Why the NBA Should Return to the 2-2-1-1-1 Format for the Finals

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Why the NBA Should Return to the 2-2-1-1-1 Format for the Finals
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

I have never liked the 2-3-2 format for a seven-game playoff series.  I am convinced it gives the team with the home court advantage too much of a edge. 

Surprisingly, last year I heard two people from Boston (a sports radio talk show host and the Celtics head coach, Doc Rivers), complain about the the 2-3-2 format because they feel that it gives the team with the home court advantage less of an advantage than the 2-2-1-1-1 format.

What are they smoking? I might have expected that from a sports talk show host—who are rarely as smart as they think they are—but not from Rivers, who seems like an intelligent guy (and, after leading the Celtics last year to an NBA Title, looks even smarter now).

Their complaint was that, with the 2-3-2 format, the team with the home court advantage does not get the "pivotal Game Five" at home. First of all, Game Five may be be pivotal when the series is tied at 2-2; however, it is only pivotal when the series is exactly 2-2. 

There have been 61 finals played in NBA history and in fewer than half (25) was there a fifth game played when the series was tied 2-2. In these series, when the the NBA used the 2-3-2 format (1949, 1953-55, 85-present), the team with the home-court advantage won an impressive 9-of-11 finals (81.9 percent). 

When the NBA used the 2-2-1-1-1 format (or a similar format with the fifth and seventh games still played at the home court of the team with the home-court advantage), the team with the home-court advantage only won 10-of-14 finals (71.4 percent).

This is partially because even if the team the with home-court advantage loses Game Five and goes down 3-2, they now have the HUGE advantage of having both Game Six and Seven at home. In the history of the NBA Finals, the home team (before Game Five of the 2008 Finals) is 227-126, or a 64.3 winning percent. 

And no team has EVER won Games Six and Seven on the road to win the Finals. However, three times teams have won Games Six and Seven at home to win the Finals. 

Also, in NBA history, when the 2-3-2 format has been used, the team with the home-court advantage has a 22-5 record (81.4 percent) in winning the Finals, while they are only 24-10 (70.6 percent) with the other formats.

The other complaint that I read concerning the 2-3-2 format was that the team with the home-court advantage is at a disadvantage because they have to play three straight games on the road (unless someone is swept) in front of a raucous crowd.

While there is some validity to this argument, the other side of the coin is: It is extremely difficult to beat a great team three straight games—even if all three games are at home. Statistically, this has held true in the NBA Finals. 

Under the 2-3-2 format, the team WITHOUT the home court advantage is only 37-34 at home, or a 52.1 winning percentage. 

In 28 tries, only three times (only once in the first 24 tries) have they won all three games at home; in addition, three times they have lost all three games at home.

The bottom line is: Would you rather have Games Six and Seven at home or Games Five and Seven at home? I'll take the former, and the statistics (as of 2008) back up my reasoning (the extra traveling is not a persuasive argument to me with today's jets).

For that reason, the 2-3-2 format is too much of an edge for the team with home-court advantage and the NBA should return to the 2-2-1-1-1 format in the Finals to ensure the fairest outcome.

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