The first to four wins gets the crown
Let’s start with a quick quiz…
How many teams in NBA history have won the first game in an NBA Finals series, was the first team to win two games in that series, was the first team to win three games in that series, but failed to win the fourth game and thus lost in that NBA Finals? One, two, four or six? (Answer towards the end of this article.)
After the Golden State Warriors lost Game One to the Toronto Raptors in this year’s NBA Finals, Warriors guard Klay Thompson made the following statement answering those critics who thought the team was already in trouble after that first loss:
“It’s first team to four (wins), not the first to one (win).”
He’s absolutely right, but does being the team to win Game One in an NBA Finals series matter? Does being the first team to get that second win in an NBA Finals a good thing? Does being the first team to three victories in an NBA Finals the “golden ticket” to a championship?
Let’s try to answer these questions based on the 72-year history of the NBA Finals…
- Teams that won Game One in an NBA Finals series went on to win that series 51 of 72 times (70.8%).
- Teams that were the first to win two games in an NBA Finals series went on to win that series 61 of 72 times (84.7%). For the record, in four of the last eight NBA Finals, the team that was the first to win two games in an NBA Finals did not win the title (Miami in 2011, San Antonio in 2013, Cleveland in 2015 and Golden State in 2016).
- Teams that were the first to win three games in an NBA Finals series went on to win that series 63 of the 72 times (87.5%). Here are the nine times in the NBA Finals when a team was the first to win three games in that series but could not win that fourth game and the championship:
1955: Fort Wayne (first to win three games), Syracuse won Games 6 and 7 and the title.
1962: L.A. Lakers (first to win three games), Boston won Games 6 and 7 and the title.
1969: L.A. Lakers (first to win three games), Boston won Games 6 and 7 and the title.
1978: Seattle (first team to win three games), Washington won Games 6 and 7 and the title.
1988: Detroit (first team to win three games), L.A. Lakers won Games 6 and 7 and the title.
1994: New York Knicks (first team to win three games), Houston won Games 6 and 7 and the title.
2010: Boston (first team to win three games), L.A. Lakers won Games 6 and 7 and the title.
2013: San Antonio (first team to win three games), Miami won Games 6 and 7 and the title.
2016: Golden State (first team to win three games), Cleveland won Games 5, 6 and 7 and the title.
All of the above stats are good news for the Toronto Raptors; they won Game One of this series, they were the first team to win two games and the first team to win three games in their NBA Finals series against Golden State.
There is, however, a precedence that bodes well for the Warriors if they win Game 6. There have been four times in NBA Finals history where a team lost Game One of the NBA Finals series, and their opponent in that series was the first to get two wins and the first to get three wins in the series, but those four teams won the title. The four times this has happened: L.A. Lakers in 1969, Washington in 1978, Miami in 2013 and Cleveland in 2016.
So, the answer to the above trivia question is four teams… the 1969 Lakers, 1978 Sonics, 2013 Spurs and 2016 Warriors each lost the NBA Finals that year after winning Game One, and being the first team in the series to win two games and three games; they, however, could not get that fourth win in that NBA Finals series to capture the championship.
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For only the 13th time in NBA history, the Finals series does not feature a team that was ranked/seeded #1 when the playoffs began. The Cavs were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Warriors were the #2 seed in the Western Conference.
The last time a #1 seed did not appear in the NBA Finals was 2012 when the second-seeded Miami Heat faced off against the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. The last time two #1 seeds squared off in the finals was in 2016 when the Cavs and Warriors played for the title, the second of their four match-ups.
Here’s a look at the 13 times when no #1 seed played in the NBA Finals.
2018: Golden State (#2) vs. Cleveland (#4)
2012: Miami (#2) vs. Oklahoma City (#2)
2011: Dallas (#3) vs. Miami (#2)
2007: San Antonio (#3) vs. Cleveland (#2)
2006: Miami (#2) vs. Dallas (#4)
2005: Sam Antonio (#2) vs. Detroit (#2)
2004: Detroit (#3) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (#2)
1994: Houston (#2) vs. New York Knicks (#2)
1978: Washington (#3) vs. Seattle (#4)
1973: New York Knicks (#2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (#2)
1968: Boston (#2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (#2)
1952: Minneapolis Lakers (#2) vs. New York Knicks (#3)
1951: Rochester (#2) vs. New York Knicks (#3)
This is the fourth straight year that Cleveland and Golden State have faced each other in the NBA Finals. Based on that, you would think that the Cavs and Warriors would have the two best regular season records in the NBA in the last four years. WRONG! The Warriors have the best regular season record in the league in the past four seasons, 265-63 (.808). But the Cavs have the fifth-best regular season record in the league since the 2014-15 season, 211-117 (.643). Do you know which three teams have a better regular season record than the Cavs over the past four seasons?
