In order to keep their season alive, the Trail Blazers will have to do something that’s never been done in NBA history. Ever.
But you know what they say about such things: It’s never been done until it has.
Five teams in North American professional sports history have come back to win a best-of-seven series after falling behind 3-0: once in baseball (the famous 2004 Red Sox ousting of the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS) and four times in hockey (including last year’s eventual champion L.A. Kings). Even given the infrequency this has happened to date, the odds say this should happen every 28 years in the NBA, at least. But it hasn’t, at all. Yet.
So we seem due to see such a momentous comeback. And why not the Blazers? A playoff series is a dynamic thing, played out on an always shifting landscape, and there seem to be some omens which could bode well for the Blazers’ bid at history…well, as good as omens get after falling down 3-0, and facing a team that has given them so much trouble over the last couple years.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, I would be remiss to ignore the favorite quote of every coach, ever: "one game at a time". If the Blazers do find a way to win in Memphis tonight (a place they haven’t scored a victory since January 2013), it would be just the 14th time in NBA history that a team down 3-0 was able to force a Game 6. However, this has happened 5 times in the last 8 years, including just two days ago when the Bucks managed to send their series with the Bulls back to Milwaukee for Game 6. If Portland can do the same, you’d have to like their odds at home and therefore at forcing a Game 7.
Only 3 NBA teams have ever forced a Game 7 after a 3-0 deficit—the last one of course being the Portland Trail Blazers in 2003.
So what are some reasons to hold out hope, true believers? Other than that’s what you simply do as a sports fan, when you already know that only 1 team in the whole league will achieve ultimate success? Consider these factors:
After being forsaken by the injury gods for much of the season, it’s possible that things turn around for the Blazers on that front. Arron Afflalo and Chris Kaman have been clearly limited to this point; if either or both are game ready tonight, it would be a boon. The injury that could turn the series, however, is the one to Mike Conley. After tormenting the Blazers in the first three games, his status for the rest of the series is uncertain. With Conley’s two-way impact absent in Game 4, Portland’s guards had their best game of the series. Further absence from the Memphis point man might completely change the complexion of the coming games as well.
Emergence of New Contributors
If you’re looking for a parallel to the 2003 Blazers team, look no further than Terry Stotts’ decision to roll with Meyers Leonard for 35 minutes in Game 4 after previously giving him limited duty. It echoed Mo Cheeks’ insertion of none other than Zach Randolph into the lineup for a Game 4 twelve years ago, as did the results. Z-Bo’s physical inside play helped spark that Blazer team, while Meyers’ outside touch allowed the space for this team to find itself offensively. If Leonard can continue to have this kind of impact, it could very well shift momentum in the Blazers’ favor. Leonard’s success may also embolden Stotts to make use of some other substitutes we haven’t seen much of, like Alonzo Gee and Joel Freeland. With the season on the line and the need to stay one step ahead of the opponent so urgent, anything goes, and we may yet see some surprising contributions from guys who aren’t part of the other team’s game plan.
Of course, the Blazers’ top scorers struggled mightily in the first three games, so perhaps a return to regular season form for them could be seen as the ‘emergence of new contributors’, but probably a better way to put it would be…
The Blazers have yet to show their best selves
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum coming alive in Game 4 was great news, and the Blazers still managed to win despite off-nights offensively from LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. If they can finally get everyone on the same page tonight, it could engender the kind of confidence needed to make a comeback.
So what do you think is the most important factor to possibly turning this series around? Vote and discuss below!