Warriors, Raptors, Tribe Prove Not All 3-1 Leads are Created Equal

Last week, the Raptors took a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals against the Warriors.

The Warriors won Game 5, and I – and I’m sure many people in the Bay Area, Canada and yes, even Northeast Ohio – thought, “They can’t possibly come back … can they?” Someone on Twitter even presented the scenario that the Warriors would rally to win the series, becoming the only team to blow a 3-1 lead and recover from a 3-1 deficit. And of course, the ensuing ESPN special would be replayed ad nauseum.

The Warriors are the modern NBA dynasty, and it’s impossible to count them out of the money. In addition to that, being a Cleveland fan has scarred me enough that until the clock hit zeros in Game 7 in 2016, I knew it was still possible for the Cavs to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. As it turns out, the scarring came a little less than five months later, when the Indians couldn’t close out the Cubs in 2016.

It was the second time in 20 years that the Indians lost a Game 7 of the World Series in extra innings (the only other team to even play in more than one extra-inning game 7 is the Twins, which did so in 1991 – and as the Senators in 1924. They won both).

The Indians also coughed up a 3-1 series lead against the Red Sox in the 2007 American League Championship Series. Boston remains the only team to recover three times from a 3-1 series deficit, all in the ALCS, against the Angels in 1986 and the Yankees in 2004 – going even farther in that series and recovering from a 3-0 deficit – in addition to the Indians.

There were some people who even said the Indians losing in 2016 was divine retribution for the hubris of Cavs fans.

But not all 3-1 leads are created equal. What made the Cavs’ victory in 2016 improbable – besides the fact that overcoming that kind of deficit didn’t happen FOR Cleveland teams, it happened TO them – is that the Warriors had gone supernova, winning 73 games (God help me, there were even some people who broached the topic of them going undefeated) behind the first unanimous NBA MVP.

Please note: I am not one of those people who believes Steph Curry is overrated. He was a guy from a relatively small college with dodgy ankles who’s become one of the most fearsome outside shooters in the game. I’ll even listen to arguments saying he deserved to be a unanimous MVP. However, he didn’t deserve to be the first one. (Then again, there are plenty of players who were just as deserving, if not more so, to be the first unanimous Hall of Fame selection before Mariano Rivera.)

The Indians in 2016, comparatively speaking, had outkicked their coverage. The Cubs had the best record in the major leagues – to the point where people complained about the unfairness of using the All-Star Game for home field advantage. (Funny, I never heard any protests outside of the 216 about the Indians winning 100 games in a strike-shortened season in 1995 and not having home-field advantage in ANY round of the postseason that year.)

The Tribe, on the other hand, was short-handed in its rotation, but had just enough timely hitting and a monstrous bullpen to advance all the way to the World Series. At some point, their luck was going to run out. I thought it would happen in the ALCS. I saw them winning a short series, but when they won a bullpen game and pulled Ryan Merritt out of his engagement trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond to lock down a trip to the World Series, I entertained the thought they were ordained by fate. But it was not to be.

And although the Warriors have gone on to be the NBA Death Star since, the Raptors were the higher seed this year. Fact is, in a seven-game series, things usually even out and the better team wins.

And blowing a 3-1 lead is a lot rarer in the NBA than in Major League Baseball – as Tribe fans can attest.

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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