Okay, so it’s never been done before in the NBA, but one day it will happen; a team whose down 3-0 in a best of seven series coming back to win four straight games. Only four times in the history of professional sports has it happened, three times in the NHL, and once in Major League Baseball.
The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings, before coming back to win four straight games and the Stanley Cup. The 1975 New York Islanders were next to do it when they came back to win from being down 3-0 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The 2004 Boston Red Sox became the first team in Major League Baseball to accomplish the feat, coming back and defeating the New York Yankees, and as recently as 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers were able to come back from a 3-0 hole to beat the Boston Bruins.
There have only been three teams in NBA history to force a game 7 after being down 3-0. In the 1951 NBA finals, the New York Knickerbockers were able to tie the series against the Rochester Royals, before losing the 7th game. The 1994 Denver Nuggets became the first 8 seed to upset a 1 seed when the beat the Seattle Supersonics in the first round. They trailed their next opponent, the Utah Jazz 3-0 in the second round before forcing a game 7. The most current team to pull off the feat was the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers when they forced a 7th game against the Dallas Mavericks after being down 3-0, only to come up short.
But the youthful, energetic, and talented 2013 Houston Rockets have the opportunity to make history following their game 4 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Here are 5 reasons why they can force a game 7:
1. No Russell Westbrook
Yes, this is an obvious answer, so there are really no further points for me to make. Westbrook’s absence takes away so much of OKC’s make-up, not just on the offensive side of the ball, but on defense as well. The Rockets point guards now are not intimidated in any way, and will continue to penetrate and attack the lane. This will give Patrick Beverley, Aaron Brooks, or Jeremy Lin (if he’s able to play) the confidence to attack and stay aggressive on the offensive end.
2. An Unproven Kevin Durant
I know what you must be thinking, how can the league’s second best player be unproven? Well, the obvious answer is that for the first time in Durant’s career, he doesn’t have his side-kick with him. But the added element is that we don’t know how Durant will respond when facing double teams during crunch time in the fourth quarter.
In game 4, Durant scored just 6 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter, and for a number of possessions, Durant would pull back and dribble to look to pass the ball when the Rockets sent the double team. Even the times when Durant got the ball in the middle of the floor, he would pull back and try to find the open man, instead of attacking his defender (either Francisco Garcia or Chandler Parsons) before the double team came.
The last possession of game 4 was most telling, as Durant got the ball in the middle of the floor against Garcia, and had a chance to attack him or pull up for the three; instead Durant hesitated and as Garcia closed out on him at the three point line, he didn’t want to force a shot up. If Durant continues to play with the mindset of deferring to his teammates, then the Rockets stand a good chance to make it a series.
In game 3, Durant was a bit more selfish and aggressive, as he scored 12 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter. But it took a lucky bounce on a three point shot for Durant and the Thunder to escape with a win. Durant also had 30 field goal attempts in game 3, but only attempted 3 shots in the final 6 minutes of the game.
It was almost like we were watching the same old Thunder in game 4 at times: Durant not taking shots in key situations, and ending the game with fewer field goal attempts than the point guard. But the difference is that it wasn’t Westbrook who attempted more shots; instead, it was second-year man Reggie Jackson from Boston College who attempted 18 shots compared to 16 by Durant.
Granted, Durant did shoot 15 free throws, and Jackson has shown that he can knock down the open three, even in clutch moments, but the Rockets seem more committed in letting Jackson shoot an open three than Durant shooting a contested jump shot.
In game 4, Jackson went 2 for 8 in the fourth quarter, including just 1 for 4 from beyond the arc, whereas Jackson did not even attempt a shot in the fourth quarter of game 3. Derek Fisher was the only other player aside from Durant or Jackson to attempt a three (a make with over 9 minutes left). Kevin Martin attempted just one shot in the fourth quarter of game 4, and was 0 for 3 in the fourth quarter of game 3. If the Rockets stick to their script and get the ball out of Durant’s hands in the fourth quarter, it’s just a matter of whether the supporting cast for the Thunder can knock down clutch shots in the fourth quarter. Thabo Sefolosha knocked down a crucial three in the final minute of game 2 that helped seal the win for the Thunder, but the Rockets will not hesitate to let somebody other than Durant beat them.
4. The Rockets Are Due For a Three-Point Outburst
Aside from game 4, in which Houston went 12 for 27 from three (44 percent), the Rockets have not shot the ball well from behind the arc. The Rockets went 12 for 37 (32 percent) in game 3, 10 for 35 (28 percent) in game 2, and 8 for 36 (22 percent) in game 1. The Rockets have shown throughout the season that they can easily make over 15 threes in a game, and have steadily increased their percentages by each game.
If the trend continues, then the Rockets should shoot at a higher efficiency as they did in game 4, and if Jeremy Lin is able to play somewhat effectively in game 5, then that could open the floor up more, possibly setting up open looks for others.
5. The Beard
Game 4 might have arguably James Harden’s worst game all season, scoring just 15 points and committing 10 turnovers. Harden has been so consistent with his play all season, and it has been a rare sight to see him have two straight poor games. I would bet that Monday night’s performance is the one poor game that Harden would have in the series, and it came in a Rockets win.
Harden attributed his poor performance from having to sit due to foul trouble. If that’s the case, then the Rockets should have nothing to worry about. There were just a few times in which Harden was in foul trouble late in the game.
And just for the sake of NBA Playoff excitement, I can watch Carlos Delfino’s dunk on Durant all day: