When a team takes a three-game lead in a best-of-seven series, it’s time to start looking toward the next round or a championship parade.
Most of the time.
In sports history, some teams with a 3-0 series lead managed to lose three straight games before coming back. Some of them lost one more game, and the series, too.
That’s the story facing the Miami Heat, who won the first three games of their NBA Eastern Conference Finals series against the Boston Celtics and then lost the next three, including Game 6 at home on Saturday night.
Game 7 is Monday night in Boston, and the Heat are 48 minutes away from historic ignominy. No NBA team has blown a 3-0 series lead since 1947, when the NBA was called the Basketball Association of America and featured teams like the Cleveland Rebels and St. Louis Bombers. This year, in the Western Conference finals, the Denver Nuggets took a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Lakers, then finished them off in a four-game sweep.
However, a collapse after taking a 3-0 series lead has occurred in other leagues. Let’s relive some of those dark moments (for a team from that series anyway).
The most famous 3-0 comeback in sports arguably came in 2004, when the Boston Red Sox stunned their hated rivals, the Yankees, and made Major League Baseball history.
Snatched from the jaws of defeat, victory in the American League Championship Series came in defiance of the legendary Curse of the Bambino that had supposedly sent the Red Sox to perpetual defeat after they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.
“Obviously, this is crushing for us,” Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said, a sentiment the Heat may soon be feeling.
The only other time a major league team rallied from a 3-0 deficit, it didn’t finish the job. The Tampa Bay Rays built a 3-0 lead in the 2020 American League Championship Series, which was played at a neutral site in San Diego due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Houston Astros claimed the next three games, but Tampa Bay posted a 4-2 victory in the decider before losing the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I don’t know if I went to bed,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the aftermath of Game 6. “It was tough, no question about it. Lots of anxiety.”
No team has ever blown a 3-0 World Series lead, but in the Japan Series, the Nishitetsu Lions came from 3-0 down to win in 1958 against the Yomiuri Giants and the Giants accomplished the same feat against the Kintetsu. Buffaloes. in 1989.
The NHL has treated fans to the most four-game collapses, with one coming in the Stanley Cup final.
In 1942, the Detroit Red Wings won the first three games, but the Toronto Maple Leafs came back roaring with four in a row. The Cup had changed to a best-of-seven format in 1939 and this was the first series to go all the way.
“By Jiminy” was the post-game reaction from Leafs great Syl Apps.
The Islanders also posted four-game comebacks in earlier rounds over the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers over the Boston Bruins in 2010, and the Los Angeles Kings over the San Jose Sharks in 2014.
While no NBA team has yet lost a series it led 3-0, some, like this year’s Heat, have lost three in a row to go 3-3.
It happened once in the finals, in 1951. The Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings via Cincinnati, Kansas City, Mo. and Omaha) took a 3-0 lead over the Knicks, who bounced back with three wins. The final game came down to the final seconds before the Royals’ Bob Davies sealed it with two free throws.
It is the only Royals/Kings franchise championship, in any city. The Knicks would have to wait until 1970 for their first.
The 1994 Utah Jazz against the Denver Nuggets and the 2003 Dallas Mavericks against the Portland Trail Blazers also managed a three-game collapse followed by Game 7 redemption in earlier rounds.
So total collapse has never happened in the NBA. But in all of basketball?
How could you forget the classic Beermen-Aces series?
In the 2016 Philippine Cup final, the Alaska Aces looked set to claim the title after three straight wins. (Its name comes from its sponsor, Alaska Milk, not its home base.)
But it was a mistake to write off reigning champion San Miguel Beermen, who won four straight to do what no NBA team has ever done.
The Celtics hope to match the Beermen on Monday night.