• Pranav Singh

It’s 2020 and No Lead is Safe

It’s 2020 and No Lead is Safe

The 2020 NBA Playoffs saw all kinds of leads blown left and right. From double-digit advantages erased in the blink of an eye, to the vulnerability of a 3-1 series leads, fending off a comeback is much more difficult in this fast-paced era of basketball.

No series lead is safe

For the first fifteen years of the 21st century, only twice were teams able to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA playoffs. In the last five seasons, however, it has happened five times, including twice in the 2020 postseason alone.

The 2015 Clippers are the poster child of fumbling the proverbial bag. LAC was up 19 at the end of the third quarter in Game 6, and still managed to lose the series. Not to be outdone, 2016 saw back-to-back 3-1 leads blown - the Warriors came back from and subsequently coughed up 3-1 leads during those playoffs.

In 2020, it was the Denver Nuggets who became the masters of surviving 3-1 holes. Against the Jazz, Jamal Murray and the Nugs stormed back to advance to the next round. Here, Doc Rivers’ Clippers once again coughed up a 3-1 series lead.

Individual Games

Beyond blowing big advantages in the postseason, leads in individual games have been much harder to protect in the modern NBA.

In the early 1990s, if a team went up by twenty points or more, it was considered a death sentence - very few teams were able to shorten the lead by the end of the game. Nowadays, a twenty-point deficit isn’t so daunting. After all, a few quick threes and a few defensive stops, and you’re suddenly right back in the mix.

According to Basketball Reference, the average pace of an NBA game went from 90 possessions in 2000 to north of 100 in 2020. Giving these trigger-happy teams ten more shots a night in a make-or-miss league can really upend things.

Another major change in the past two decades has been the number of three-pointers attempted per game. This number sky-rocketed from around 14 per night in the 2000-01 season to 34 a game last year. That is an incredible swing.

The combination of more possessions and more three-point attempts has led to a fast, higher-scoring version of basketball than we’ve seen in a long, long time. NBA teams cannot afford to take their foot off the gas pedal at any point of the game anymore. Point differences can be made up easily and a game can change in a matter of moments.

The 2020 postseason saw multiple double-digit deficit comebacks. The Miami Heat were losing by ten or more points in three out of the four games they ended up winning in the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, throughout the playoffs, there were a total of 16 games where the losing team was winning by 10 or more points at some point in the game. This was an astonishing 20 percent of all postseason games.

Many believe that the era of professional basketball that we are currently in right now is the most talented one so far. Though talent levels may be arguable with other generations, speed and athleticism are definitely at an all-time high. So, do not close your eyes for even a second or your team might just blow a “comfortable” lead.