise.

3. 1980-81 Houston Rockets (6-seed)

Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, Robert Reid on the Rockets with early '80s Rockets logo in front or background.

Most teams under .500 are not playoff caliber, yet the 1980-81 Rockets managed to secure the 6-seed with only 40 wins to their name. The Rockets had two of the best players in the NBA. The 1980-81 season was sandwiched in between three separate MVP nods for Moses Malone, and Calvin Murphy broke both the consecutive free throw makes (78) and free throw percentage (.958) records.

However, Houston didn't have much outside of their star duo (former All-Star Rudy Tomjanovich was in his last season and past his prime), and it led to a mediocre regular season. Stars shine brightest in the postseason, though, and Malone and Murphy excelled en route to becoming only the second team with a losing record to make the NBA Finals. Tomjanovich even showed that he had a little something left in the tank.

Prior to the 2024 postseason, only four 6-seeds had ever made the conference finals. Coincidentally, one of the other 6-seed to do this was the 1994-95 version of the Rockets. It was less of a surprise that this team made a postseason run, though, as they were not only the defending champions, but their late-regular season struggles were mainly due to the team gaining chemistry with Clyde Drexler. Houston was able to trade for the star, and although his presence took some time to get used to, everyone knew they'd be a better team with him.

2. 1998-99 New York Knicks (8-seed)

 Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell on the Knicks. Knicks '90s logo in front or background

The 1998-99 are another team that not only surprisingly made the conference finals but took things a step further and made the NBA Finals.

The Knicks were a perennial playoff threat in the '90s, but they consistently fell short of championship glory, mainly due to the presence of Michael Jordan in the Eastern Conference. Things did open up in 1998-99 with Jordan's retirement, but it appeared the Knicks' best days were behind them as well.

To make matters worse, the NBA lockout shut down a good chunk of the season. Patrick Ewing and Latrell Sprewell missed significant time because of injuries, and the team had to win six of their final eight games to even qualify for the playoffs.

The Knicks did have lots of talent, though, and they got hot come playoff time. In addition to Ewing and Sprewell, Allan Houston and Larry Johnson were more than capable of getting buckets, and Marcus Camby brought a defensive presence off of the bench. The Knicks ended up knocking off the top-seeded Miami Heat, and they swept the Atlanta Hawks in round two. New York even beat the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals before they were finally stopped by the San Antonio Spurs.

1. 1986-87 Seattle Supersonics (7-seed)

Tom Chambers, Dale Ellis, Xavier McDaniel all together on Supersonics with Sonics logo '80s logo in front or background

After trading Jack Sikma in the offseason, a Supersonics team that had already missed the playoffs for the last two years was expected to take another step back. Seattle didn't necessarily prove this theory wrong in the regular season, either. They squeezed into the playoffs after managing a 39-43 record in the regular season.

Sikma's departure did allow three other players to blossom, though. Tom Chambers improved drastically and earned his first All-Star nod, Dale Ellis won the Most Improved Player Award after going from a 7.1 to 24.9 points per game scorer, and Xavier McDaniel built on his second-place Rookie of the Year finish from the year prior to becoming a 23 point per game scorer.

The team struggled in the regular season, but their big three were potent enough that they could make some noise in the playoffs. They did just that by knocking off the Dallas Mavericks and the Rockets before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. To this day, the Sonics are the last team with a losing record to win a playoff series.