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Latest News, NBA / Sep 30, 2013 / 10:30 am

Report: League Likely To Approve Change In NBA Finals Format

Larry Bird, Magic Johnson

In 1985, after Boston’s former coach and resident genius Red Auerbach complained about all the cross-country travel associated with the current NBA Finals schedule (where Boston was playing L.A.), then-new commissioner David Stern decided to adopt the 2-3-2 format. Now, after the Competition Committee voted unanimously to switch back to the 2-2-1-1-1 format on Sunday, it appears the change back is coming.

First reported by the Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett, the Competition Committee’s vote likely presages the owner’s ratification when they convene to vote on the measure next month at their annual meeting.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Sunday, “The idea was raised at the Competition Committee and was well-received and the committee ultimately unanimously voted to recommend the change in format.”

Most NBA observers feel the 2-3-2 format gives an unfair advantage to the away team in the series. If the road team splits one of their first two games, they have an opportunity to seal the series at home in the next three games. It also gives the away team home-court advantage in the pivotal game 5. Overall, there have been 27 NBA Finals tied at 2-2, and the winner of game 5 went on to win the series 20 instances.

Since the switch in 1985, there have been 11 NBA Finals that were tied 2-2 heading into that pivotal game 5, and the winner of game 5 went on to claim the series in 7 of those Finals. The 4 instances where the loser of game 5 went on to win: 1988, after the Pistons won Game 5 in Detroit, only to lose the final two games on the road to the Lakers; 1994, the Houston Rockets lost Game 5 on the road in New York before winning the next two at home; 2010, the Lakers lost Game 5 in Boston before winning their next two at home; 2013, the Heat lost Game 5 in San Antonio before barely clinching their second-straight title with two wins at home in Games 6 and 7 against the Spurs.

The winners of game 5 in the Finals, who went on to win the NBA Finals, is pretty evenly split among home and away:

-2011 Mavs win at home
-2006 Heat win at home
-1985 Lakers win at home

-2005 Spurs win on the road in Detroit
-2003 Spurs win on the road in New Jersey
-1997 Bulls win on the road in Utah
-1992 Bulls win on the road in Portland

But the 2-3-2 format basically rewards the team without home-court advantage, and Red inadvertently hurt his 1985 team because the Lakers went on to win Game 5 at home before clinching in Game 6 on the road in Boston. The best teams — from above — went on to win their game 5 on the road when the series was tied 2-2, but you’re talking about two dynasties in Tim Duncan‘s Spurs and Michael Jordan‘s Bulls.

The home team that won game 5 still had to close out the series on the road. MJ’s Bulls only closed out a single title (in 1992) at home, and benefited from the 2-3-2 format probably more than any other team since the change in ’85.

The change could rile traditionalists, but since it originally changed in 1985, there is precedent for the 2-2-1-1-1 format in the Finals before that, and the rest of the playoffs feature the 2-2-1-1-1 already. This is without mentioning the ease of air travel. In Red’s day in the mid-80s, basketball teams still flew coach with the reporters, so the 2-3-2 made more sense to rest players who were sleepily climbing off public planes after a grinding NBA season. Now every team flies private chartered planes, and the NBA gives extra days to rest during the Finals to extend coverage on the networks.

The move back to the 2-2-1-1-1 format should be ratified next month by the owners. Now the only question is whether the change will be implemented in time for the 2014 Playoffs, or if the league will wait a season before the new Finals structure is in place.

It just got a whole lot harder for lower seeded teams to win the NBA Finals, which is as it should be, since why play a regular season if you’re not getting a distinct advantage in the postseason for every round — most importantly, in the Finals.

What do you think of the change?

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  • 2cents

    If they are going to make this change, can they also please look at just including the top 16 teams in the playoffs, instead of the best 8 from each conference?