It’s not over.
Forget history and its gloom-and-doom statistic that cautions the Los Angeles Lakers that no team in NBA history has ever come back to win the Finals when trailing 3-1. The Lakers aren’t finished. Down, sure, but not out.
Trailing 0-2, the Miami Heat won four straight games against the Dallas Mavericks to win the 2006 NBA Finals.
In 2007, the Boston Red Sox were down 3-1 to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS before winning three straight games and going on to win the World Series.
In 2004, those same Sox trailed the New York Yankees 3-0 in the ALCS before winning four straight and eventually winning their first championship since 1918.
It was the first time an MLB team came back from an 0-3 hole. Like this Lakers-Celtics series, a comeback of that magnitude was supposed to be impossible. Bob Ryan, columnist at the Boston Globe, went as far as to write, “They are down, 3-0, after last night’s 19-8 rout, and, in this sport, that is an official death sentence. Soon it will be over, and we will spend another dreary winter lamenting this and lamenting that.”
Not so fast. That 19-8 rout Ryan referenced came in Game 3, when New York dealt Boston a demoralizing defeat equivalent to the Lakers’ blown 24-point, second-half lead Thursday night.
And who could forget how the Florida Marlins clawed their way back from a 3-1 deficit against the Chicago Cubs in the 2003 NLCS?
Florida shut out the Cubs, 4-0, in Game 5.
Steve Bartman was the goat in Game 6, when the Cubs were five outs from their first World Series appearance since 1945 before the Marlins posted an eight-run eighth on Chicago and won, 8-3, at Wrigley Field.
The Marlins then closed out the Cubs in Chicago, winning, 9-6, in Game 7 before beating the Yankees four games to two for their second World Series title.
Again, it’s not over.
The Lakers have thoroughly been outplayed in three of the first four games. L.A.’s offense has been a mess, mainly because of Lamar Odom’s and Pau Gasol’s ineffectiveness, which, of course, can and likely should be attributed to Boston’s fantastic defense. But the Lakers have only played the type of defensive game they’re capable of in six of this series’ 16 quarters. Their bench also has been a non-factor throughout the series, save Sasha Vujacic’s 20-point effort in Game 3.
Lethargic offense, little bench production, lousy defense and Boston playing close to the best ball it possible can for most of the series and yet the Lakers have been right there in all four games. Why can’t L.A. win three straight?
For as well as Boston has played in this series, and as awful as L.A. has looked, the Celtics haven’t done anything to deflate the Lakers. Not when L.A. went on the road in Game 1 and trailed Boston by only six points with 1:21 remaining. Not when L.A. sent fear into all of Massachusetts by storming back from a 22-point, fourth-quarter deficit in Game 2 at TD Banknorth Garden. Not when L.A. showed Boston how good it really is when it finally showed a pulse in Game 3 and held the Celtics to 35 percent shooting in L.A’s lone victory. And certainly not when L.A. took a commanding 18-point halftime lead in Game 4 and led by as many 24 points only to collapse in front of the home crowd.
The Lakers can change this series Sunday in Game 5. Come out with that same urgency they showed in the first half of Game 4 and sustain it. Protect your home court and gear up for a return to Boston. Once there, the Lakers must correct each mistake they made in Games 1 and 2, the costly turnovers, the missed shots, the lousy defense and rebounding. If the Lakers win Games 5 and 6, why couldn’t they steal Game 7?
Sure, Boston would have the advantage, playing in the confines of their own building in all. But the pressure would then squarely be on the Celtics – for losing two straight and having a once dominant 3-1 lead vanish, turning this series into an improbable seven-game slugfest, for losing a close-out Game 6 at home and for trying to finish off the Celtics’ first championship since 1986.
No way it’s over.