The resiliency of this Lakers squad can not be doubted under any circumstances. It’ll likely be the lasting quality this team will be remembered for. Three months ago, this team sat in 13th place in the Western Conference and now they are one of two teams remaining in the same conference.
But it’s also impossible to overstate the task in front of them. Teams are 0-149 when facing a 3-0 deficit in NBA playoffs history. Eventually, someday, a comeback will likely happen. But no team can ever be expected to be the one to do it.
There’s a reason a Wikipedia page is dedicated to teams who have completed the comeback after being down 3-0. It’s a monumentally rare feat in any sport not just in this country but in the world.
After Saturday’s Game 3 loss, the Lakers were presented with questions about the fact history will have to be made for their season to continue. Anthony Davis said they have to take it “one game at a time.” LeBron James said making history is “the only mindset” for him.
Talking the talk is one thing, but walking the walk is another. There’s a certain amount of inherent belief you must have in this scenario for this to even be possible. When Game 4 — or Game 5, 6 or 7 for that matter — gets difficult or another rally or a late push is needed, teams in this situation often close up shop, ready for a vacation in Cancun as opposed to grinding out for a win they’re not even guaranteed.
Of those 149 series to have a team go up 3-0, 91 of them have ended the series in Game 4, a figure just shy of two-thirds. Another 44 end it in Game 5, a gentlemen’s sweep if you will. Only 11 times has a team even forced a Game 6 and three teams have forced a Game 7 before falling just short of the comeback.
The Lakers have preached a diligent approach all postseason long. They know it’s a race to four wins, something they’ve stated this series as well.
“I mean, I think the deficit is 3-0, not four,” head coach Darvin Ham said. “So as long as they have not gotten to four yet, there’s still hope. We’re still alive. We just have to focus on winning one game.”
It’s easy to say there’s hope but much harder to believe it. The circumstances of this series would indicate to the Lakers that they are right there with Denver. They were remarkably close in Games 1 and 2 of stealing wins on the road.
The Lakers have effectively played playoff basketball since the trade deadline. It’s something that had them sharpened early on and perhaps played a role in helping them win series against the Grizzlies and Warriors.
It also is something of a double-edged sword. Playing high-intensity, grueling battles for three months is tiring. At some point, it was going to catch up to the Lakers even if they were healthy, and they very clearly are not.
“Our backs have been against the wall,” Austin Reaves said. “I’ve spoke about probably the last two months, maybe more than that since the trade deadline, swinging, throwing punches to fight to get to this opportunity.
“You know, we’ll go watch film tomorrow, and we can either come out Monday and go home or we can fight for another day, and with the group of guys that we’ve got, I know what that answer will be.”
It’s hard to imagine this group being one that waves the white flag and goes down without a fight. They have a résumé full of games and moments where they never relented, before and after the deadline.
The historic, absurd comeback in Portland. The play-in game against Minnesota. The fact they even made the playoffs considering they started the season 2-10. This team is one built on a foundation of resiliency.
It also wouldn’t be a surprise if this team just didn’t have anything left to give. All the energy exerted through three games to lose each one in this series is as mentally taxing as it is physically. LeBron looks as hampered as he has all postseason by his foot injury. None of that is to even take into account how good the Nuggets are either.
In either outcome, the Lakers have wrung out every bit of success they could from this roster, team and situation. From 2-10 to Western Conference Finals is remarkable. Most importantly, the future is bright once again, something that wasn’t the case for the vast majority of this season.
But the nail isn’t in the proverbial coffin just yet. The Lakers have at least one more go at this. Whatever Monday holds in Game 4 won’t be surprising either way. The Lakers have nothing left to prove when it comes to resiliency. But that won’t stop them from believing.
“Just one at a time. Just focus on Game 4, and you know, that’s all you can really think about,” LeBron said. “I mean, obviously this game is over and done with. We had some opportunities but we didn’t come through.
“So just get ready for Monday and just got to get one. It’s a one-game series for us. Every game counts, obviously.”
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.