NBA AM: Math Isn’t On Cleveland Cavs’ Side


The following is a little history lesson, designed mostly to iterate the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers are doomed.

In the last 30 years, half of NBA Finals have gotten off to a 2-0 start, and 14 of those 15 instances resulted in the team with the lead winning the championship.

Only once in the last three decades (and three times in the history of the league) has a team down 2-0 come back to actually win the championship, and that required one of the league’s more historic collapses. Mathematically, the odds truly are not good for Cleveland to win four of the next five games against the team that just won the most games in the history of the NBA regular season, even if they only would have to win only one of those on the road.

It really is no consolation that Cleveland gets to play their next two games at home in an attempt to even up the series. Of the 15 teams that fell behind 2-0 in the last three decades, 13 of them got to go back home and try to right the ship. Once again, only one of them ever won four more games in the Finals: those star-crossed 2006 Dallas Mavericks.

So what happened in 2006 that Cleveland could potentially replicate? Well, it’s not exactly something a team can game plan for.

Dallas was one of the top two teams in the league that season, having won 60 regular season games and coming into the postseason as hot as anybody. Led by Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, they bumped up against a Miami HEAT team in the Finals that featured three Hall of Famers in Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal and Gary Payton. Dwyane Wade, of course, was a member of that team as well, but even with all that talent Miami found themselves down by 13 points with just over six minutes to play at home for Game 3.

No team has ever come back after having been down 3-0, so had the Mavericks closed out that game, the series would have essentially been over. Miami ripped off a 22-7 run to end the game, though, and Dallas didn’t win another game in the series. There would be controversial calls from the refs, big games from big stars and, most importantly, a complete and utter shift in momentum.

It’s hard to figure how Cleveland could glean anything from that, other than to know that it is possible.

Whether it’s realistic again is the big question, and probably one with an answer that Cavs fans won’t like.

Just look at how those 15 teams fared that jumped out to 2-0 leads. Seeing it all listed out in one place really bangs home just how improbable a Cleveland comeback is:

2009: L.A. Lakers led Orlando Magic 2-0, won 4-1
2008: Boston Celtics led L.A. Lakers 2-0, won 4-2
2007: San Antonio Spurs led Cleveland Cavaliers 2-0, won 4-0
2006: Dallas Mavericks led Miami HEAT 2-0, lost 4-2
2005: San Antonio Spurs led Detroit Pistons 2-0, won 4-3
2002: L.A. Lakers led New Jersey Nets 2-0, won 4-0
2000: L.A. Lakers led Indiana Pacers 2-0, won 4-2
1999: San Antonio Spurs led New York Knicks 2-0, won 4-1
1997: Chicago Bulls led Utah Jazz 2-0, won 4-2
1996: Chicago Bulls led Seattle SuperSonics 2-0, won 4-2
1995: Houston Rockets led Orlando Magic 2-0, won 4-0*
1993: Chicago Bulls led Phoenix Suns 2-0, won 4-2*
1989: Detroit Pistons led L.A. Lakers 2-0, won 4-0
1987: L.A. Lakers led Boston Celtics 2-0, won 4-2
1986: Boston Celtics led Houston Rockets 2-0, won 4-2

We’ve been spoiled the last several years, as this is the first time there’s been any sort of 2-0 lead since 2009. This year, though, Golden State’s reservation with destiny looks filled. Barring a massive, historical collapse, the Warriors will likely win their second consecutive championship.

The stats don’t lie.


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About Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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