Money, ratings dictate NBA Final's shift to 2-3-2 format

Jun 11, 2013 3:04 AM

The NBA Finals continues this week moving to San Antonio for Games 3, 4 and 5.

The Spurs stole Game 1 in Miami, but were blown out in Game 2 last Sunday so the series stands 1-1 heading to San Antonio for the next three.

Many fans find this odd, as all the previous series are in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, but then the Finals shift to a 2-3-2 format. It is odd, but there are two reasons for the change –money and ratings.

The NBA prefers a longer series to build up interest and increase television ratings. The league won’t admit it, but the 2-3-2 format was instituted because it’s theoretically tougher for a team to win the first two games at home than win 2 of the next 3 on the road to close out a series in 5. The league wants 6 or 7, not 5.

Despite 2010’s Celtics/Lakers Game 7, it really hasn’t worked often. Since 1994 there have only been three 7-game Finals. Over the last 13 years the Finals have gone 5, 6, 5, 4, 6, 5, 7, 6, 4, 6, 5, 7, 6 and 5 games. Too many sweeps and 5-game series – 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 during an earlier series when the Celtics and Lakers met during the Bird/Magic years.

Before that, the Finals had always been 2-2-1-1-1, which worked fine. In fact, from 1976-84 there were three Game 7’s in the Finals and five series that went 6. Since 1985 under the 2-3-2 format there have more sweeps (4) than 7-game NBA Finals (just three, 1988, 1994, 2005).

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 appeared to help the Heat last year, getting a split in Oklahoma City after losing Game 1, then blitzing the young, wide-eyed Thunder with three straight home victories.

OKC’s reward for having a better regular season record: Playing 3 of 5 NBA Finals games on the road. That’s what happened nine years ago when the Pistons got a split in LA in the first two, then came home and swept the middle three for the title.

Seven years ago Miami got back in the series, down 2-0, then sweeping the middle three at home to take charge on the way to winning a title. Dallas returned the favor in 2011 getting a split in Miami before winning 2 of 3 at home.

When the Celtics defeated the Lakers in 7 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. That’s an edge that won’t be possible this Finals. A year later (1985) when the two met again, the Lakers won the fifth game at home to take a 3-2 series lead and went on to win the series under the new 2-3-2 format.

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

You can argue the same thing happened in 2006 when the Mavericks went up 2-0 at home, then had to play three in a row in Miami. The Heat won all three, including the pivotal fifth game, putting the pressure on Dallas.

Not counting this current series, over the last 14 years the home team is 58-20 SU, 47-29-1 ATS in the Finals, while the favorite is 52-26 SU/44-33-1 ATS.

Recent results show the home team stepping up and getting the money, while the favorite often wins but doesn’t always cover. In fact, from 2001-2004 the home team went just 10-10 SU/6-13-1 ATS in the Finals

Defense often rules. Last year the Heat and Thunder were fourth and fifth in field goal shooting defense. The ultimate champion Miami ranked No. 4 in points allowed, while OKC was only 17.

In 2008 the Celtics and Lakers were in the top six in defensive field goal percentage allowed, while Boston was second in points allowed. In 2009 Orlando and LA had reputations of being all-offense, but Orlando was at 6th in points allowed and LA was 13th; plus the Lakers were sixth in field goal shooting defense while the Magic was third (43%).

We’ll soon know if the old men of San Antonio have another title in them or if this is a true Miami dynasty.

Jim Feist, author and leader in sports information for over 40 years, hosts TV’s Proline as well as running National Sports Services since 1975. Follow him on twitter: @JimFeistSports . Reach him at [email protected]

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