MIAMI — It’s been done four times in the Stanley Cup playoffs, most recently by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in 2014. Done once in baseball, the Boston Red Sox pulling it off against the New York Yankees on their way to winning the 2004 World Series. There’s been a few instances of it in the minor leagues, too.
Technically, a 3-0 series deficit is not insurmountable.
Except in the NBA.
The first clinching opportunity of this year’s NBA playoffs has arrived, and history says the Milwaukee Bucks can go ahead and start prepping for the next round. They lead the Miami Heat 3-0 in their Eastern Conference first-round series, with Game 4 set to start a postseason quadrupleheader on Saturday.
“We’re going to stay focused,” Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “The job’s not done.”
Also Saturday: Denver will aim to take a 3-1 series lead when it plays Game 4 in Portland, Philadelphia goes to Washington seeking a 3-0 lead as that series resumes after a fan throwing popcorn on injured Wizards guard Russell Westbrook became the story of Game 2, and Mike Conley plays his 29th playoff game in Memphis — but first as an opponent — when Utah visits the Grizzlies for Game 3 of that knotted-up matchup.
“Being up 2-1 is great,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after his team won in Portland on Thursday night to regain control of that matchup. “It’s the same situation they were in. They came into our building, won Game 1 and we were able to even it up. And they’re going to come out ultra-aggressive because they’re not going to want to go back to Denver down 3-1. So, we’re going to get everything, the kitchen sink, you name it, come Saturday afternoon.”
Teams have held 3-0 series leads in best-of-seven NBA matchups on 140 previous occasions. A sweep was the result in 87 of those, or 62% of the time; 40 series ended in five games; 10 ended in six and three even got pushed to a Game 7 — most recently Dallas’ victory over Portland in the 2003 first round.
But in all 140 cases, the 3-0 lead held up.
“Backs are against the wall,” Miami center Bam Adebayo said. “It’s literally win or go home.”
The roles were flipped last season in the East semifinals. Miami led Milwaukee 3-0 in the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World, and the Bucks — even with Antetokounmpo out with an ankle injury — found a way to force Game 5 before the Heat closed out the matchup.
That’s Miami’s focus right now, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said: win once and see where it goes.
“You take it one step at a time,” Spoelstra said. “Everything can seem overwhelming if you look at the whole big picture. You take it one step at a time. We’re capable of playing good enough to win a game and that’s all our focus has to be right now.”
Antetokounmpo insisted that the Bucks weren’t going to relax, even though history says they can.
“In Game 4, Miami’s going to come out even tougher, going to play better,” Antetokounmpo said. “They’re going to find a way to get a lot of open shots, lot of easy looks. … At the end of the day, our focus is on Game 4 and how we can be better.”
BUCKS AT HEAT
Milwaukee leads 3-0. Game 4, 1:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: The Bucks have beaten Miami by at least 29 points three times this season. That’s only the second time such a thing has happened to the Heat; Pat Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers beat them three times by at least 32 points in the franchise’s inaugural 1988-89 season.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Miami desperately needs some 3’s to fall. The Heat were 20 for 50 from beyond the arc in a Game 1 overtime loss; they went 17 for 60 combined in the two blowout losses since.
— INJURY WATCH: Bucks G Donte DiVincenzo left Game 3 with a left foot contusion.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Nobody. History says the series is over. Nobody should feel any pressure unless the series gets to Game 6, and only then should the Bucks start to worry.
NUGGETS AT TRAIL BLAZERS
Denver leads 2-1. Game 4, 4 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: Through three games, Denver’s starters have scored 275 points, Portland’s 273. The difference has been the benches. Portland’s bench outscored Denver’s by 14 in Game 1 and the Blazers won by exactly 14. In Game 2, Denver’s bench outscored Portland’s by 17; the Nuggets won by 19. And in Game 3, Denver’s bench outscored Portland’s by five; the Nuggets won by exactly five.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Portland’s Damian Lillard is averaging 37.7 points in the series, Denver’s Nikola Jokic is averaging 36. The stars are living up to their billing.
— INJURY WATCH: Denver’s Will Barton (hamstring) still hasn’t played since April 23.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Portland. The Blazers are 2-10 in their last 12 playoff games and can’t reasonably expect to win both a Game 5 and a Game 7 in Denver. It’s almost certainly must-win time.
76ERS AT WIZARDS
Philadelphia leads 2-0. Game 3, 7 p.m. EDT, ESPN.
— NEED TO KNOW: Ben Simmons (14 points, 12 rebounds, 11.5 assists) is averaging a triple-double through two games, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid are averaging a combined 54 points and the 76ers have trailed for about nine minutes out of the 96 played so far. Very businesslike start for the East’s No. 1 seed.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Washington’s Bradley Beal has 33 points in each of the series’ first two games and might be called upon for even more if the Wizards are going to get back into this matchup.
— INJURY WATCH: Westbrook’s ankle issue is critical to Washington’s upset hopes.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Arena security and the referees. Tensions will be high. A repeat of the scene in Philadelphia would be a terrible look for the league.
JAZZ AT GRIZZLIES
Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 9:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN.
— NEED TO KNOW: Memphis is playing a home playoff game without Conley on its roster for the first time since May 1, 2006. Conley didn’t play in every Memphis postseason game during his years with the Grizzlies, but there’s still the obvious irony in how they’re back in the playoffs and one of the most beloved players in team history is going to be wearing the opposing uniform.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Memphis’ Ja Morant has 73 points in his first two career playoff games (excluding the West play-in game last season, which the NBA doesn’t technically count as a postseason contest). Only George Mikan (75) had more.
— INJURY WATCH: Jazz G Donovan Mitchell had 25 points in 25-1/2 minutes in Game 2, his first game in nearly six weeks because of an ankle injury.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Utah. The Jazz — granted, without Mitchell for that game — struggled to put the Grizzlies away in their only previous trip to Memphis this season.
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