Yesterday we talked about the teams who were down 3-0 and what they’d have to do to complete a comeback. The 76ers kept their season alive, while the Raptors got swept after another incredible performance by LeBron James. Philadelphia still has their work cut out for them, especially since coming back from being down 3-0 to win a series has never been done before. Today we’re going to talk about something that has been done, but rarely. Coming back from being down 3-1 is something we’ve seen happen recently. We saw it from the Warriors a couple years ago when they were down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder and advanced to the NBA Finals, and then we saw it from LeBron James and the Cavs when they came back to win the championship. Are either the Pelicans or Jazz capable of completing this comeback?
Utah has been a surprising and exciting team this season. Donovan Mitchell has been their leader in his rookie year. Many thought Utah would fall at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round because they were up against Russell Westbrook and Paul George, but Mitchell outshined both of them as the Utah Jazz moved on to the Conference Semifinals. After losing Game 1 to the Houston Rockets, Utah came back and tied the series 1-1. It looked like this series may have been a bit more challenging for the Rockets, but then they won Games 3 and 4 to take a 3-1 lead.
Being down 3-1 against the best team in the league doesn’t give Utah a very high chance of moving on to the Western Conference Finals, but there is one main factor that could give them hope. During the regular season, the Utah Jazz ranked 2nd in defensive rating, only 0.1 points behind the Boston Celtics. During the playoffs, this team has ranked 4th. Their playoff ranking has taken a slight hit, going from 101.6 during the regular season to 103.1 during the playoffs. I know those numbers aren’t that far apart, but it makes a difference. If Utah can return to their regular season defensive form, they can stop Houston from taking the series.
As I pointed out in my article “Predicting the Remaining Games of the Conference Semifinals,” Houston ranks in the middle of the pack in three point percentage, but their three point attempts are the most in the league. Utah must take the Rockets off the three point line as much as possible. Not only do they have to take them off the three point line, but they must force them to take bad three point shots when they’re taken. Utah was able to win Game 2 because they held the Rockets to 27% shooting from beyond the arc. Reducing the number of threes and the three point percentage of the Rockets is how Utah can pull off an upset after going down 3-1.
New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans went into the first round as underdogs against the Portland Trail Blazers, who earned the three seed in the playoffs this season. Many thought Portland would win the series because they seemed to be playing at another level during the second half of the season. The Blazers were supposed to be for real, but the Pelicans quickly shut that down by sweeping them. They then moved on to play the Warriors, who is a familiar playoff opponent for them. Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday really stepped up their game against the Blazers, giving people reason to believe the Pelicans could beat the Warriors, or at least make it close.
The only game in this series that has been close was Game 2. Other than that, each game has been a blowout for either the Warriors or Pelicans. So what does New Orleans have to do to get back in this series and overcome the 3-1 deficit? There are two things I see that must be done.
- Make the Warriors shoot a low percentage from three point range.
- Shoot a high percentage from three point range.
In their one win in this series so far, the Pelicans held the Warriors to 29% shooting from downtown, while they shot 45.2% from that distance. In the most recent game of the series, the Warriors shot 33.3% from three, but the Pelicans shot a miserable 15.4%. They held the Warriors to a low shooting percentage, but they shot a significantly lower percentage. That’s the problem for the Pelicans, they’re not a great three point shooting team and the Warriors are one of the best. I know they can hold the Warriors to around 30% shooting from outside, but the question is whether or not they can shoot 40+%. That’s what they’ll have to do to win the series.
Who’s More Likely to Overcome the Deficit?
Much like yesterday’s post about who was more likely to overcome a 3-0 deficit, I’m not predicting either the Pelicans or Jazz to come back in the series. The Warriors and Rockets are going to the Western Conference Finals, but if I had to choose one team to overcome their 3-1 deficit right now, I’d have to choose the Utah Jazz. Their defensive potential is right up there with the best of them. Both Utah and New Orleans has to stop their opponent from making a high percentage of three point shots, and I think Utah is more capable of doing so. Again, we’ve seen a 3-1 deficit be overcome before in recent history, but that was by one of the greatest players and greatest teams to ever play the game of basketball. Neither the Pelicans or Jazz have one of the greatest players, and they’re not one of the greatest teams.