2-3-2 creates home disadvantage

Jun 14, 2005 12:05 AM

The NBA Finals shift this week from Texas to Michigan as the Spurs head to Detroit for Games 3, 4, and 5.

Many fans find this odd, as all the previous series are in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, but then the Finals shifts to a 2-3-2 format. It is odd, but there are several reasons for the change. The official NBA version is it cuts down travel time for players and media representatives as East meets West. The unofficial version is M-O-N-E-Y.

The NBA prefers a longer series to build up interest and increase television ratings. The 2-3-2 format theoretically makes it tougher for a team to win the first two games at home, then win two of the next three on the road to close out a series in five games. The league doesn’t want five games — much preferring six or seven.

It also hasn’t worked lately.

There hasn’t been a seventh game for the NBA title since 1994. Over the last five years, the Finals have gone 5, 6, 5, 4, 6 and 5 games — not exactly what television executives and ratings specialists would like. It wasn’t always this way, either. The 2-3-2 format, which copies the World Series, was put into effect for the 1985 NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers. Before that, the Finals had always been 2-2-1-1-1, which worked fine. In fact, from 1976-84 there were three seventh games in the Finals and five series that went six games. Since 1985 under the 2-3-2 format there have only been two seven-game NBA Finals (1988, 1994).

Some players have even suggested that the team with home court doesn’t really have an edge for the Finals, being forced to play three road games in a row in the middle. Not having home court last season appeared to help the Pistons, which split the first two games in LA and sweep three in Detroit for the title.

When the Celtics defeated the Lakers in seven games in 1984 (the last of the 2-2-1-1-1 format), they took a 3-2 series lead by winning the key fifth game at home. A year later, in the rematch, the Lakers won the fifth game at home to take a 3-2 series lead and went on to win under the new 2-3-2 format. Celtics star Larry Bird commented that he thought the format change didn’t make sense, and didn’t like the fact that the all-important fifth game was on the road even though his team had earned the home court edge via a better regular season record.

Not counting this current series, over the last five years the "under" is 16-14 in the Finals. This indicates that oddsmakers are tuned in fairly well to the proper total. The home team is 24-6 SU, 17-12-1 ATS in those games, while the favorite is just 18-13 SU and 13-17-1 ATS. Recent results show the favorite stepping up and getting the money, but the home team hasn’t had as big an edge as many might think. In fact, from 2001-2004 the home team went just 10-10 SU and 6-13-1 ATS in the Finals.

It was interesting that the Pistons and Spurs finished the regular season ranked 1-2 in the NBA defensively. This certainly adds to the long list of teams that have won titles with defense, supporting the old adage that "Defense wins championships." This is the fifth time that the top defensive teams have met, though the first since 1970. For the record, those other years where the best defensive teams clashed were 1955, 1960, 1962, 1970. It might have been fun to have the run-and-gun Suns in the Finals, but if you ever doubted the importance of defense in sports, this series should set you straight.