When a team takes a three-games-to-none lead in a best-of-seven series, it is time to start looking ahead to the next round or to a championship parade.
Most of the time.
In the history of sports, a few teams with 3-0 series leads have managed to lose three straight games before recovering. Some of them lost one more game — and the series — as well.
That’s the history facing the Miami Heat, who won the first three games of their N.B.A. Eastern Conference finals series against the Boston Celtics, then lost the next three, including Game 6 at home on Saturday night.
Game 7 is Monday night in Boston, and the Heat are 48 minutes away from historical ignominy. No N.B.A. team has ever blown a 3-0 series lead dating to 1947, when the N.B.A. was called the Basketball Association of America and had teams like the Cleveland Rebels and the St. Louis Bombers. This year, in the Western Conference finals, the Denver Nuggets took a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Lakers, then finished them off in a four-game sweep.
A collapse after taking a 3-0 series lead has happened in other leagues, though. Let’s relive some of those dark moments (for one team in those series anyway).
The most famous 3-0 comeback in sports certainly came in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox stunned their hated rivals, the Yankees, and made Major League Baseball history.
The victory in the American League Championship Series, snatched from the jaws of defeat, came in defiance of the fabled Curse of the Bambino that had supposedly consigned the Red Sox to perpetual defeat after they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.
“This is obviously crushing for us,” said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, a sentiment the Heat may soon be feeling.
The only other time a major league team battled back from 3-0 down, it didn’t finish the job. The Tampa Bay Rays raced to a 3-0 series lead in the 2020 A.L.C.S., played at a neutral site in San Diego because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Houston Astros claimed the next three games, but Tampa Bay pulled out a 4-2 victory in the decider before losing the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I don’t know if I went to bed,” Rays Manager Kevin Cash said about the aftermath of Game 6. “It was tough, there’s no doubt. A lot of anxiety.”
No team has blown a 3-0 series lead in the World Series, but in the Japan Series, the Nishitetsu Lions came back from 3-0 down to win in 1958 against the Yomiuri Giants and the Giants managed the same feat against the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 1989.
The N.H.L. has treated fans to the most four-game collapses, and one of those came in the Stanley Cup final.
In 1942, the Detroit Red Wings won the first three games, but the Toronto Maple Leafs came roaring back with four straight. The Cup had switched to a best-of-seven format in 1939 and this was the first series to go the distance.
“By Jiminy” was the postgame reaction of the Leafs great Syl Apps.
Four-game comebacks were also achieved in earlier rounds by the Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers over the Boston Bruins in 2010 and the Los Angeles Kings over the San Jose Sharks in 2014.
Although no N.B.A. team has — yet — lost a series it led by 3-0, a few, like this year’s Heat, have lost three straight to get to 3-3.
It happened once in the finals, in 1951. The Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings via Cincinnati, Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha) took a 3-0 lead over the Knicks, who rallied with three wins. The final game came down to the last seconds before Bob Davies of the Royals sealed it with two free throws.
It is the one and only championship for the Royals/Kings franchise, in any city. The Knicks would have to wait until 1970 for their first.
A three-game collapse followed by Game 7 redemption was also achieved in earlier rounds by the 1994 Utah Jazz against the Denver Nuggets and the 2003 Dallas Mavericks against the Portland Trail Blazers.
So the full collapse has never happened in the N.B.A. But in all of basketball?
How could you forget the classic Beermen-Aces series?
In the 2016 Philippine Cup final, the Alaska Aces looked set to claim the title after three straight wins. (Their name came from their sponsor, Alaska Milk, not their home base.)
But it was a mistake to count out the reigning champion San Miguel Beermen, who won four straight to do what no N.B.A. team has ever done.
The Celtics will be hoping to match the Beermen on Monday night.