Berry Tramel

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Thunder: Must-win Game 2?

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 27, 2013 at 3:40 pm •  Published: May 2, 2011

When the Thunder got up 2-0 on Denver, we trotted out the famous 94 percent stat — in NBA history, 94 percent of the teams that go up two games to none have gone on to win the series.

But how about teams that go up 2-0 by winning twice on the road? That gives a team a 2-0 lead with three home games left, if needed. Seems like that would be an even more sure shot for the team in front.

Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) passes the ball away from Darrell Arthur (00) of Memphis in the first half during game one of the Western Conference semifinals between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA basketball playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 1, 2011. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) passes the ball away from Darrell Arthur (00) of Memphis in the first half during game one of the Western Conference semifinals between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA basketball playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 1, 2011. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

Not so. In NBA history, 14 teams have won on the road the first two games  of a seven-game series. Eleven have gone on to win the series. That’s a 78.6 percent rate.

A couple of things to consider. One, a pool of 14 is not a strong sampling. Not like the more than 100 times a team has gone up 2-0 anywhere. Another, if a team loses the first two games at home, that means it’s the higher seed and in most cases the better team, in theory. Not sure how relevant that is in the Thunder-Memphis series. No one wants a piece of the high-flying Grizzlies right now. But Memphis did go 46-36 in the regular season. The Grizzlies are vulnerable somewhere.

So is Game 2 a must-win game for the Thunder? I would say yes, not so much for the 78 percent data, but for the way Memphis has been playing. The Grizzlies are hard enough to beat period. Lose this game, and the Thunder will have to beat the Grizzlies at least twice in Memphis.

But there are three teams that give the Thunder hope that even an 0-2 deficit could be scaled.

1969 Lakers: Entered the playoffs the No. 1 seed in the West and in the first round, in what then was the conference semifinals, played the third-seeded Warriors. I don’t know why it was 1-vs.-3 and 2-vs.-4 in the first round, but it was. The Lakers — a regal team that had Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain all averaging at least 20 points a game, even though all had reached their 30s — lost the first two at home, then swept four straight from San Francisco. The Lakers eventually lost to the Celtics in an historic seven-game NBA Finals.

1994 Rockets:  Second-seeded Houston lost the first two games to the Suns, then won two straight road games to even the series. The home team won the final three games, advancing the second-seeded Rockets past the third-seeded Suns. That Houston team went on to win the NBA title, beating the Jazz 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals and the Knickerbockers 4-3 in the NBA Finals.

That was the first of two straight NBA titles for Houston, a glorious team led by Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith of TNT fame, Sam Cassell and a backup point guard who played 73 regular-season games but was called on for just five games in the playoffs. Scotty Brooks.

2005 Mavericks: Fourth-seeded Dallas lost two straight at home to Houston in the Western Conference first round,  then won two straight on the road at fifth-seeded Houston. Starting with Game 5, the home team won every game, and Dallas advanced. But the Mavericks lost 4-2 to Phoenix in the Western semifinals.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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