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2017 NBA Playoffs: Odds to Climb Out of 0-2 Hole

Damian Lillard leaves the court
Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are atop the Western Conference after their first 16 games. Photo by nikk_la (flickr) [CC License].

For Boston, Memphis, Portland, Indiana, Atlanta and Oklahoma City, the numbers don’t look good. Even with the Cavaliers’ epic finals rally fresh in our minds, the percentage of NBA teams to come back from an 0-2 series deficit in a best-of-seven is still just a shade over six. So the odds are good that none of these teams win their first-round series. But they aren’t nil.

As Kevin Garnett would surely scream at this point, “anything is possible!” Just how possible is it? Let’s examine each team’s chances of climbing out of the 0-2 hole they find themselves in, starting with the least likely to rally.

Portland Trail Blazers

Odds of winning series: 500/1

Game 1 saw Portland’s backcourt put their absolute best foot forward, and they still couldn’t step to the Warriors. If the Trail Blazers can’t keep the game close when Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combine for 75 points, what more can they do? Get a crazy night from Mo Harkless, Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner from three, combined with a dominant effort on the glass from Jusuf Nurkic (whenever he’s healthy)? That could be enough … to win one game.

In terms of rallying back to take this series, it’s about as likely as the Knicks winning a championship next season. Steph, Draymond and Klay are the James Dolan of this analogy: they’re too much to overcome. If KD is healthy enough to join them, he’s the Phil Jackson on top.

Memphis Grizzlies

Odds of winning series: 49/1

I know David Fizdale isn’t much for data, but here’s a number: Memphis has suffered 10-straight playoff losses to the Spurs and failed to top 100 points in all of them. Whether they get to the line a few more times or not, the Grizz are still not efficient enough on offense to hang with San Antonio.

If they’re going to even things out in Grind City, they’ll need to find a way to stop Kawhi Leonard. And in order to do that, they need a new calf for Tony Allen, who is sidelined indefinitely. Without their shutdown defender, Leonard has become the responsibility of old man Vince Carter, overmatched James Ennis or rookie Wayne Selden. None of those options are good, and with Leonard (28 for 28 on FTs) drawing so much contact when help comes over, getting Tim Donaghy to officiate may be the only chance the Grizz have to slow him down.

It’s not entirely impossible for Memphis to win this series: an injury to Kawhi would make it an entirely new ballgame. But barring that, this one will be over quickly.

Indiana Pacers

Odds of winning series: 32/1

In a not-too alternate universe, this series is actually 2-0 Pacers. Indiana has been close in both games, especially Game 1, which saw C.J. Miles clank the potential game-winner. But each game also required the Pacers to charge back in the 4th quarter because they can’t stop Cleveland’s “Big Three.” Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are killing Indiana off the pick and roll, while Kevin Love is bullying Lance Stephenson down low.

Yet so far, the story of this series has been Paul George “calling out his teammates.” (I put that in quotes, because he’s really just answering the questions that are asked of him.) But PG does need more help because Myles Turner has gone M.I.A, and if the Pacers are going to win shootouts (they sure aren’t winning this series with defense), then they’ll need more from their versatile big-man.

Heading into this series, the prevailing opinion was that the Cavaliers were not sharp, and Indiana should be able to take one game off of Cleveland. But when it comes to toppling a LeBron James team, even one as disjointed as this year’s Cavs, you know the King is going to push back hard if his back is against the wall. I can’t imagine what that would look like, since he’s averaging nearly a 30-point triple-double through two “regular” playoff games.

Perhaps Paul George can rally from a deficit like this when he’s in L.A.?

Atlanta Hawks

Odds of winning series: 9/1

There’s no team the casual fan wants to rally back less than the Hawks. So far, this series has seen John Wall and Bradley Beal re-introduce themselves to the masses as one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA. It would be a shame to lose them in favor of the fundamentally sound stylings of Paul Millsap.

But Atlanta does have some reason for optimism as they return home: the Wizards weren’t a great road team during the season, Tim Hardaway’s shooting probably can’t get worse, and “Playoff Dwight” could still make an appearance. All these points sound flimsy, but the truth is, there’s never any telling what you’ll get from the Hawks. Atlanta was a streaky bunch, capable of rattling off six straight wins or losses at any point this year; so a rally could come at any moment. You just won’t see it coming.

The odds are still against a comeback because the Hawks are so careless with the ball and can’t shoot threes. The only way they can win this series is by pushing back against Washington’s “MMA” down low, and I don’t see Millsap or Howard with a fighting career in their future.

Boston Celtics

Odds of winning series: 4/1

The first no. 1 seed to fall behind 0-2 in a seven-game series, the Celtics should still feel good about their chances. After all they were … only 12 games better than Chicago? Perhaps Boston was a little overrated.

Then again, it’s difficult to pinpoint how different this series would look had tragedy not struck Isaiah Thomas and his family hours before the series was set to tip off. The Celtics came out flat, let Rajon Rondo do what he wanted, and got owned on the boards. Thomas was really the only Celtic to have a good showing, and even he lost the superstar duel to Jimmy Butler.

If Butler is the best player in the series, and Boston can’t stop Robin Lopez on the glass, how can the East’s best regular season team rally? The most likely answer might be a Chicago self-destruction.

The Bulls were so hot and cold this season, knocking off top tier teams before boasting New York levels of dysfunction. While they all appear to be best friends now, if Boston can take Game 3 with a strong night from behind the arc, that seed of doubt could cause Chicago to turn on each other.

Obviously, Boston is a good team. But they will need Thomas to step up even more. Your stars have to be at their best to win in the playoffs. That’s why the most likely team to turn this around is…

Oklahoma City Thunder

Odds of winning series: 7/2

They say it’s still a series if you haven’t lost at home, and the Thunder have yet to do that. Although they did blow a golden opportunity to even the series on Wednesday, coughing up an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. It was a frustrating night for Russell Westbrook: despite finishing with 51 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds, he was ineffective in the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma City couldn’t close it out.

Westbrook has been doing the unthinkable all season, so rallying this team back could certainly get added to the list. However, stopping James Harden doesn’t appear to be an option for the Thunder, as they haven’t been able to corral Westbrook’s greatest competitor for MVP so far. Switching on pick and rolls hasn’t worked, and there’s no one person on OKC who can guard him full time. Winning shootouts may be the Thunder’s only option.

Houston has one of the most efficient offenses of all time, but living by the three also means there’s a possibility of dying by the same result. (Just ask Mike D’Antoni’s Suns teams.) A couple of bad shooting nights is all it will take to give Westbrook and company an opening. Is it a big opening? No. But it’s the biggest one left.

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