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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why has no NBA team ever come back from a 3-0 deficit?

The 2004 Yankees will tell you how easy it is for a playoff series to get away from you. I vividly remember the cover of the sports section of the NYTimes on the day of game 4 against the Red Sox and there were brooms all over it, as they approached a sweep. Just a few days later, the Yankees were eliminated by their long-time rival, and before they knew it, the curse of the Bambino was over.

In Hockey, the Flyers and Canadiens accomplished this feat in the same Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2010, making them 2 of the 4 hockey teams who have come back from 3-0.

Yet in the NBA no team has ever done it. Why not?

Let’s look at this year’s Celtics as the example to understand why not:

They lose both games in MSG and look like they have nothing left. (2-0 Knicks)

Then they lose the first game at home, in an emotional atmosphere following the marathon bombing. (3-0)

Now we’re up to game 4, and Boston (the city) just can’t lose this one and Boston (the team) knows that. So they fight and they fight because they just can’t lose game 4 at home. (3-1)

Game 5 is back at MSG and the Knicks just want to finish off the Celtics; they even wear all black to the game to symbolize the funeral of Boston (classy idea following the bombing…). The Celtics, on the other hand, finally have some life and with it, some momentum and hope. So now we have cockiness for the Knicks and momentum and fight in the Celtics. Is it so surprising that the Celtics were able to pull out that game? (3-2)

Back to Boston for game 6. This game is the key. Up until now only 3 teams (1951 Rochester Royals vs. NY Knicks, 1994 Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz, and 2003 Portland Trailblazers vs. Dallas Mavericks) have come from down 3-0 to even force a game 7. That means only 3 teams have won this crucial game 6. But this doesn’t seem to make sense; Boston just won two in a row and now they’re riding that momentum back home where the fans are undoubtedly going crazy! So why do almost no teams win this game? The answer, I believe is because the Knicks (and any team up 3-0) are the better team; they won (decidedly) the first 3 games. Ok then they let up their guard in games 4 and 5, but they know they should win. So now they take the opponent seriously, make the proper adjustments and go on to crush the other team, because the only teams that go up 3-0 are the teams that are clearly much better than the opponent.

The buck stops here. 4-2 Knicks advance.

Or does it…

This year might actually provide the framework of how to win a series after being down 3-0. The Knicks scoring comes mainly from two people, Carmelo “I shoot way too many shots, so obviously I lead the league in scoring” Anthony and J.R. “I used to be inconsistent, but now I’m very consistent; if I miss a few shots, I know I aint scoring today” Smith. So why did the Celtics win game 4? Because ‘Melo missed 25 shots and JR scored 0 points (though he also missed 0 shots since he was suspended). And why did the Celtics win game 5? Because ‘Melo and JR went 11-38. So you see the Celtics have won, but not necessarily because they were better, but because the Knicks were worse.

Now let’s look at OKC vs. Houston for a second. OKC wins the first 2 games, then Westbrook goes out. They win an emotional game 3, but by game 4 Houston guts out a win of their own. Now, it’s 3-2 and OKC does not have their #2 (really 1a) man.

Hold that thought while we look at the Spurs/Lakers and Miami/Bucks series. These teams were up 3-0 because they’re so much better than the other team. That’s why the team down 3-0 never comes back to win and rarely comes back to even force a game 7; they’re just not as good. But in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, we have 2 teams who were up 3-0 who honestly, might not be that much better than their opponent. For the Knicks, you can’t rely on the fact that their shots will fall, because they can just as easily miss. And for OKC, it’s unfortunate, but their team just isn’t anywhere as good without Westbrook. So for this year, we have to throw out everything ever written about teams down 3-0 because these are not your typical cases. OKC without Westbrook is not the same OKC that went up 3-0, and as for the Knicks, you just never know with those guys.

So what’s gonna happen?

OKC vs. Houston – Houston has to have everything going for them to win game 6 because KD will score a million points on them to make sure people don’t say he can’t do it alone, and Kevin Martin won’t score just 3. So James Harden can do a lot, but he won’t score 50. OKC in 6

NY vs. Boston – We end the way we started; NY vs. Boston - will the 2004 Red Sox's miracle happen again for the Celtics? Well, you really can’t rely on ‘Melo and on JR, but then again, the Knicks are here not just because of those two guys but also because of their veteran leadership. Their veterans will calm them down and gut out a win, but I’m going on a hunch (partially since I originally picked Knicks in 7) that they’ll do that only after Boston wins this game; there’s too much Boston Pride, especially after the Marathon Bombing. Also, let’s be honest here, ‘Melo won’t be that off for 4 straight games. Boston will become the 4th team to stretch a 3-0 deficit to game 7, but ultimately, in the end, Knicks in 7.

Joe K

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