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Examining the recent history of NBA teams coming back from 0-2

Examining the recent history of NBA teams coming back from 0-2

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 seasons.

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 victorious.

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.  

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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:

2021

First Round

Los Angeles Clippers came back to beat the Dallas Mavericks

Second Round

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

NBA Finals

Milwaukee Bucks came back to beat the Phoenix Suns

2019

Conference Finals

Toronto Raptors came back to beat the Milwaukee Bucks

2018  

Conference Finals

Cleveland Cavaliers came back to beat the Boston Celtics

2017  

First Round

Boston Celtics came back to beat the Chicago Bulls

2016

First Round

Portland Trail Blazers came back to beat the Los Angeles Clippers

NBA Finals

Cleveland Cavaliers came back to beat the Golden State Warriors 

2013

First Round

Memphis Grizzlies came back to beat the Los Angeles Clippers

2012

Conference Finals

Oklahoma City Thunder came back to beat the San Antonio Spurs

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 NBA Finals.

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.

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