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, here is 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 Oklahoma City Thunder" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">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:
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' 1963 and 1966 wins, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West had big games (Baylor 43 in ’63 and 41 in ’66; West 32 in ’63 and 31 in ’66.)
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 year—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 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