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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Can Toronto become first NBA team to win their NBA Finals debut since 2006?
The Toronto Raptors are the fifth NBA team since 2000 to make their NBA Finals debut; the Indiana Pacers played in the NBA Finals for the first time in 2000, the New Jersey Nets were a first-time NBA Finals team in 2002, the Miami Heat made their NBA Finals debut in 2006 and the Cleveland Cavs made their first appearance in the NBA Finals in 2007.
Of the four teams that made their debuts in the NBA Finals since 2000, only the Miami Heat in 2006 won the title that year.
Going back to the NBA first championship in 1947, there have been 26 teams that have played in the NBA Finals. Of those 26, only 10 won the title in their debut in the Finals. Of those 26, three of those franchises eventually folded: the Chicago Stags, Baltimore Bullets and Washington Capitals. Of the 30 current NBA franchises, 24 franchises (including this year’s first-timer Toronto) have played in the NBA Finals. The six franchises that have not played in the NBA Finals are: the L.A. Clippers, Charlotte, Denver, Minnesota, New Orleans and Memphis.
Following are the 10 NBA franchises that won the championship in their NBA Finals debut… will Toronto become the 11th to do so?
Philadelphia Warriors-1947 (Currently the Golden State Warriors)
Baltimore Bullets-1948 (franchise no longer in existence)
Minneapolis Lakers-1949 (currently the L.A. Lakers)
Rochester Royals-1951 (currently the Sacramento Kings)
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Last Thursday (Jan. 28) the Toronto Raptors defeated the New York Knicks 103-93 for their 10th straight victory of the season. It was the first time in franchise history that the Raptors had ever won 10 or more games in a row. They have since won their 11th straight and go for #12 tonight.
Prior to winning their 10th consecutive game, the Raptors were one of three NBA teams that had never won 10 in a row. The other two teams that have never won 10 consecutive games? The Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards.
Let’s take a look at the last time each NBA franchise won 10 games in a row. Of those teams that have won 10 straight in their history, the Milwaukee Bucks have the current longest drought… they have not won 10 consecutive games since they did it in 1986. (Note: The year listed below is the year when the streak ended)
Team, last time they won 10 or games in a row
Orlando Magic (have never won 10 straight)
Washington Wizards (have never won 10 straight)
Milwaukee Bucks (won 10 straight in 1986)
Indiana Pacers (won 10 straight in 1994)
Charlotte Hornets (won 10 straight in 1998)
Philadelphia 76ers (won 11 straight in 2000)
Sacramento Kings (won 11 straight in 2002)
Minnesota Timberwolves (won 10 in 2004)
Brooklyn Nets (won 14 straight in 2006)
Detroit Pistons (won 10 straight in 2008)
Houston Rockets (won 22 straight in 2008)
Utah Jazz (won 12 straight in 2009)
Los Angeles Lakers (won 11 straight in 2009)
Boston Celtics (won 14 straight in 2010)
Phoenix Suns (won 10 straight in 2010)
Chicago Bulls (won 10 straight in 2011)
Dallas Mavs (won 10 straight in 2011)
New Orleans Pelicans (won 10 straight in 2011)
New York Knicks (won 13 straight in 2013)
Denver Nuggets (won 15 straight in 2013)
Portland Trailblazers (won 10 straight in 2013)
Memphis Grizzlies (won 11 straight in 2014)
Miami Heat (won 10 straight in 2014)
Oklahoma City Thunder (won 10 straight in 2014)
Cleveland Cavaliers (won 12 straight in 2015)
Atlanta Hawks (won 19 straight in 2015)
Golden State Warriors (won 28 straight in 2015)
Los Angeles Clippers (won 10 straight in 2016)
Toronto Raptors (won 11 straight in 2016*)
San Antonio Spurs (won 13 straight in 2016)
- Streak still alive as of Jan. 31, 2016
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