How To Erase A 3-1 Deficit
The Denver Nuggets have been the comeback kings of the 2020 NBA playoffs, rebounding from 3-1 deficits in consecutive series against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers in the first two rounds.
They now find themselves down 3-1 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, but they also have company this time.
The Boston Celtics faced a 3-1 deficit to the Miami Heat on the Eastern side of the bracket before winning Game 5 to draw closer in the series.
And for Boston, Denver might have established something of a blueprint for bubble comebacks.
In fact, the Celtics might be able to get back into the series against the Miami Heat if they follow these three steps that helped the Nuggets come back and win both series against the Jazz and Clippers.
1. Clamping Down
The Nuggets were not known as a defensive juggernaut during the regular season – merely a middle of the road defensive team. They allowed 109.2 points per game, good enough for 11th in the NBA.
But when their backs were against the wall against the Jazz and the Clippers, they buckled down.
After allowing 125.5 points per game in their first four games against the Jazz, the Nuggets turned up the defensive intensity over the last three games to allow just 97.3 points per game.
It culminated with a Game 7 defensive performance where they held the Jazz to 78 points and 38% shooting from the field and 23.5% from three-point range.
Against the Clippers, it was more of the same for the Nuggets.
After allowing 107.5 points through the first four games against the Clippers, the Nuggets allowed just 97.3 points once again over the final three while holding the Clippers to 40.2% from the field and 33.6% from three-point range.
And their defense flustered the Clippers' star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George specifically.
Leonard averaged 25 points over the last three games but shot just 40.6% from the field, while George averaged 23 points and shot 38.2% from the field and 33.3% from three-point range.
In Game 5 with their season on the line, the Celtics were able to lock in defensively on the Heat.
They gave up 108 points, but held the Heat to 7-for-36 shooting from three-point range while limiting both of their All-Stars, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, to a combined 30 points.
The Celtics have held the Heat below 30% shooting for three consecutive games and have now won two of three.
If they can continue to stay focused on defense, it can go a long way to pulling off the comeback.
2. Cleaning the glass
While the defensive performance of the Nuggets was impressive in each of their series against the Jazz and Clippers, a defensive possession isn't final until the ball is secured off of a rebound.
And the Nuggets were able to dominate the glass in their six wins in both series to complete the 3-1 comebacks.
In the final three games against the Clippers, the Nuggets won the rebounding battle 138-115.
In Game 7, the margin was 53-37 in favor of the Nuggets, with All-Star center Nikola Jokic recording 22 rebounds and averaging 13.4 for the series.
This followed the trend from the Jazz series in the first round, with the Nuggets winning the rebounding battle 127-113 over the final three games.
Jokic also dominated on the glass in Game 7 against the Jazz.
If there is one advantage the Celtics have had so far against the Heat, it has been their dominant play on the glass.
They have outrebounded the Heat in four of the five games so far in the Eastern Conference finals, with starting center Daniel Theis recording his first double-double of the series in Game 5 with a 15 point and 13 rebound performance.
Continuing this performance on the boards will be important for the Celtics inGame 6 and potentially Game 7.
3. Superstar Performances
There is an old saying that "defense wins championships," and while that has helped the Nuggets win all six of their elimination games this postseason, so has the superstar play of Jamal Murray.
Murray has averaged 32.6 points in each of those six games while shooting a torrid 54.1% from three-point range.
In those six contests, he has recorded two 40-point games and a 50-point outting in Game 6 against the Jazz.
And one of those 40-point explosions came in Game 7 against the Clippers, where he joined some elite and special company.
If the Celtics are going to complete their own 3-1 comeback this postseason, they will need somebody to step up their game and go to a superstar level.
And there is no better candidate than first year All-Star Jayson Tatum.
Tatum has been outstanding so far this postseason, averaging 25.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists while shooting 44.2% from the field and 37.9% from three-point range.
In Game 5, he scored 21 of his 31 points in the second half to guide the Celtics to a 121-108 victory.
Tatum is currently averaging 27 points in the Eastern Conference Finals, the highest average of any player on both teams.
Tatum has been arguably the best player on the floor through five games of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Celtics will need that trend to continue if they want to advance to the NBA Finals.