Home-court advantage isn't what it seems in the NBA Finals.
Each of the three previous playoff rounds operate under a 2-2-1-1-1 format. Upon reaching the finals, it changes to 2-3-2, throwing participating teams like the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs for a slight whirl.
Ample time is spent gunning for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Players not named Dwyane Wade forego rest in hopes winning a turf war before the playoffs even start.
In the preceding playoff rounds, that edge means a lot. Once a series moves beyond Game 4, the 1-1-1 format for the latter three games doesn't give one team enough time to build momentum. A win can act as a catalyst, but it's not as consequential as, say, playing three consecutive games at the same location.
That's the quandary top-seeded factions are faced with in the NBA Finals. It's what the Heat are going up against now.
Losing one of the first two games at home, like Miami did, forces the "favorite" to win at least one game on the road to keep their ambitions alive. Going 0-for-3 seems beyond comprehension this late in the postseason, but it's possible.
Teams are supposed to hold their home court. If the Spurs do, they'll be crowned NBA champions.
Certain accounts wouldn't even suggest holding serve in the inaugural two games does much. Should the opposing team follow suit, the higher-ranked team suddenly returns home down 3-2, facing elimination.
At present, that's not the scenario the Heat or Spurs are facing. Nor is San Antonio guaranteed to run away with the title at home. But the opportunity is there.
Playing three straight games in San Antonio gives the Spurs a chance to break the series open, regardless of what had happened in the first two. Had they lost both, they could have found solace in knowing they play a trio of games at home, where they were 35-6 during the regular season. Game 1 went to them though, so they're on a mission to hold their home court, a stand that, if successful, would culminate in a title.
That's precisely what the 2-3-2 setup does: It gives the lower-seeded opponent a chance to shift the momentum of the entire series, regardless of what happened in the previous two games. And the Spurs were lucky enough to steal a victory in Miami. Now that they're headed back to San Antonio, think of the possibilities.
Then think of how important Game 3 of the finals has been to teams in similar situations to that of the Heat and Spurs.
Since the NBA implemented the current final-round structure in 1985, the Game 3 winner of a tied series (1-1) has gone on to win a ring 92.3 percent of the time (12-1), according to the Elias Sports Bureau via NBA History on Twitter.
No matter where you stand on the repercussions of the NBA Finals schematic, the Spurs appear to have a clear edge.
The series is tied, the Spurs are headed back to San Antonio for Game 3 and the victor of said contest usually goes on to reap the spoils of a championship. Having lost just six times at home through the regular season, the Spurs have to like their chances.
Only it's not that simple. It never is.
One of the six teams the Spurs lost to at home was the Heat, a notion that doesn't necessarily mean absolutely nothing.
San Antonio was without Manu Ginobili, but Miami was down LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. That a fragmented Heat squad was able to put away a Spurs team almost at full strength speaks to the former's resolve.
Small sample sizes are the enemy of logic, though. Game 3 is different for a number of reasons, chiefly that both outfits are at full strength (on paper) and it's a different part of the season. The edge must then be given to the Spurs, who are at home and have thus put the pressure back on the Heat. Game 3, then, is a contest they're going to win.
History says otherwise.
Per ESPN Stats and Info (h/t Marc Stein), road teams are 9-4 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals when the series is knotted at one game apiece.
Past precedence sides with the Heat. Better yet, the Heat's own precedent sides with the Heat.
The Big Three began their tenure together with an NBA Finals appearance in 2011. After winning Game 1 at home against the Dallas Mavericks, the Heat dropped Game 2. Then they won Game 3, accounting for one of the nine aforementioned road wins.
But of course, they then lost three straight, falling two victories shy of the championship.
Dallas is the perfect example of how a 2-3-2 makeup can favor the team with the worse regular-season record. The Mavs stole one on the road, mostly took care of business at home and put themselves in position to win a title in Game 6. Which they did.
San Antonio has the potential to do the same. The Spurs are 6-1 at home during the postseason and a mere victory away from history being on their side.
Logic dictates that we be on their side too. Regaining home-court advantage is supposed to be a good thing. With an away win in Game 1, that's what the Spurs have done.
On the other hand, past events favor the Heat. They've been Game 3's visiting winner, and they're an impressive 5-2 on the road thus far in these playoffs, with each of those wins coming by double digits. What's more, they have the momentum following a big Game 2 win.
Forced to choose, go with the Heat. One win ensures they head back to Miami. Winning in Game 3 puts history on their side, but even if they lose on Tuesday, given some of their road performances in the recent and less-recent past, it shouldn't prove too difficult for them to grab at least one victory in San Antonio.
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