Game 1 winners won 75 percent of NBA Finals.
Until LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat.
Since, Finals Game 1 winners are 0-for-3 in claiming the championship.
We’re always prone to read too much into a single victory at this stage of the season – especially when there are no other games to balance our perception of a series.
That’s less true this year, because LeBron missed most of the fourth quarter last night due to cramps. If he returns healthy in Game 2, that changes everything.
Yet, there are a lot of people who watched the San Antonio’s Game 1 win and have gotten caught up by it. They saw the Spurs win by 15, absolutely dismantling Miami. They saw how the Heat couldn’t even outscore San Antonio with LeBron on the court and were already losing when he left. They saw the Spurs commit an uncharacteristic 22 turnovers and win anyway.
Watch all that, and it’s easy to get carried away.
It’s also a mistake.
Beyond the LeBron factor, recent history tells us the Finals are far from over.
(click to enlarge)
What explains this trend?
Erik Spoelstra is one of the most-willing adjusters of anyone who’s ever coached an elite team. Even after wins, he’s not afraid to change lineups and strategies. Heck in all Miami series since the big three joined forces, Game 1 winners are just 9-6. (All-time, meaning adding 2006, Game 1 winners are 0-4 in Finals involving Miami.) The Heat have personality to overcome this.
While Miami’s fluid approach might play a factor, the the better explanation is it’s just coincidence. Game 1 winners sometimes lose the series, and in the long run, it’s bound to happen a few times in a row just as a rolled die can land on the same number a few times in a row.
But the lesson holds true – there’s still plenty of basketball to be played. San Antonio didn’t clinch the series last night. A team can’t guarantee itself a Finals victory after only Game 1.
Unless the Heat already did.