NBA’s 2-3-2 Finals plan
most often doesn’t equal 7

Jun 13, 2006 5:34 AM

The NBA Finals shift this week from Texas to Florida as the Mavericks head to Miami for Games 3, 4, and 5. Previous series were in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, but the Finals shifts to 2-3-2. Many fans find this odd, and it is. The reason for change —: M-O-N-E-Y.

The NBA prefers a longer series to build up interest and increase television ratings. The league won’t admit it, of course, but the 2-3-2 format was instituted because it’s theoretically tougher for a team to win the first two games at home, then take two of the next three on the road.

The league wants a six or seven-game series, not five.

It also hasn’t worked often, either. Granted, last season there was a Game 7 between the Pistons and Spurs. However, that was the first in the Finals since 1994. Over the last six years the Finals have gone 5, 6, 5, 4, 6, 5 and 7 games. Too many sweeps and five-game series are not exactly what television executives and ratings observers would like.

It wasn’t always this way. 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. From 1976-84, there were three seventh games in the Finals and five that went 6. Since 1985, the 2-3-2 format has produced just three seven-game Finals (1988, 1994, 2005).

Some players have even suggested that the team with home court doesn’t really have an edge — forced to play three straight road games in the middle of the Finals. Not having home court appeared to help the Pistons two years ago. Detroit got a split in LA in the first two games, came home and swept the middle three for the title.

When the Celtics defeated the Lakers over seven games in 1984, they took a 3-2 series lead by winning the key fifth game at home. In the rematch a year later, the Lakers won the fifth game at home to lead 3-2 lead went on to take the series under the new 2-3-2 format.

Celtics star Larry Bird said he didn’t like the format change, especially with the all-important fifth game on the road. Bird said that even though his team had earned the home court edge via a better regular season record.

Over the last six years the home team is 30-8 SU, 23-14-1 ATS in the Finals, with the favorite at 24-15 SU/19-19-1 ATS. Recent results show the home team getting the money, but is just 10-10 SU/6-13-1 ATS in the NBA Finals.

Dallas is 32-18 SU on the road and 12-5 ATS as a dog, Miami a disappointing 20-28 ATS at home. It it comes down to free throw shooting, the Mavs shot 78 percent (sixth in the league). The Heat were next to last.

Miami and Dallas finished in the NBA’s top 10 in field goal percentage allowed. A year ago, the Pistons and Spurs finished the regular season 1-2 the NBA defensively and met in the Finals. This certainly adds to the long list of teams that have won titles with defense.

Just remember the old adage: "Defense wins championships." It might have been fun to have the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns in the Finals, but don’t discount defense this time of year when all is on the line.