The Los Angeles Clippers, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are facing 2-0 deficits in the first round of the NBA playoffs. While many expected the Wizards and Celtics to struggle against the Philadephia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets respectively, few saw the Clippers dropping two games at home to the Dallas Mavericks to start postseason play. Does history say these teams can come back to win these series or should they start looking to the offseason?
The 76ers, Nets and Bucks remain favorites in their respective series, but the Mavericks are now -250 to win the series, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The matchup opened at -400 for the Clippers.
According to Land of Basketball, 426 NBA playoff series have been at 2-0 at some point. This list includes best-of-5 first-round series, something the NBA did away with after the 2002-03 season. Of these 426 series, the team up 2-0 went on to win 399 of them. That’s good for a 93.7 percent success rate. However, that doesn’t mean the Clippers, Wizards and Celtics are done just yet.
Recent history has featured several teams coming back from a 2-0 hole. In the last five postseasons, five teams have clawed back from this deficit to win a playoff series. The most recent example of this was the Toronto Raptors winning four straight games against the Milwaukee Bucks in 2019 to go to the NBA Finals. Kawhi Leonard was the architect of that comeback, something the Clippers can take confidence in.
Leonard averaged 29.3 points, 5.5 assists and 10.0 rebounds per game in the four wins over Milwaukee, but he had plenty of help in Toronto. The Raptors may not have a player of Paul George’s caliber alongside Leonard, but they had a balanced unit of capable two-way guys. The Clippers will have to find contributions from role players to get back into the series.
However, one big factor is going against the Clippers. Four of the five teams to come back from 2-0 deficits in the last five postseasons did so losing the first two games on the road. Only the Celtics took a series against the Chicago Bulls after dropping two home games and that was largely due to Rajon Rondo suffering an injury. The Wizards and Celtics return home in their respective series, giving them slightly more hope for a comeback.
The stakes over Games 3 and 4 are particularly massive for the Clippers. Leonard can become a free agents after this season and he hasn’t enjoyed the level of success many expected him to have in Los Angeles. Blowing a 3-1 lead in last year’s Orlando bubble led to several changes and a lot of finger pointing, but an exit against the Mavericks after some questionable game management at the end of the regular season might break up the entire team.
It’s safe to say Leonard’s legacy as one of the game’s best players is on the line here. He entered 2019 free agency as the league’s most coveted player and spurned LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers to go to the Clippers and team up with George. He will still be a tremendous talent, but will he be considered a true superstar?
Leonard pulled the rabbit out of the hat two seasons ago. Can he do it again in 2021?