Following are the five teams with the best regular season win-loss records in the past four seasons.
Golden State 265-63 .808
San Antonio 230-98 .701
Houston 217-111 .662
Toronto 215-113 .655
Cleveland 211-117 .643
The Los Angeles Clippers are the only other team to have a winning percentage over .600 in the past four seasons, 202-126 (.616). The worst record in the NBA over the past four years? The Lakers… 99-229 (.302).
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The 2016-17 NBA season ended Monday night with the Golden State Warriors winning their second title in three years. Let’s close the book on this season with a few stats from the finals.
- The Warriors became the 14th team in league history to lose an NBA Finals one season and then win the title the following year, the fifth time it has happened in the last nine years. Here’s a look at the 14 teams:
Team (Year lost title/Year won title)
St. Louis Hawks 1957/1958
New York Knicks 1972/1973
L.A. Lakers 1984/1985
L.A. Lakers 2008/2009
San Antonio 2013/2014
Golden State 2016/2017
Of the 13 teams that did this prior to Golden State this year, six made it back to the NBA Finals the next year with four winning the title again and two losing in the finals. Seven of the 13 did not make the NBA Finals the following season.
- LeBron James had 44 points in the Game Five loss on June 12. It was the third time James scored 40 or more points in an NBA Finals where his team lost. Jerry West holds the record with four games of 40+ points in the NBA Finals in a defeat. Here are the 11 players who have scored 40 or more points in an NBA Finals in a loss:
4: Jerry West
3: LeBron James
2: Rick Barry, Michael Jordan
1: Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, John Havlicek, Shaquille O’Neal, Isiah Thomas, Russell Westbrook, James Worthy
If we drop the points down to 30 in an NBA Finals game, West still leads this category with 12 games. James is now in sole possession of second place on this list with seven games in the NBA Finals where he scored 30 or more points in a loss. Jordan and O’Neal follow with six games each.
Six players have scored 30 or more points in an NBA Finals game (win or loss), led by West with 24. He is followed by Jordan with 23, LeBron with 18, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaq with 16, and Kobe Bryant with 13. Of these six players, James has the worst record in games where he scored 30 or more points in an NBA Finals… his teams are 11-7 (.611 winning percentage) when he scores 30 or more in a finals contest.
- Golden State rookie Patrick MaCaw did not see a lot of playing time in the NBA Finals this year, but he did score six points in Game Five. By doing so, he became the 13th player under the age of 22 to score six or more points in an NBA Finals game in NBA history. The last player under the age of 22 to score six or more points in an NBA Finals game was San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard in 2013. He had five such games in the 2013 NBA Finals. Here’s the 13 players under the age of 22 who have scored six or more points in an NBA Finals game:
Alvan Adams, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Darryl Dawkins, Johnny Davis, Jordan Farmar, Daniel Gibson, Richard Jefferson, Magic Johnson, Cory Joseph, Kawhi Leonard, Patrcik MaCaw and Tony Parker
The Golden State Warriors took Game One of the 2017 NBA Finals, a 113-91 win over Cleveland. There were several storylines that punctuated this victory, but here’s a few stats you might find interesting.
- Golden State’s 22-point win in Game One was the eighth time in NBA Finals history that a team won the first game of the finals by a margin of 20 points or more. In the previous seven times, the team that won Game One by 20 points or more won the series five times. The two series losses: The Knicks defeated the Lakers 114-92 in Game One of the 1972 NBA Finals, but the Lakers won the series, four games to one; in 1985, the Celtics defeated the Lakers 148-114 (the largest margin of victory in a NBA Finals Game One, 34 points), but the Lakers won the series, four games to two.
- The Warriors had 31 assists and only four turnovers in Game One. Since 1984, it was the first time in an NBA Finals that a team had more than 30 assists and less than five turnovers in the same contest. It was only the fourth playoff game since 1984 that a team had 30 or more assists and less than five turnovers in the same game.
