The cigar smoking old timer, a Yoda type in NBA circles, said the travel in the NBA finals was too difficult since the East Coast-West Coast trips logged a bunch of miles, especially in games five, six and seven. This was a time to think logically, Darth Stern.
Instead, the NBA’s Sith Lord decided to accept this ludicrous suggestion. In 1985 the NBA finals changed the home-game format to the dreaded 2-3-2 we have today. What does that mean?
The NBA playoffs have a 2-2-1-1-1 format, which means the team with homecourt advantage hosts games one, two, five and seven. Seems fair, right?
Imagine a tough playoff series in which homecourt advantage holds and it’s tied at two games apiece going into game five. Well, that team with homecourt advantage has the luxury to go home, rest up and take that series edge in its own building. With a win, the home club has two chances to win the series: either game six on the road or a do-or-die game seven at home.
This fair format undergoes a wild change when the NBA finals begin. The team with homecourt advantage is punished by having to run the gauntlet in three straight games. No game five comfort at home. Thank you, random 2-3-2 format.
How much sense does this make? Why the sudden change? Do Jedi suddenly crave adventure and excitement?
If Darth Stern was so concerned with long airplane rides, just make sure there are two days between travel games instead of one. The NBA does make the schedule, duh.
Home teams in the middle gauntlet, however, can’t always take advantage of their newfound good fortune. Only two home teams have won the three middle games — the 2004 Detroit Pistons and the 2006 Miami Heat.
Detroit in 2004 took advantage of a Los Angeles Lakers team in complete disarray. The Lakers had these distractions: Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s feud, Karl Malone’s injury, Phil Jackson’s lame duck contract situation, Bryant’s questionable shot selection and not passing the ball to Shaq (the Diesel totally ate up Ben Wallace, he only shot about 60 percent from the field that year).
That was the beginning of Kobe’s transition from a promising Anakin Skywalker to the nefarious Darth Vader. But like Vader, Kobe has brought balance to the Force as he has recreated himself as the face of the championship Lakers and the face of the league. The donation of Pau Gasol helped in that championship run too.
The Heat probably wouldn’t have won the title in ’06. The Dallas Mavericks took the first two at home then dropped all three in Miami providing the Heat with enough momentum to snatch the championship in game six on the road.
The middle games bring tremendous pressure for both squads. In the case of the Lakers, they split the first two games and now face the reality that they could watch the Celtics celebrate another championship at home.
“We ain’t coming back to L.A.,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said in the closing seconds of game two.
History says you probably will, Paul.
Does anyone honestly think the Lakers will drop four games in a row? They’re not the ’91 Lakers with injuries to James Worthy and Byron Scott or the ’01 76ers who were squashed by the juggernaut Lakers. The ’91 Lakers and ’01 76ers both won game one of the NBA finals and didn’t sniff victory after that.
Boston, if it doesn’t win all three games, must win another playoff game in Los Angeles to take the trophy.
Under the 2-2-1-1-1 format the Celtics could return home for a game six to win. Sorry, Boston.
Get rid of the asinine 2-3-2 format. Why fix what isn’t broken? The playoffs work fine in the first three rounds. There is no debate at all about 2-2-1-1-1.
What’s next, Jar Jar Binks receiving the title of Jedi Master and wielding two lightsabers against his foes? That makes about as much sense as playing three home games in a row in the NBA finals.