The situation is looking dire for the Cleveland Cavaliers after Sunday’s 110-77 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. However, history says things may not be as grim as they appear for the Eastern Conference champs.
For starters, the old sports adage dictates that a team hasn’t truly gained an upper hand in a series until someone loses a game at home. And while the Cavs certainly struggled in Oakland, where they also lost Game 1 by 15 points last Thursday, the series won’t shift to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena until Game 3 on Wednesday.
More important, there’s some precedent for teams getting thrashed in a Finals game, only to later win the series.
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In NBA history, there have been 16 Finals games decided by 30 or more points, and in six of those 15 series (the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers by 32 and 33 in Games 1 and 5 of the 1965 Finals, respectively), the losing team went on to win the title. Further, all six of those initial blowouts came when the eventual champion was on the road, three came in the first three games of a series, and in one case, it was the team without home-court advantage that recovered to win it all.
Obviously, the Cavs will have some serious issues to address if they’re expecting to make their Finals rematch with the Warriors competitive, but here’s a look at the past rallies Cleveland will be looking to emulate as they try to put Game 2 in the rear view:
Heat vs. Spurs, 2013
As it happens, LeBron James has a little bit of experience in this particular arena. In 2013, when James was with Miami, the Heat dropped Game 3 of the Finals 113-77. The loss, at AT&T Center, put the favored Heat in a 2-1 series hole, but Miami recovered to win Game 4 on the road, restoring home-court advantage. The Heat then took Games 6 and 7 at home, the former coming on Ray Allen’s epic game-tying 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.
Spurs vs. Pistons, 2005
Though they dropped the 2013 series to Miami, the Spurs have also been on the receiving end of a beatdown that paved the way to a Finals win. In 2005, after a pair of convincing wins at home in Games 1 and 2, San Antonio lost Game 3 in Detroit by 17, then lost Game 4 at The Palace of Auburn Hills 102-71. The next game was a classic, as Robert Horry hit a game-winning 3-pointer in overtime to give San Antonio a 3-2 series lead. After losing Game 6 at home, the Spurs, the No. 2 seed in the West, wrapped things up with an 81-74 win in Game 7.
Lakers vs. Pacers, 2000
By the time Indiana beat the Lakers 120-87 in Game 5 of the 2000 Finals, the Pacers were already in a 3-1 hole. Still, the victory prolonged the series and gave the Pacers a spark heading into Game 6 back in LA. Game 6 looked promising as well, as Indiana led by as many as 12 in the first half, but the Lakers ultimately righted the ship as Finals MVP Shaquille O’Neal (41 points, 12 rebounds) led LA to a 116-111 win. It was the first of five NBA championships for Kobe Bryant.
Lakers vs. Celtics, 1985
Known colloquially as the "Memorial Day Massacre," the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 of the 1985 Finals and seemed poised to repeat as champs. However, the Lakers gathered themselves with a 109-102 win in Game 2 and won two of three at home (including a 25-point blowout in Game 3) to take a 3-2 series lead back to Boston Garden for Game 6. It was there that the Lakers broke a decades-long curse, winning 111-100 to give LA its first Finals win over Boston in nine tries. It’s also the only case of an "underdog" losing a Finals game by 30 or more, only to come back and win the series — although at 62-20 in the regular season to Boston’s 63-19, LA wasn’t exactly a long shot.
Celtics vs. Lakers, 1984
One year earlier, it was the Lakers who dished out an early-series whoopin’ only to miss out on the ultimate prize. In the first Finals meeting between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the teams split Games 1 and 2, only to have LA unleash a 137-104 pummeling of Boston in Game 3 at The Forum. Johnson set a Finals record with 21 assists in the win, but the Celtics tied the series with a road win in Game 4 and the teams each won respective games at home to force a sweltering Game 7 back at the Garden. Boston went on to win that game 111-102 behind 20 points and 12 rebounds from Bird, who won Finals MVP, and Lakers fans could only wonder what might have been had their team not dropped two overtime games earlier in the series.
Lakers vs. 76ers, 1982
There seems to be a trend with the Lakers finding themselves in these situations (of course, it helps when you’ve played in The Finals 31 times). And just like the 2000 series against Indiana, LA already had a 3-1 series edge when it wilted during a 135-102 loss to Philadelphia in Game 5 of the 1982 Finals. Unfazed, Los Angeles responded with a 114-104 win in Game 6 to clinch the series. Soon after, the Sixers traded Darryl Dawkins and signed Moses Malone, and the following season, Philadelphia won its third and most recent championship, becoming the final team in league history to receive the Walter A. Brown Trophy.