Improbable Comebacks

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
More improbable comeback – Houston Rockets or New York Rangers?



The Houston Rockets are heading to the conference finals for the first time since 1997 after overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to the Los Angeles Clippers. The New York Rangers advanced to the NHL conference finals with a Game 7 victory over the Washington Capitals last week that erased a 3-1 series lead.

Which team had the more improbable comeback?

Historically

Houston became the ninth team in NBA history to win a playoff series after trailing 3-1. The Rockets are one of two teams to come back from a 3-1 deficit more than once.

The Rangers are the first team in NHL history to come back from a 3-1 postseason deficit in consecutive years.

By the Numbers

Houston was our projected straight-up favorite in two of the final three games, Game 5 and Game 7 – both at home. The Rockets were never greater than 52% likely to win any game and had just a 39% chance to win Game 6 in Los Angeles and extend the series.

The odds that Houston would win Game 5, Game 6 and Game 7 were 10.3%.

New York, like Houston, was the projected favorite in two games, both at home. The Rangers had a 64% chance to win Game 5 and a 63% chance to win Game 7. The crucial Game 6 on the road in Washington was a tossup by our numbers. New York had a 48% chance to force a Game 7.

The odds that New York would win all three games were 19.4%.

Historically, NHL teams have rallied from a 3-1 deficit 8.7% of the time while NBA teams have come back just 3.6% of the time when trailing 3-1 in a best of seven series.

The Rockets were half as likely to win their three games against the Clippers as the Rangers were against the Capitals. Those numbers are influenced by many factors including New York being the No. 1 team in our Power Rankings entering the NHL Playoffs and the Rockets being underdogs in their series against the Clippers.

It is rare to overcome a 3-1 deficit in any sport but the Rockets had a more improbable comeback.