Losing the first game of a playoff series does not inevitably
damn a team’s chances of advancing. Even for teams with home court
advantage, a 0-1 deficit can be easily overcome. But losing the
first two games of a series is far less surmountable. At least,
that's what recent history tells us.
The idea that one cannot predict the future by examining the
past is well established in all walks of life. Still, it’s nearly
impossible not to use recent trends to reach conclusions and
takeaways. So, what does the recent past tell us about going down
0-2 0 in a playoff series?
Keep in mind, the entire history of the NBA isn’t relevant since
the first round expanded from five to seven games starting in 2003.
Examining first-round matchups before that is pointless given that
two victories was previously two-thirds of the way to a series
victory and now is only the halfway point.
Further, this is a relatively arbitrary analysis. For
simplicity’s sake, we’ll restrict our sample to the past 10
Between 2012 and 2021, teams are 12-77 when going down 0-2 in a
postseason series, good for a measly .125 winning percentage. 2021
was easily the most competitive for teams down 0-2. Nine teams
found themselves in a 2-0 hole in 2021, with five emerging
Comparatively, teams up 2-0 were undefeated in 2020, 2015 and
2014, going 15-0 across the three playoffs. It’s worth pointing out
that the COVID-19 pandemic led to the 2020 NBA Playoffs being
played at a neutral site with no fans in attendance, which may have
contributed to no teams blowing 2-0 leads that season.
Here’s a look at the 12 teams who came back from 0-2 deficits
and the teams they did so against in the past 10 playoffs:
Los Angeles Clippers came back to beat the Dallas Mavericks
Los Angeles Clippers came back to beat the Utah Jazz
Milwaukee Bucks came back to beat the Brooklyn Nets
Phoenix Suns came back to beat the Denver Nuggets
Milwaukee Bucks came back to beat the Phoenix Suns
Toronto Raptors came back to beat the Milwaukee Bucks
Cleveland Cavaliers came back to beat the Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics came back to beat the Chicago Bulls
Portland Trail Blazers came back to beat the Los Angeles
Cleveland Cavaliers came back to beat the Golden State
Memphis Grizzlies came back to beat the Los Angeles Clippers
Oklahoma City Thunder came back to beat the San Antonio
To summarize, in the last 10 playoffs, teams came back from 0-2
four times in the first round, three times in the Conference
Semifinals, three times in the Conference Finals and twice in the
Generally, teams do no overcome a two-game deficit when they’ve
lost the first two games of a series at home. It’s markedly more
difficult to win four out of five games when only two will be on
your home floor. This is reinforced by recent history, as only two
teams – the Los Angeles Clippers in 2021 and the Boston Celtics in
2017 – have recovered to a win a series after losing the first two
games at home. For what it’s worth, both of those occurrences
happened in the first round.
This spring, NBA teams were 4-0 in the first round of the 2022
NBA Playoffs when winning the first two games of a series.
This is quite applicable at present, as two of the four current
series began with a 2-0 lead. Specifically, Phoenix went up 2-0
against Dallas and Miami went up 2-0 against Philadelphia.
None of the teams that began the Conference Semifinals down 0-2
were the higher seed, meaning that none are in the unfavorable
position of needing to overcome a two-game deficit and playing
three of the final five games on the road.
Teams will always regurgitate meaningless jargon when down 2-0.
“We just have to win the next one.” “One game at a time.” “No
different than any other game.” But we know that’s false, and
history backs that’s up. So, best of luck to all you Mavericks and
76ers fans out there, but it’s a difficult road back from 0-2
whether you look to history as a guide or not.