Looking Back on Recent Teams That Overcame 2-0 Series Deficits
The Boston Celtics have their work cut out for them as they look to dig out of a 2-0 series hole against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, it is work that can surely be done.
Jaylen Brown insisted following Thursday night’s Game 2 loss that “This series is far from over.” And he is 100 percent correct, as recent history suggests.
Over the past four seasons, there have been five different playoff teams that have overcome 2-0 deficits, including the past two Eastern Conference Finals winners, two eventual NBA champions, and even one Celtics team, of which Brown was a member. All five of those teams shared one common characteristic: an unwavering determination to not throw in the towel despite facing improbable odds. And all five of those teams prevailed.
Now, let’s take a look at those recent bounce-back performances, from which the Celtics could draw inspiration as they aim to continue their quest toward Banner 18.
2019 Toronto Raptors – Eastern Conference Finals vs. Milwaukee
The Toronto Raptors displayed resiliency throughout their 2019 championship run, ranging from Kawhi Leonard’s miraculous Game-7-winner against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals, all the way to their six-game Finals defeat of the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. However, their most remarkable display of determination arrived right in the middle of those two events, when they pushed past the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks after falling into a 2-0 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Game 1, for Toronto, had a similar feel as Games 1 and 2 for Boston in this year’s ECF, as the Raptors coughed up a familiar double-digit, second-half lead en route to a 108-100 defeat. Game 2 was even more demoralizing, as the Bucks blew out Toronto by 22 points to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. In Game 3, however, Toronto found the spark it needed in the form of a double-overtime win. That night, its defense made a major adjustment that enabled it to limit MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to just 12 points after he had totaled 54 points during the previous two games. The adjustment gave the Raptors all the momentum they needed, as they plowed through the No. 1 seed with four straight wins, paving the way for their first trip to the NBA finals which they would eventually win.
2018 Cleveland Cavaliers – Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston
Celtics fans: feel free to skip ahead if you don’t want to relive the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. Regardless, we’ll make this one quick.
Boston looked like it was well on its way to a Cinderella NBA Finals appearance in 2018, as it opened up the Eastern Conference Finals with two straight blowout wins over Cleveland despite missing both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. However, as soon as the series shifted from TD Garden to Quicken Loans Arena for Games 3 and 4, the momentum shifted as well. The Cavaliers won consecutive home games by a combined 43 points, bringing the series back to square one. The C’s responded in Game 5, winning 96-83 to place them one win away from a Finals appearance; however, Cleveland answered right back in Game 6, riding LeBron James’ 46-point effort to a 109-99 win.
Both teams, at that point, were 3-0 on their home courts, which gave every indication that Boston would be favored to win Game 7 back at TD Garden. However, Cleveland flipped the script with a stunning defensive effort, as it sent the Celtics into the offseason with an 87-79 defeat, while punching a ticket to its fourth consecutive NBA Finals.
2017 Boston Celtics – Eastern Conference First Round vs. Chicago
Now with that out of the way, it’s time for a more pleasant trip down memory lane for Celtics fans.
Boston’s first-round defeat of the Chicago Bulls in 2017 was one of its most inspiring postseason displays in franchise history, as the team rallied around a close-to-home tragedy while pulling out an improbable series win. It started off in a heartbreaking manner, as All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas learned less than 24 hours before Game 1 that his younger sister, Chyna, had tragically passed away in a car accident. Yet somehow, Thomas mustered enough strength to suit up for the first game, during which he produced a stunning 33-point performance in spite of a 106-102 home loss.
Building off of that road win, the No. 7-seeded Bulls came out in Game 2 and won by 14 points, bringing the series home to Chicago where they could potentially put the No. 2 seed away for good. However, things didn’t quite work out that way for the Bulls. Boston opened Game 3 on a 35-15 run and dominated the series from that point forward, winning four straight matchups, three of which were played on Chicago’s home court. Three of those victories were also won by double-digits, including a 22-point Game 6 win to clinch the series.
The bounce-back effort fueled a deep postseason run all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, as the Celtics players, coaches and fans rallied around Thomas to provide him with much-needed support during a time of hardship.
It's also worth noting that the current Boston-Miami series includes five players who were a part of that Boston-Chicago matchup: Celtics guards Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, former C's forwards Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk, and former Bulls guard Jimmy Butler.
2016 Cleveland Cavaliers – NBA Finals vs. Golden State
The Golden State Warriors opened up the 2016 NBA Finals in dominant fashion, outscoring the Cleveland Cavaliers by 48 points during Games 1 and 2 combined. At that point, the 73-9 regular-season champions looked destined to repeat as NBA champs, until Cleveland pulled off a historic comeback. The Cavs retaliated with a statement win in Game 3, capturing a 120-90 victory on their home court. However, that statement was snuffed out two nights later by Golden State, as it captured a 108-97 win to take a 3-1 series lead.
No team had ever bounced back from such a deficit in NBA Finals history, but LeBron James and Co. found a way, winning each of the next three games, including two on the road. Cleveland capped the postseason off with a thrilling Game 7 victory at Oracle Arena, highlighted by James’ clutch chase-down block against Andre Iguodala along with Kyrie Irving’s championship-sealing 3-pointer. The Cavs became the fourth team in NBA history to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the Finals, joining the 1969 Boston Celtics, the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and the 2006 Miami Heat.
2016 Portland Trail Blazers – Western Conference First Round vs. LA Clippers
The Portland Trail Blazers looked lost in the woods at the start of the 2016 Playoffs, as they opened up the first round against the LA Clippers with a 20-point Game 1 loss followed by a 21-point Game 2 loss. However, they found their footing just as the sun was about to set on their season by reeling off four straight wins to move onto the next round.
The fifth-seeded Blazers returned home for Game 3, where Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 59 points in a 96-88 win. The backcourt mates would average 46.8 points per game from Game 3 through Game 6, after putting forth just 31.5 PPG during Games 1 and 2. Doc Rivers’ Clippers nearly got back into the win column in Game 6, but they coughed up a fourth-quarter lead, allowing Portland to sneak away with a series-clinching 106-103 win.