The Saving Postseason?
The first two days have been a blessing from the bball gods.
But the NBA has been dwindling in popularity this past decade specifically, so while that 27-year overview of the first-round mystery is a good indicator, it’s the recent history that proves to be the real killer. Since 2000, we’ve only had the pleasure of seeing 17 upsets in 88 series. Can you guess how many of those 17 were seven or eight seeds?
One seven seed—San Antonio last year. One eight seed—Golden State in 2007.
Two. Come on.
So while we’re already off to a horrible start, at least we can say we have two memorable series so far, right? Wrong. If you remember correctly, both of these upsets came at the expense of one team, the Dallas Mavericks. The definition of underachievers. Mark Cuban’s club has won at least 50 games for the past ten years and has only made it to the conference finals twice in that span, with no championships to boot. In fact, their most wins of the Cuban era came in 2007 when they posted an impressive 67-15 record but got embarrassed by the lowly Warriors in six games out of the gate. They also failed to take it to seven games in the Spurs series as well last year…and let’s not forget that they had total control of the 2006 Finals with a 2-0 lead but failed to finish off the job. I know that doesn’t relate to the first round, but it just further proves how inept Dallas has been in the playoffs. Taking that into account, which drowns out the shock factor, along with the fact that the Mavs couldn’t even bring these series back to their home-court for a game seven, and you can’t say that either of those series were really, truly mind-blowing.
So, what else can we look to? Long series, dramatic games, close contests, game sevens. The mecca of pro-sports postseasons.
For this, we can only date back to 2003 when the NBA finally changed the first round from best-of-five to best-of-seven. And folks, it doesn’t get much better. Since 2003, only 11 of 64 (17.2 percent) opening-round series have gone the distance and merely four of those 11 involved a one or two seed. And I’d only consider one of the four a memorable series, the two vs seven matchup of Boston-Chicago in 2009.
First of all, none of the four game sevens were close at all, so that doesn’t help matters much. The eighth-seeded Hawks took the Celtics to seven in 2008 where each home team won every game, yet only games four and six were close. And the C’s understandably had a lot of pressure on them as it was the first year their big three were together. After they got their act together and demolished Atlanta, 99-65, in game seven, they rode their stars to the Finals and left that series in a distant memory. And so have many of us to be honest. In 2006, Phoenix was the two seed and got taken to seven by the seventh seeded Lakers. Hm, I’m sure people were crazy shocked that L.A. made a run there. But even so, Kobe and his boys got destroyed 121-90 in game seven, which promptly shut down any exciting factor that series had to offer. And finally (and I couldn’t even recall this series all that well), but the eighth seeded Magic took the Pistons to the brink back in 2003. Orlando was actually up 3-1, but Detroit mustered up three straight victories, by margins of 31, 15 and 15 to escape the series. Not exactly the most exciting stuff I’ve seen in sports.
So really, while the Celtics did pull away in game seven against the Bulls back in 2009, nobody in their right mind could forget that series. Seven overtimes in the first six games, including a double-OT gamefourand the amazing triple-OT game six that featured a 51-point performance from Ray Allen despite Chicago winning by one. Derrick Rose made his name known to the world. Ben Gordon was sensational and clutch every game. Even Johnny Salmons got in the mix. Great, great series. That’s one.
Now there are seven others that went seven games since 2003 that didn’t involve a top-two seed. And out of those seven, I’d say only two others qualified. Not surprisingly, both series played host to the only two teams that managed to win a first-round game seven on the road. The other five series featured limited exciting games as well as game seven blowouts so they’re out. But in 2005, the sixth seeded Pacers beat Boston, 97-70, in game seven, capping off their third road win of the series as they completely housed the Celtics in the deciding contest. Even though Boston failed to show up to make an exciting final game, the series was still extremely impressive by Reggie Miller and the Pacers.
And finally, the third and final series occurred in 2007 when the 4th seeded Utah Jazz actually failed to obtain home-court advantage by virtue of having a worse record then the Rockets even though the Jazz won their division. Utah felt the pressure of their precarious position going down two games to none in the series in H-town only to fight their way back until finally winning game seven in Houston, 103-99, behind a huge late three from Mehmet Okur and strong games from both Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams. It is the only really close game seven the opening round has seen, ever. It’s a sad state of affairs.
Three series. Out of 64.
Pretty boring stuff.
So that’s why, after such a glorious initial weekend of NBA Playoff basketball, I’m praying we get at least three classic series this year alone. All of these have the chance to go seven and have upsets except, sadly, the Sixers-Heat. Even though I know they will play Miami hard every game until the buzzer, I can’t see them winning more than one. But even still, there should be more close games than usual.
Now, I could be too over-psyched way early here. We could just end up witnessing a bunch of sweeps or five-gamers, a ton of blowouts, no game sevens, and then we go back to the classic first-round futility. I guess that’s why we watch the games.
The first round of the NCAA tournament (or now, as they’re calling it…the second round) is insanely amazing, dramatic and perhaps the best round of any sports tournament in the country. The NHL definitely doesn’t have a opening-round problem….and early ‘upsets’ occur in the MLB and NFL at a higher rate as well, but you can’t even really compare since there are far less teams that make the postseason in those leagues anyway.
Listen, the NBA playoffs are amazing and always become fun, passionate and worthwhile near mid-May and on. All I’m saying is it’s a damn shame most of us throw away the first couple weeks of the hoops postseason and when you really think about it, why wouldn’t we?
So, here’s to a bunch of opening round seven-gamers, more incredible finishes, huge buckets, Memphis and New Orleans pulling out the improbable, and the Pacers and Sixers to at least keep their series close and extended. Let’s make April memorable this year, not just May and June.