National Columnist

Message to Game 3 winner: Congratulations, NBA champion


DALLAS -- They don't know. You know about it. I know about it. But the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks? They have no idea.

They don't know about the Game 3 Curse.

It's a blessing too, I suppose, this Game 3 Curse. I mean, only one team gets screwed in the deal. The other team makes out pretty good, assuming it doesn't lose anyone in the championship parade.

Game 3 winner is 11 of 11
Eleven times since the NBA Finals went to the 2-3-2 format, teams have entered Game 3 tied 1-1. All 11 times, the Game 3 winner went on to win the title.
Year Winner Loser LengthMVP
2010Lakers Celtics 7 gamesBryant
2004Pistons Lakers 5 gamesBillups
2003Spurs Nets6 gamesDuncan
2001Lakers76ers5 gamesO'Neal
1998BullsJazz6 gamesJordan
1994RocketsKnicks7 gamesOlajuwon
1992BullsBlazers6 gamesJordan
1991BullsLakers5 gamesJordan
1990PistonsBlazers5 gamesThomas
1988LakersPistons7 gamesWorthy
1985LakersCeltics6 gamesJabbar

The NBA's Game 3 Curse is the most freaky historical stat I've ever heard when it comes to seven-game postseason series. And there are lots of historical stats in these playoff series, in any sport that has them. If you win the first two games, your odds are here. If you go up 3-1, your odds are there. Down 3-0? History says ...

Gag me. All that history stuff is nonsense. Nothing has ever been done, anywhere, until it was done for the first time. You follow? Just like records are meant to be broken, historical trends are meant to be bucked. Which means they're meant to be ignored. Because they're pointless. Stupid.

But this one ... it's freaky.

Since going to the 2-3-2 format for the NBA Finals in 1985 -- two games in one city, three games in the other, two games in the first city -- teams have split the first two games 11 times.

The winner of Game 3 has won the title 11 times. All 11 times.

Come on. Admit it. That's incredible.

"That's not even a big enough sample," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra sniffed.

Hang on. Wait a minute. This isn't something that has happened two or three times, or even five times in a row. This is 11 for 11. That's ominous, considering the Heat and Mavs are tied at 1-1 entering Game 3.

Spoelstra sniffed harder.

"I think both teams have bucked a lot of those numbers and odds up to this point already," he said. "We're a nontraditional team."

If by nontraditional he meant "clueless," then yes. Miami is a non-traditional team. So is Dallas under that definition, because like the Heat, the Mavs had no idea about the Game 3 Curse.

Consider Erik Spoelstra skeptical: 'That's not even a big enough sample.' (AP)  
Consider Erik Spoelstra skeptical: 'That's not even a big enough sample.' (AP)  
Until I told them about it Saturday.

What, you thought I wouldn't? Come on. This is crazy stuff, and anyway, I assumed they knew. Everyone else seems to know. I've heard it on TV, seen it all over the Internet. It's everywhere. Everywhere but the locker rooms of the two NBA teams about to play Game 3 in the NBA Finals.

Well, it's there now. Because I told them. And here were some of their answers.

Said Heat forward Udonis Haslem: "I hadn't heard that. It's a seven-game series. After Game 3, there's going to be a Game 4, and then obviously a Game 5. After that, we'll see."

Said Mavs guard Jose Juan Barea: "I think I heard something about that, but I didn't know the details. That's crazy, but I don't know what it means. All we're thinking is that we have a good chance to go up two games to one."

Said Heat guard Mario Chalmers: "First time I've heard that. Pretty freaky."

Isn't it? I mean, it's pointless and yet still so ... freaky. And up to a point, I understand how it has come to be. Look at it from the standpoint of the team that loses Game 3 to fall down 2-1. If you're not good enough to win twice in the first three games, how are you supposed to be good enough to win three of the final four? Obviously that's not going to happen very often, but still -- it should have happened at least once by now. Right? I mean, 11 times is no joke. That's a plenty big enough sample, Erik Spoelstra.

The Game 3 Curse has worked on both sides -- home and away. Seven times the road team, like Miami will be Sunday night, has won Game 3 and then won the whole thing. Four times it has been the home team, like Dallas.

The Game 3 Curse has claimed the best of the best. It has claimed the Celtics and Lakers, when the Celtics had Larry Bird 1985 and the Lakers had Magic Johnson in 1991. It even claimed the Lakers of Kobe Bryant, in 2004. Michael Jordan has contributed to the Game 3 Curse three times, leading the Bulls to victory in Game 3, and beyond, in 1991, '92 and '98.

NBA Finals: Mavericks-Heat
Royce Young Royce Young
One Finals team will be up against history after Game 3. Not a fun place to be. Read >>

Gregg Doyel Gregg Doyel
What we saw from Dirk Nowtizki on Thursday was insane. It was a great player doing what only a great player can do. Read More >>
Related links
2011 NBA Playoffs More playoffs coverage
Bracket, sked | Scores
Playoffs stats | Latest news

At some point, of course, you have to look at the actual results of games in those series to see why one team really won. The Lakers beat the Pistons in 1988 not because they won Game 3, but because James Worthy put up a mammoth triple-double in Game 7 -- 36 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists -- to spark a 108-105 victory. Then again, the Lakers were around for Game 7 in part because they won Game 3. And also because they won Game 6, when the Pistons had a chance in the final seconds to win, but couldn't get off a decent shot after Isiah Thomas collided with teammate Dennis Rodman on the inbounds play, triggering offensive chaos.

That's the Game 3 Curse, if you ask me. It's chaos. It's insane. Eleven times? All 11 times? That's nuts.

Wanting to hear it from someone else, though, I took it to Mavs forward Peja Stojakovic. He has spent 13 years in the league. He has been to the playoffs 11 times. Been there? He has done that. But Stojakovic had never heard of the Game 3 Curse until I told him about it Saturday.

Stojakovic looked at me with disinterest. At first. Gave me one of those condescending Tony La Russa looks, lifting his eyebrows as he considered something not really worth considering.

"I hadn't heard about that," he told me.

Yeah, I said, but it's true. Eleven Game 3 winners. Eleven NBA champions.

"It's an amazing statistic," Stojakovic said, warming to the improbability.

Yeah, I said, because ...

"It's a good statistic," Stojakovic said, interrupting me. "Really good."

I know, right? It seems ...

"Crazy," Stojakovic said.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

Biggest Stories

CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
Conversation powered by Livefyre


Most Popular Shop