This is a precedent that the Clippers will have to rely on because otherwise 2-0 returns are extremely rare in the NBA. There have been 426 playoffs in which one team led another 2-0. The team facing that deficit won only 27 of those series, or about 6.3%. In comparison, an NBA team is about six and a half times more likely to be swept in this position, as there have been 176 sweeps in NBA history.
Thank you for your registration!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
An error occurred while processing your subscription.
But the Clippers are in an even more difficult position now. Remember, they are the top seed in this series. They have just lost two home games. They are now heading to Dallas for two more and have to beat the Mavericks on the road, in front of what will be a drastically different atmosphere than what we just saw in Los Angeles, at least twice to win this series. While 2-0 comebacks, in general, are quite rare, most of them come from a team defending their home ground in the second two games of the series before stealing games 5 or 7 on the road.
Since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, only four teams have won a series after losing the first two home games: the 1993 Suns (to the Lakers), the 1994 Rockets (to the Suns), the 2005 Mavericks. (against the Rockets) and Celtics 2017 (against the Bulls). The other teams that came in 2-0 all had the advantage of extra home games. The Clippers won’t.
The Clippers have played in Dallas twice this season. They won the first game and lost the second. If this result is repeated, they will lose 3-1 at the start of the fifth game and their chances will decrease even further. Of the 247 teams that fell 3-1 in a series, only 13 of them came back to win. That’s a rate of only five percent. The Clippers are intimately familiar with those odds, however, as the most recent team to take a 3-1 lead. They did it last season against the Denver Nuggets.
They lost this series because a rising European star by Nikola Jokic tore them apart. This was also their downfall in this series. Luka Doncic is averaging 35 points, 9.0 assists and 8.5 rebounds per game in this series, and his dominance opens up everything else to his teammates. Through two games, the Mavericks shoot 50% on 3 points.
This is probably not going to last. The Clippers’ bad shot is also not. They are coming out of what is, almost without debate, the best vaulting season in NBA history. Yet so far in this series, they have hit less than 33% of their 3-point attempts. They should be better, but the problem with regression-to-the-mean is that it is meant to be diffused over long sample sizes. The Clippers can only lose one more game in this series. If Mavericks are lucky too often, or if they are unlucky, it doesn’t matter what happens with a significant sample. They will be knocked out.
Kawhi has seen this before. He is one of the few basketball stars to have overcome such a deficit. But there is not much he can do. He scored 41 points in Game 2, but it wasn’t enough as the three starters next to him and Paul George only scored 14 points combined for the Clippers. As tempting as it may be to say that Leonard needs to lead the Clippers through this difficult time, the truth is that no player can beat a team as good as Dallas alone.
The same was true for the 2019 Bucks. As great as Leonard is, Fred VanVleet shot 82.4% from behind the arc in the last three games of this series. Kyle Lowry has averaged nearly 20 points over that span, and if it hadn’t been for Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell combining for 44 points in Game 3, the Bucks would have taken an insurmountable lead there. If Eric Bledsoe doesn’t shoot 30 percent in the last four games of this series, the Bucks win.
If Dallas continues to make all of their 3 points, the Mavericks are going to win regardless of what the Clippers do. But if they return to Earth, the Clippers have a chance, and that chance hinges on a similar group effort. It can’t be just Leonard and George. The Clippers need everyone if they are to win this thing.