Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Lure of Overcoming a 3-0 Deficit

The idea of the 3-0 deficit is pretty incredible to grasp. A team loses three straight games, then turns it on and wins four straight? It's the most removed thought. Admit it - your team is down 3-0 and the only thing entering your mind is, "We couldn't even win one lousy game?" or "Coach needs to be fired!" In the history of the NBA, MLB, and NHL playoffs only four times has a team ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit. In 1942 the Maple Leafs came back in the Stanley Cup Finals to beat the Red Wings. 33 years later the New York Islanders pulled off the same stunt. In 2003 the Red Sox famously did it against the Yankees and this year the Philadelphia Flyers rallied against the Boston Bruins. Though through it all no team has ever pulled off in the NBA. It remains untouched. Only 3 times out of 93 series that were 3-0 has a team even FORCED a Game 7. (I'm probably one of seven people my age that actually knows these three series.)

(Note: Of those three series that did go to a Game 7 never has the team that trailed 3-0 had Game 7 on their court. Orlando does.)

This is what the Orlando Magic are up against. History. The basic logic that no way can a team in a professional league win three straight, then lose four straight. It's so far removed it's laughable. Yet in the span of only a couple days that thought has slowly transformed into a possibility. The once flawless Boston defense has lost its edge and in turn momentum has shifted to the Sunshine State.

This series and it's current state reminds me a lot of 1996 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics. Now without looking at the obvious differences (Paul Pierce is not Michael Jordan among other things) there are similarities that I think will hold true to this series as well.

In 1996 the Chicago Bulls had the best record in NBA history (72-10). The Bulls were 11-1 going into the Finals. In Game 1 Chicago won by 17, Game 2 by four, and the critical Game 3 (much like Orlando) Chicago cruised to a 22 point victory. Seattle was assumed dead. (Sound familiar yet?) But in Game 4 Seattle showed up and won by 21, in Game 5 the Sonics again overcame the Bulls and prevailed with an 11 point victory.

In three days the series went from an absolute sweep to "can it really happen?" status. This is exactly what's going in with the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. The lure of seeing an NBA team come from 3-0 is all too tempting to witness. Despite consecutive wins the Magic (and Sonics) remained two games away from the advancing.

Michael Jordan, the greatest player to play the game, was on a team that flirted with giving up a 3-0 lead. The talks of a championship, surprisingly, were halted because of his team's shocking back to back losses in which they lost by an average of 16 points. The point is the Boston Celtics are the same victim of the same spell. But more so than the 1996 Bulls (which did win Game 6 despite a 5 of 19 shooting day for Michael Jordan) the Celtics do have a real chance of losing four straight.

How Game 6 turns out is directly parallel to how the Boston Celtics look back at their disturbing Game 5 loss. Do they learn from it and rebound or do they foolishly bury their heads in the press clippings and start to listen to the voices of history they are up against?

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