NBA Final Four prone to 'unders'

May 20, 2008 7:00 PM

Feist Facts by Jim Feist | We’re down to the Final Four in the NBA Playoffs, and what an exciting three-year postseason run it has been.

The 2006 playoffs saw more games decided by one point in NBA history. Last postseason we saw the biggest upset in a 7-game series, as the No. 8 seeded Warriors shocked the 67-win and top- seeded Mavericks in six games.

This has been a fascinating postseason, as well, one that probably will be remembered as, "The Year of Home Court Dominance."

The Pistons come into this round 4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS in their last four home games. Top seeded Boston started 7-0 SU, 5-2 ATS at home, but 0-5 SU/ATS on the road. The Cavaliers started 4-1 SU/ATS at home, while the home team won and covered the first five games of the Spurs/Hornets series.

We’ve also seen some "clash of styles," with the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns battling the defensive-oriented Spurs. Chalk up another victory for defense over offense, as the Spurs won that series in 5. That was old hat for San Antonio, too. On the way to winning the title last season the Spurs had to face three up-tempo teams in Denver, Phoenix and Utah, going 12-4 SU, 11-5 ATS.

The Lakers/Nuggets series was expected to be up-tempo because of the Nuggets breakneck pace behind Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. Yet, there was a lot more defense (by the Lakers) than fans and oddsmakers might have anticipated as the last three games went under the total.

That’s nothing new, either.

A year ago the Warriors/Mavericks series was expected to be up-tempo under Don Nelson’s breakneck style. Yet, four of the six games went under the total. Game 2 jumped over the total by only one point, while Games 1, 3, 4 and 6 went under by 32, 11, 8 and 12 points.

That’s because defense has the edge this time of the season. Remember that defense is often the common ingredient in all sports when it comes to advancing in the postseason and winning a championship.

In 2004, the flashy, high profile Lakers opened as a 5-1 favorite over the blue-collar Pistons. The early money came in on LA as the public was enamored with the flashy team (as usual), and the Pistons were eventually +700 to win the title. It was the blue-collar team, with its unselfish play and slam-dunk defense, that won the title with ease, as the Pistons whipped the Lakers in 5.

Three years ago, the two unselfish, blue-collar teams met for the title as the Spurs topped the Pistons in seven games. In 2006, Pat Riley’s Heat used defense and Dwyane Wade to come back from 2-0 in the NBA Finals, and last season the Spurs rode their magnificent defense to another title, their fourth since 1999.

Last season everyone was rooting for the Cinderella Warriors and their exciting, up-tempo style, but Utah used its superior defense and inside play to put an end to the Warriors season. This year the Denver Nuggets averaged 110 points per game during the regular season, but were held to 101 by the Lakers in their four-game sweep.

Denver had the same problem last season, as the Spurs turned on their defensive jets and held Iverson and Anthony to 88, 91, 89 and 78 points the last four games, all wins by San Antonio.

Often the better defensive teams advance. When the Pistons won the title four years ago they were 14-8-1 under the total in the postseason. When the Spurs won the title in 2005, six of their first eight playoff games sailed below the total. The 2006 champion Miami Heat went 10-2 under for their final 12 playoff games. Last season the under went 3-1 in the Spurs/Cavs NBA Finals.

In the last five years, the under is 49-35-1 combined in the Eastern/Western Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.