Down 0-1, on the road, against a great home team, without David Lee, facing a Game 2 tonight the Warriors probably must win... that is not exactly a fine formula for GSW success, I must say.
They're approaching it the right way, though—from Denver, Marcus Thompson II writes that the Warriors remain loose and confident even after dropping Game 1 and losing Lee for the rest of the playoffs. Mark Jackson wants his players to feel like they've got nothing to lose and that the world is counting them out, and maybe that frees the GSWs to start dropping shots from everywhere...
(I'd better point this out again since there's been a little confusion: I'm not in Denver, all the best Game 2 reporting and analysis will come from those who are there, starting with MT-2 and Monte Poole from my newspaper group.)
The Warriors do have reason to believe they can win this, of course. The odds are against them, as they have been since the start of the series, but I think even without Lee the Warriors proved in the fourth quarter of Game 1 that Game 2—and therefore the entire series—is not entirely out of reach.
First, though, let's trace out the mathematical significance of this game, with Denver up 1-0...
Two years ago, teams that started by losing the first two games went 0-6 in the series.
In 2010, teams that dropped the first two went 0-10.
In 2009, the teams that lost the first two games went 0-7 in the series.
So, in the last four playoff years, teams that lost the first two games went on to lose the series 28 out of 29 times.
The one 0-2 exception: Oklahoma City, which dropped the first two in San Antonio in the Western Conference last year and then won four in a row.
(Boston also lost the first two on the road to Miami in the East finals, rallied to take a 3-2 series lead, but then Miami won the final two games and the series. So the Celtics were another 0-2/series loser, though they made it close.)
And overall, teams that lose the first two games of a 7-game NBA playoff series go on to lose the series 94% of the time, according to the great site whowins.com.
Historically, of the 15 NBA teams that have pulled it off, 7 have come since 2000—the last one, of course, being OKC over San Antonio last year.
Memorably, Miami did it to Dallas in the 2006 NBA finals.
More recently, San Antonio lost the first two to New Orleans in the West semis but came back to win in seven games—including winning Game 7 in New Orleans and Utah and Cleveland both did it in the 2007 playoffs.
There's an easy explanation for this overwhelming trend, even though winning the first two at home only gets a team half-way there and is often termed "just holding serve" in a serve.
1) If you win the first two, you are often simply the better team and you will win the series because you're better and you just proved it, not just because you won the first two games;
2) If you lose the first two, you have to win four of the next five games, and even if you're just as good as the other team, winning 4 of 5 is very, very tough to do against a team that has already beaten you twice;
3) The team that's down 0-2 is under enormous pressure to win both of the next two games (usually at home)—or else it'll go down 0-3 or 1-3, to the brink of elimination—and often that pre-elimination pressure feels like real elimination pressure and becomes palpable, especially with the home crowd feeling it, too.
Lee is a key, key part of almost everything the Warriors do and when he's out they have to scramble to replace his rebounds, energy and most of all this season (and in this series), his on-court connection with Stephen Curry.
Lee's a natural bail-out player for Curry when Curry gets aggressive double-teams, and now that bail-out is gone. It's not like Carl Landry or Draymond Green can make the passes and swoop to the rim like Lee did all season when there was space after Curry got blitzed on the pick-and-roll.
That will be impossible for the Warriors to replace until Lee is back, and that won't be until next season.
However, about that 3-18 stat without Lee...
I do want to point out that Lee's missed time over the last three seasons, including a large number of road games (13 out of the 21) that the Warriors didn't have much of a chance in anyway, and also 8 of Lee's injury-misses came at the end of last season when the Warriors were in a major, unannounced tank-for-the-pick situation.
My point: It's not like the loss of Lee singularly caused the Warriors to lose most of these games. Not having Lee surely was a detriment to the GSW efforts—and a great Lee game in any of those games could've changed a loss into a victory.
But he has missed a lot of games that the Warriors mostly were going to lose anyway, including 9 games last season that they sort of wanted to lose.
The season-by-season breakdown of DLee injury-DNPs...
Added together, that's 3-18 without Lee. He's a very valuable player. With some qualifications for that stat.
Let's see if he can repeat his strong Game 1 performance, and I think the two days off between games will absolutely help Bogut.
Even before the series started, Bogut acknowledged that the slow schedule for the first three games—two days off after Game 1 and then another two days off before Game 3 on Friday—should be very beneficial to him.
I don't expect to see Bogut go for 30 tonight, or maybe ever again in his career, but if he's a threat down low, and plays the same kind of high-level defense at the rim, he's something tricky for Denver to deal with.
It's just the best way to get his better, faster players on the floor at the same time, and then Jackson can pinpoint when he wants to get Carl Landry in for some post scoring... and I'd think Jackson will have a quick trigger on Landry and Bogut playing together, since they don't seem like a real fit and they didn't play much in tandem this season.
Keeping Landry with the second unit allows him to team with Festus Ezeli or maybe even Draymond Green on the front line for spells, and Jackson can keep Barnes in there with him, too, against Denver's smaller 4s.
If Landry's scoring well, he can get the bulk of the PF minutes from the middle of the first quarter on. If Landry's not scoring—and not rebounding—then it's a Barnes/Green/Richard Jefferson mash-up at PF.
It's not the Warriors' best way to go, but they've lost Lee, they've got to win this game, and now is not the time to worry about ideal scenarios.