With the NBA Finals rematch between the Heat the Spurs starting tomorrow, ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton has put together a list of the biggest NBA playoff heartbreaks of all time, an exercise that was surely inspired by the Spurs being a last-second Ray Allen three-pointer away from winning the 2013 Finals in six games. That disappointment came in at No. 1 on Pelton’s list as, according to his calculations, San Antonio had a 99.3 percent chance of taking that series right before Allen’s corner three found the mark.
If you’re like me, the first thing you thought of when looking at Pelton’s list is “Where is the 2000 Trail Blazers team that lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals?” That team, you might remember (at least, if you haven’t succeeded at wiping it from your long term memory), was up 15 points in the fourth quarter before a monumental collapse, capped by Kobe Bryant throwing an alley-oop to Shaquille O’Neil, led to the Blazers losing Game 7 89-84 and thus, the series. That took place 14 years ago today and is still my all-time worst sports memory.
According to Pelton, the Trail Blazers had a 75 percent chance of winning the championship that year versus the Pacers if they could have held on for one more quarter against the Lakers, which puts that loss back in 2000 at No. 16 on Pelton’s heartbreak list …
16. 2000 Portland Trail Blazers
Series: 2000 West finals | Opponent: L.A. Lakers
Regular-season record: 59-23 (No. 2 in West)
Win Game 7 of West finals (10:28 4Q)
Beat Pacers in NBA Finals
CHAMP ODDS: 75.0%
As in 2002, either team in the Western Conference finals would’ve have been favored to beat the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals. The Blazers looked nearly certain to get that opportunity when they led Game 7 in L.A. by 15 points with 10:28 remaining. One of the great collapses in playoff history ensued. Portland shot 4-of-21 the rest of the game as the Lakers outscored the Blazers 29-9 to come from behind and win.
Just brutal. That collapse was the beginning of the end for a talented yet caustic roster featuring Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Arvydas Sabonis, Steve Smith and Bonzi Wells that went to the Western Conference Finals two consecutive seasons before being swept 3-0 by the Lakers in the first round of the 2001 Western Conference playoffs. Portland wouldn’t win another playoff series until this season.
On the flip side, Pelton has the 76ers losing to the Trail Blazers in the 1977 Finals at No. 22 on the all-time playoff heartbreak list …
22. 1977 PHILADELPHIA 76ers
Series: 1977 NBA Finals | Opponent: Portland Trail Blazers
Regular-season record: 50-32 (No. 1 in East)
Win NBA Finals up 2-0
CHAMP ODDS: 67.5%
Although the Sixers had home court, the Portland Trail Blazers entered the Finals as favorites by my model, thanks to their superior playoff run. That swung during the first two games of the series, as Philadelphia went up 2-0 at home.
Portland had little margin for error as the series shifted to Oregon — and didn’t need any. The Blazers evened the series with two wins by a combined 54 points, stole Game 5 in Philly and clinched the series back home in Game 6.
For all intents and purposes, that series was over once Maurice Lucas shook Daryl Dawkins’ hand after the two exchanged blows in Game 2 in Philadelphia.