The Miami Heat’s chances at a three-peat took a rather large hit following their recent loss to the Spurs on Thursday evening. At least, the history behind the three to one deficit in the NBA Finals certainly does not bode well for them. To put it simply, it has never been done. In the 67 year history of the NBA finals, which dates back to 1947, no team has ever been able to overcome the deficit that the Heat currently face. However, despite what history says, it is a surmountable deficit. No team may have ever accomplished the feat in NBA finals history, although it has been done in earlier rounds.
Eight teams have overcome a three to one deficit in NBA playoff history, and in fact, the Miami Heat did it themselves back in the 1997 conference semi-finals. Tim Hardaway led the way for the Heat, and helped fend off elimination in three straight games versus Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks. The Heat would eventually fall in the Eastern Conference Finals, despite winning 61 games that regular season.
Not only have the Miami Heat overcome a three to one deficit in their franchise’s history, but he team currently leading the Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs, have actually seen themselves relinquish a three to one lead in their playoff past. In the 1979 Western Conference Finals, the Spurs would charge out to a three to one lead over the Washington Bullets before dropping three straight to lose the series in devastating fashion. Led by Elvin Hayes, Washington would eventually go on to win the 1979 NBA Title.
Most recently, the Phoenix Suns started out their 2006 playoff run by falling behind three to one to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. League MVP Steve Nash and company would rally to beat Los Angeles three consecutive times to take the series. The Suns would also go on to beat the Lakers’ Los Angeles counterpart, the Clippers, in the conference semi-finals before falling victim to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.
In 2003, the Detroit Pistons would drop three of their first four first round playoff games to the Orlando Magic. However, with home-court advantage on their side, along with the NBA’s defensive player of the year Ben Wallace, they would eventually fight there way back to take the series. The team would also win their following series in the conference semi-finals, but would eventually run out of steam in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they saw their season come to an end.
In the 1995 Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets shocked the world by beating the 59 game winning Phoenix Suns in three straight eliminations games. The Rockets also pulled off the upset in the finals to secure their second consecutive NBA title, in a dramatic seven game series victory over the New York Knicks.
Other teams to pull of the improbable feat include the 1981 NBA Champion Boston Celtics, led by none other than Hall of Fame inductee and legend Larry Bird. The team would rally to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference finals. The star studded Los Angeles Lakers, with a starting lineup consisting of Wilt Chamberlin, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor, would overcome a three to one deficit in the 1970 Western Conference finals to defeat the Phoenix Suns. And finally, the first team to pull off the three to one comeback in NBA history was none other than the Bill Russell-led Celtics in the 1968 Eastern Conference finals. Russell and John Havlicek both led the way for the Celtics as they rallied back to beat the Philadelphia 76ers three straight times, enroute to their ninth NBA title in ten years.
The Miami Heat can also find comfort in not just looking at these eight examples, but also at the fortune of teams trailing in a three to one deficit throughout the history of other major sports. In Major League baseball, not only has the comeback been accomplished 12 times, but five of those deficits have been overcome on the ultimate stage in the World Series. In the NHL, teams have fought back from trailing three to one a whopping 25 times.
It is still undeniable that the Heat have a big hole to dig themselves out of. The fact does remain that no team in NBA finals history has ever come from where they are now to win the NBA title in seven games. However, history can be deceiving. The Miami Heat’s chances in overcoming the San Antonio Spurs three to one series lead may seem slim. Although, they do have company in the realm of basketball, baseball, and hockey lore. They have been playing the NBA Finals for 67 years. It is not at all unreasonable to think that the league is just about due to see a three to one deficit be overcome to win an NBA finals series. Especially, when there is a team as talented as the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
Commentary by Richard Glenn