- It was the 17th time since 1984 that a team had four or fewer turnovers in an NBA playoff game. Teams are 11-6 in those games.
- Golden State is now 28-3 in playoff games since 2013 when they score 110 or more points in a post-season game. They are also now 8-1 in the NBA Finals since 2013 when they score 100 or more points and 7-3 in the NBA Finals since 2013 when they hold their opponents (the Cavs) under 100 points.
- LeBron James had eight turnovers in the game. It was the fourth time since 1984 that a player had eight or more turnovers in an NBA Finals game. The last player to accomplish this feat was Manu Ginobli in 2013 when he had eight turnovers in a finals game versus the Miami Heat.
- Kevin Durant had 38 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the game. The last player to have 30 or more points and eight or more rebounds and assists in an NBA Finals game was last year when Draymon Green has 32 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists in a finals series game.
- Durant had zero turnovers to go with his 38 points. It was the 13th time since 1984 that a player had 30 or more points in an NBA Finals game with no turnovers. The last player to do this was Klay Thompson on June 7, 2015 when he had 34 points and no turnovers in the finals series versus the Cavs.
This year’s NBA Finals begins on Thursday, June 1. Here are four stats you may not know about the NBA Finals.
- Cleveland and Golden State will meet for the third consecutive year in the finals, the first time that has happened in NBA history. There has now been 13 times when the same two teams faced off in the NBA Finals in consecutive years. They are:
1952, 53: Minneapolis Lakers vs. New York Knicks
1957, 58: Boston Celtics vs. St. Louis Hawks
1960, 61: Boston Celtics vs. St. Louis Hawks
1962, 63: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
1965, 66: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
1968, 69: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
1972, 73: Los Angeles Lakers vs. New York Knicks
1978, 79: Seattle Supersonics vs. Washington Bullets
1982, 83: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
1984, 85: Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
1988, 89: Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers
1997, 98: Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz
2013, 14: Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs
2015, 16, 17: Cleveland Cavs vs. Golden State Warriors
- The Cavs and Warriors this year become the 14th and 15th teams to reach the NBA Finals in three consecutive seasons. The Boston Celtics of 1957-66 hold the NBA record by reaching the finals in 10 consecutive years. Following are the teams that have reached the NBA Finals in three consecutive years (or more):
New York Knicks, 1951-53
Minneapolis Lakers, 1952-54
Boston Celtics, 1957-66 (10 years)
Los Angeles Lakers, 1968-70
Los Angeles Lakers, 1982-85 (4 years)
Boston Celtics, 1984-87 (4 years)
Los Angeles Lakers, 1987-89
Detroit Pistons, 1988-90
Chicago Bulls, 1991-93
Chicago Bulls, 1996-98
Los Angeles Lakers, 2000-02
Los Angeles Lakers, 2008-10
Miami Heat, 2011-14 (4 years)
Golden State Warriors, 2015-17
Cleveland Cavs, 2015-17
- The Golden State Warriors this year will try to avoid becoming the tenth team in NBA history to lose in the NBA Finals in two consecutive years. The last team to lose consecutive NBA Finals was the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003.
Here are the nine teams which have lost the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons.
New York Knicks, 1951-53
Ft. Wayne Pistons, 1955-56
St. Louis Hawks, 1960-61
Los Angeles Lakers, 1962-63
Los Angeles Lakers, 1965-66
Los Angeles Lakers, 1968-70
Los Angeles Lakers, 1983-84
Utah Jazz, 1997-98
New Jersey Nets, 2002-03
- The Cleveland Cavs, with a finals’ series win over the Warriors this year, would become the 13th team to win back-to-back NBA titles. The last team to win back-to-back titles was the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013.
Below are the 12 teams to win back-to-back NBA titles in league’s history.
1949-50: Minneapolis Lakers
1952-54: Minneapolis Lakers
1959-66: Boston Celtics
1968-69: Boston Celtics
1987-88: Los Angeles Lakers
1989-90: Detroit Pistons
1991-93: Chicago Bulls
1994-95: Houston Rockets
1996-98: Chicago Bulls
2000-02: Los Angeles Lakers
2009-10: Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13: Miami Heat