It first happened all the way back in 2003, when Doc Rivers was still the head coach of the Orlando Magic.
That year, with MVP-level Tracy McGrady leading the way, the Magic held a 3-1 series lead over the Detroit Pistons and looked poised to reach the second round of the postseason.
McGrady even famously told the media following Game 4 that it felt “good” to get to the second round, something he hadn’t accomplished to that point.
Well, the Pistons went on to win Game 5 by 31 points and Games 6 and 7 by 15 points apiece to win the series in seven.
To be fair, it was commendable for that Orlando team, whose second-leading scorer that in that series was Drew Gooden at 14 points per game and third-leading scorer was Darrell Armstrong at 9.4 nightly points, was even in that position, up 3-1 against a Pistons team that would go on to win a title just one season later.
However, it happened again in 2015, in the second round of the playoffs this time.
Rivers, now charged with leading a Los Angeles Clippers team who had prime Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as their best players, held a 3-1 series lead in the Conference semifinals over the Houston Rockets. They even managed to win one of those games without Paul, who was injured early in the series.
Nevertheless, history would repeat itself for Rivers as the Clippers would go on to lose the final three games of the series by a combined 44 points, falling just short of reaching the Conference Finals for the first time in the franchise’s history.
Well, unfortunately for Clippers fans, it happened for a third time Tuesday night, again to culminate a second-round series.
Granted, it was a very different version of the Clippers than the one in 2015, but one could easily argue this season’s version was more talented. And yet, it didn’t matter, as yet again, Los Angeles, holding a 3-1 lead over the plucky, young and talented Denver Nuggets, lost three games in a row and were sent packing just before reaching the Conference Finals.
Even worse? Like the prior two Rivers-helmed meltdowns, his team wasn’t really that competitive in any of the final three losses, as the Clippers lost Games 5, 6 and 7 to Denver by a combined 34 points.
Be it bad luck or whatever else, strange things tend to happen when a Rivers-coached team holds a 3-1 series lead, as he’s now the only coach in NBA history to blow three separate such advantages in playoff series.
In fact, he’s the only person to have even done it twice, let alone three times.
For good measure, we should also note: Rivers also holds the record for most Game-7 losses with eight. No other coach has more than five such defeats. What’s more, he has now also lost an astonishing six playoff series after his teams have had a 3-2 lead, a feat that is almost hard to fathom.
Doc Rivers has now lost six series after being up 3-2 and three after being up 3-1.
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) September 16, 2020
It’ll be interesting to see what happens going forward.
Will the aggressive Steve Ballmer, owner of the Clippers since 2014, give Rivers another shot to coach a Kawhi Leonard-led team with championship-or-bust expectations?
Or might this latest feat of playoff futility by Rivers cost the veteran head coach his job?
We should find out soon enough.
For more on Rivers’ job security, keep an eye on this.