NBA Finals Game 5 history not necessarily a good omen for OKC Thunder

Sports Stats ‘on Tapp’ is a sports statistics blog published daily that focuses on stats that go beyond the numbers.

Logo of the NBA Finals.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s all pretty simple: If the Heat win tonight, the series is over and they win the NBA title. If the Thunder win, we head back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 and the series continues for the Thunder on their home court. Yes, game 5 is important.

Now that I’ve stated the obvious, how about a little insight to what we can expect tonight. If you take a look at the history of the NBA Finals, there is good news and bad news for the Thunder. First, a little backstory. In the previous 65 NBA Finals, 30 of those series had one team with a 3-1 lead after four games. In 27 of those 65 series, the series was tied at 2-2; there was a four-game sweep in eight of the NBA Finals.

So the Thunder are the 31st team that will try to wipe out a 3-1 deficit in the finals. (The last NBA Finals that was 3-1 after four games was in 2009 when the Lakers had a 3-1 lead over Orlando. They won the series in five games.) Here’s a little good news for OKC:

* In the previous 30 Game 5s where the series was at 3-1, the away team won Game 5 14 times. The Thunder are the away team tonight.

* In the previous 30 Game 5s where the series was at 3-1, the team that was behind in the series was able to win Game 5 and send the series to a sixth game in 14 of those games.

* There have been 12 finals series where the team with the 3-1 lead in the series has the opportunity to win the series in Game 5 (similar to tonight’s scenario for the Heat). In those 12 series, the team with the 3-1 lead has won Game 5 and the title in seven of those series. In five of these series, the road team that was behind in the series won Game 5 extending the series to a Game 6. Here’s a look at those five series where the road team won Game 5 sending it to a Game 6… something the Thunder hope to accomplish:

1998: Utah, down 3-1, defeated the Bulls in Chicago in Game 5.

1967: San Francisco, down 3-1, defeated the 76ers in Philadelphia in Game 5.

1966: Los Angeles, down 3-1, defeated the Celtics in Boston in Game 5.

1963: Los Angeles, down 3-1, defeated the Celtics in Boston in Game 5.

1951: New York, down 3-1, defeated the Royals in Rochester in Game 5.

Note: In looking at the box scores from the five Game 5s listed above, it’s interesting to note that the teams that won Game 5 each got big games from their superstars. In Utah’s 1998 win, Karl Malone scored 39 of Utah 83 points in their win; in San Francisco’s 1967 win, Rick Barry poured in 36 in the victory; in the Lakers 1966 and 1963 wins, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West had big games (Baylor 41 in ’66 and 43 in ’63; West 31 in ’66 and 32 in ’63.) If the Thunder is to win tonight and send the series back to OKC, they may have to depend on monster games from Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook.

Finally, here is the bad news for the Thunder:

* If OKC is hoping to win the series by winning the next three games, there is a stark reality that looms large. First, no team has won an NBA title after being down 3-1 in the finals series. Secondly, just getting the series to a Game 7 is not an easy task. Of the 17 NBA Finals that went the full seven games, 15 of those series went to a Game 7 after the two teams were tied 2-2 after four games. That means that only two finals series went to a Game 7 when a team faced a 3-1 deficit. The two games:

1966: The Lakers, down 3-1, forced a Game 7 but lost Game 7 95-93 in Boston.

1951: The Knicks, down 3-1, forced a Game 7 but lost Game 7 79-75 in Rochester.

What does all this mean? It’s an uphill battle for the Thunder. First, can they do what hasn’t been done in 45 years… get the series to a Game 7? Then, can they do what has never been done in NBA history… win the championship after being down 3-1 in the final series?

As “Bull Durham’s” Crash Davis would say, “You have to take them one game at a time.” It all starts with Game 5.

Follow Jerry on Twitter @StatsonTapp

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