HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — No team in NBA playoff history has ever lost a best-of-seven series after surging ahead 3-0. So the odds of one team choking it away are worse than a freak Midwest snow storm in the heart of spring.
Suddenly we have two teams trying to make it rain on their opponents’ parade.
The Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets return to their respective home arenas Friday night with the objective of extending their first-round series to the wire after losing the first three games. Trying to avoid postseason infamy and outright humiliation is the second-seeded New York Knicks, the clever characters who dressed in black on Wednesday for a Game 5 “funeral” at Madison Square Garden. However, as Knicks Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith dutifully pointed out afterward, they were the ones that got buried by the resilient Celtics.
Over in the Western Conference, the eighth-seeded Rockets in Game 5 dominated a discombobulated Oklahoma City team without their heart-and-soul point guard Russsell Westbrook. Former Thunder guard James Harden splashed seven 3s for Houston and scored 31 points.
So what are the odds that either the Celtics or Rockets can at least get their respective series to a Game 7? Cloudy, at best.
Only three teams down 3-0 have ever won the next three to go the distance: The Knicks did it against Rochester in the 1951 Finals; the Denver Nuggets against the Utah Jazz in the 1994 West semifinals; and the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2003 West first round. The latter two were double-digit victories for the home team.
“Mainly because the other team is a lot better,” Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said when asked why teams down 3-0 typically bow out in Game 4 as his injury-depleted club did against the San Antonio Spurs.
And truth be told, if Westbrook doesn’t tear the meniscus in his right knee, the Thunder are likely sitting back waiting to see if the Memphis Grizzlies close out the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 or if those two are headed back to L.A. for one final bludgeoning.
But Westbrook’s absence has changed everything. The Rockets, the youngest team in the playoffs as the Thunder once were, are feeling confident. They have to believe that if they continue to run-and-gun and don’t allow anyone not named Kevin Durant to go crazy that they have a great chance to force a Game 7 back at Oklahoma City on Sunday.
The Celtics, logic insists, don’t have as good a chance as Houston because they don’t have a built-in opening like the Rockets with the catastrophic injury to the all-important Westbrook. The Knicks aren’t missing a star player. They possess the league’s scoring champion in Carmelo Anthony (18-for-59 from the field in Games 4 and 5), the Sixth Man in Smith (suspended for Game 4, 3-for-14 in Game 5), last season’s Defensive Player of the Year in Tyson Chandler, a more threatening offense and they’re deeper at just about every position, if not at every position.
But, as long as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are wearing green — and add cold-blooded Jason Terry, a champ himself in 2011 with Dallas — the Celtics just don’t die. A raucous TD Garden on Friday will put the Knicks’ veteran poise to the test.
The Knicks must dig down to avoid the No. 1 derogatory label in all of sports — chokers. And the Thunder must figure out how to pick themselves up without Westbrook.
The odds remain steep for the Celtics and Rockets. Then again, as Jason Collins proved this week, there’s always a first for everything.