As many as 151 times an NBA playoff series has started with a 3-0 lead in favor of one of the two teams. And, so far, the record for these crossovers is 150-0 in favor of the team that took the lead. The 151st was signed by the Miami Heat last Monday, May 22, when they sealed their third consecutive victory to start the series against the Boston Celtics, who started with home-court advantage.
On their way to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat have left their mark in the history books as the first team in playoff history to advance to the playoffs (followed by the Lakers) and the fifth team to enter as the eighth seed and eliminate the first seed.
But the ultimate punch to history right now is in the hands of Boston, which has put the series at 3-2 and is threatening a comeback to tell for generations to come. Only three times has a team that began by losing the first three games of a series ended up forcing a seventh. The Knicks, who tied the Rochester Royals in the 1951 NBA Finals, the Nuggets against the Jazz in the second round of the 1994 West and the Trail Blazers against the Mavericks in the first round in 2003.
All ended up losing in the seventh and final game of the playoffs. Not so the five teams that have managed to complete the feat in U.S. sports. Beyond the NBA, the NHL (Hockey) and MLB (Baseball) also play best-of-seven series. And they have witnessed such a comeback at least once in their long tradition.
Tough as ice
In the ice hockey league, 202 playoffs have opened 3-0 for one side. It is the only North American major to have experienced more than one such comeback. On up to four occasions a team has overcome the biggest deficit that a playoff can see without closing in the sport.
Perhaps the first of these was the most important, as the 1942 Stanley Cup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings was at stake. The second and third most successful teams in the NHL respectively.
Surprisingly, the Ottawa Citizen, one of the main local headlines, headlined, taking the focus away from any epic. “Canadian field hockey breaks attendance record in Leafs‘ Stanley Cup win over Wings,” headlined its April 20, 1942 sports section.
Of the rest, the 1975 New York Islanders, who, after overcoming a 3-0 deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the quarterfinals, almost did the same again in the next round against the Philadelphia Flyers, forcing a seventh. The Philadelphia Flyers themselves in 2010 and the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 round out the quintet.
A small moment in 154 years of history
Baseball is a different case for being the longest-lived sport in the United States and the one that most adheres to the identity that saw them born as an independent country. Also for that reason, the most complicated at the time of counting on registries that document with precision the 154 years that pass since the bat saw to found the first professional team back in 1869 in Cincinnati.
In 1876 the National League was inaugurated and, 25 years later in 1901, it would give birth to the American League. Both grew with idiosyncrasies and different regulations in spite of disputing the World Series every year from 1903 between the two best teams of each conference. They were finally united under the same acronym in 2000.
Since the shared existence of both conferences, only 40 playoffs have gone 3-0, 31 of which were resolved in four games, five in the fifth, two in the sixth and two that have gone to the seventh. Although this has a ‘catch’, as previously only the Final Series was played to seven games and it was not until 1985 that the Conference Finals introduced that format.
Indeed, the Boston Red Sox are the only team in MLB history to have overcome the adversity of all adversities. And what better scenario than the American League Finals against the New York Yankees.
Specifically, in 2004, where the Massachusetts Yankees rattled off four consecutive victories to come from behind and reach the Final Series, which they went on to win 4-0 against the Cardinals. Thus, the Red Sox broke a streak of 86 years without winning the World Series.
A prolonged misfortune that began in 1919 when Harry Frazees decided to sell Babe Ruth, one of the greatest legends in the history of batting, to the New York Yankees. Almost a century later, Boston got the best possible revenge.
The Celtics haven’t even reached the final uphill climb. Now they travel to Miami for a game that Jimmy Butler has assured the Heat will win. But it is enough to have arrived as favorites to the playoffs and the sensations recovered in the last two games to think that perhaps, they will be the first to put that first ‘1’ in a locker that baseball and field hockey already filled in their day.