I’m going to do something a little unorthodox here. I’m going to talk about slim chances without employing the Lloyd Christmas clip from Dumb & Dumber. Of course, there’s a Drake lyric in the title, so I’m already a cliche, but hey, small victories.
Speaking of small victories, maybe the Toronto Raptors will win today and extend their series to a fifth game so my homie Nav (and 18,000 others) can use his tickets for Game 5 on Wednesday. Maybe they’ll win two and keep us interested through the week. Maybe they’ll even win three and force a Game 7 back home a week from today. Probably not, but maybe.
I laid out some causes for optimism in the pregame for Game 4. As a quick refresher: The Wizards have been torrid from outside (39.4 percent after shooting 36 percent during the season). Kyle Lowry (shooting 23.8 percent) can’t possibly play worse, much as he’s working his tail off. There are a few clear adjustments the Raptors can make to swing things back in their favor.
And most importantly, the Wizards and Raptors were both frustratingly hot-and-cold this season. It takes a while, but you can talk yourself into the Raptors getting hot again and the Wizards cooling off at exactly the right time. If the Raptors can win Game 4, they’d still need to win three more, yes, but two of those would be at home. The two starting lineups the Raptors have used have combined to outscore Washington by 13 points in 45 minutes. We’ve never really known why the Raptors’ offense works sometimes and not others, so maybe that fleeting, ethereal chemistry will return at just the right time, as the Wizards hit one of their patented down turns (#PlayoffWittman be damned).
None of this is likely. Teams that fall behind 0-3 in a series are 0-111 in NBA history. Only three of those teams have even forced a Game 7, best I can tell. It’s hard to imagine the Raptors are, to steal a Paul Heymanism, “The 1 in 1-111.” I don’t think anyone is expecting that, even the most remote recesses of their minds. But I also don’t think people are as ready to give up on the season as it’s seemed on Twitter and in the comments – if the Raptors can pull out Game 4, we can at least stretch this out for another week of enjoyment and (false) hope before a long offseason begins.
As always, it helps to get the perspective of people watching with an unbiased eye. I reached out to a couple of pals keeping a close eye on the Eastern Conference to get their thoughts, asking what they see the chances of the Raptors extending the series to seven are.
Eric Buenning, BrewHoop: I give the Raptors somewhere between 0-5 percent odds to force a game 7 (sorry, Canada!). I just don’t think it’s possible. I don’t think the Raptors can suddenly start playing amazing defense, especially against #PlayoffWittman and the three-happy Wizards. I’m sorry. I want to root for you, but I just can’t do it.
So, how could they get to a Game 7? Lowry and DeRozan are going to have be the better backcourt the rest of the way by a clear margin. They can’t afford to just go toe-to-toe with Wall and Beal, they’ll have to completely control them. Also, taking a bat to Paul Pierce’s knees wouldn’t be the worst idea!
The reason I pick Lowry and DeRozan though is because that’s where your offense will likely stem from. It’s not just them outscoring Wall & Beal, it’s how they’d affect the other players. Wall’s ability to gash the defense and kick it out to those shooters is just as valuable as his scoring. You see what I’m getting at here?
Michael Pina, Literally Everywhere: 10%.
The biggest problem for Toronto right now, besides Kyle Lowry’s questionable health, is that Washington doesn’t look like the same team that stumbled into the postseason with an aimless, unwatchable offense. Instead, they look like the team most thought they’d be all along, and then some.
They’ve attempted more threes than the Houston Rockets in these playoffs. Paul Pierce is shooting 55.6% from deep. Otto Porter is at 50%. Drew Gooden (!) is at 40%. Throw in the fact that John Wall is far and away the best player in the series, and the Raptors are in a hole they simply aren’t good enough to climb out of.
The good news is Toronto is murdering Washington’s starting lineup. But when Pierce goes to power forward (whether beside Marcin Gortat or Nene), all bets are off. Dwane Casey’s yet to solve that problem at either end of the floor. If he can, and Washington’s ungodly three-point shooting simmers down, then a seventh game is…possible? But not likely.
Raptors Twitter is not optimistic
I also made the mistake of reaching out on Twitter to get a general feel for how easily people can talk themselves into a comeback.
@BlakeMurphyODC if they had a 50-50 chance of winning every game, the odds of 3 in a row would still be p low
— Rudeboy Gobert (@Cam_Oflage) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC lol k
— William Lou (@william_lou) April 25, 2015
— Crazy Cashew (@andrewsaid) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC infinite. They would have to overcome their kryptonite in pierce! 1000 to 1?
— Coach Crewe (@coachstake41) April 25, 2015
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC also, stop doing drugs
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) April 25, 2015
— 6Man (@Marcolantouris) April 25, 2015
— Raptors Fan Zac™ (@ZacCanada) April 25, 2015
— TRR (@therajraj) April 25, 2015
— Shane D. Bartlett (@ezz_bee) April 25, 2015
— Hope Is All I’ve Got (@joeymwilson) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC 5 percent
— The Glue (@jovoscrapper) April 25, 2015
@BlakeMurphyODC Somewhere between 1 and 1.2%
— Mark R (@MR_Malice14) April 25, 2015
Playing with Odds
The percentage of teams who come back from down 0-3 to win a series: 0%
The percentage of teams who come back from down 0-3 to force a Game 7: 2.7%
The percentage of teams with home court who come back from down 0-3 to force a Game 7: I have no idea. I’m not willing to sort through 111 playoff series. But I’d imagine the odds are slightly higher, considering two of the final four games would be home affairs (including one of games 4-6).
Basketball-Reference still has the Raptors with an 11.7-percent chance at winning the series, a number that’s almost surely inflated by their early-season success.
These are not great odds if you’re Toronto. Even if you assumed they have a 50-percent chance to win each game, a loose assumption, their odds of forcing a Game 7 would be just 12.5 percent (1-in-8) and their odds of winning the series would be 6.25 percent (1-in-16). Those are bad odds but good enough to dream on.
But the Raptors don’t have a 50-percent chance to win each Game. They’re a -240 underdog in Game 4, implying roughly a 29.5-percent chance of winning on Sunday. They were four- and five-point favorites at home in Games 1 and 2 but are likely to be closer to a pick-’em in Game 5. If we assumed win probabilities of 29.5 percent, 55 percent, 40 percent (hey, they’re hot!) and 55 percent, the Raptors would still only have a 6.5-percent chance at forcing a Game 7 and a 3.6-percent chance of winning the series. In a less optimistic scenario (29.5%, 50%, 35%, 50%), those odds are 4.4 and 2.2 percent. In a more optimistic scenario (29.5%, 57%, 43%, 57%), they’re 7.2 and 4.1 percent.
In each case, these odds aren’t good. They’re not even remotely good.
But they’re greater than zero, and at some point, the NBA is going to have their 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs or 2004 Boston Red Sox. It’s not going to be the 2015 Toronto Raptors, but until the odds are zero (hopefully not until Wednesday, at least), then they’re not zero.