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NBA Post-Season in the Rear View Mirror

   by Larry Ness - 06/19/2008

On May 30th, the Celtics were in Detroit to play the Pistons in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It had taken Boston seven games to beat the 37-win Hawks in the first round and the Celtics needed seven more games to get by the Cavs in the semifinals, while going 1-6 ATS. Now in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics led the Pistons 3-2 in games but entering Game 6, Boston was just 1-7 SU and ATS in road games in the playoffs to-date and just 3-9 ATS over its previous 12 postseason games overall.

After scoring the first basket of the fourth quarter, the Pistons led the Celtics 70-60 and the series seems as if it was headed back to Boston for a Game 7, which would have Boston's third in as many series. However, as I like to point out, things can change very quickly in the world of sports. The Celtics outscored the Pistons 29-11 the rest of the way, winning the game 89-81 and the series 4-2. The Celtics then beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals in six games, covering every game.

What a turnaround. A game away from a third straight seven-games series and on a 3-9 ATS run, the Celtics won the 17th title in franchise history by ending the postseason on a 7-0 ATS run. Boston's 39-point margin of victory on Tuesday was the largest for any team in a clinching game in the NBA Finals, just falling short of Chicago's 42-point win over the Jazz in Game 3 of the 1998 Finals (96-54), which is the largest margin of victory of any NBA Finals game. As I've already stated, things can change very quickly in the world sports.

Just ask the Lakers, who entered the NBA Finals with a 12-3 postseason record and despite not owning the homecourt advantage in the series, were as much as two-to-one favorites to capture the title before the Finals began. Or for that matter, Pau Gasol. Gasol was universally accepted as being the final piece to LA's championship 'puzzle' but a day after LA's pathetic Game 6 performance (plus a series in which Gasol's 'soft' label was again in vogue), a "trade-Gasol" website popped up.

With the entire postseason now "in the rearview mirror," here's a final look back. It took Boston 26 games to earn this year's title, the most postseason games played by any team in a single playoff year. The '94 Knicks and '05 Pistons both participated in 25 games but neither team won a title in those respective years. The most games any previous champ had needed to capture a title (since all series ware expanded to seven games in 2003), was 24. The 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs won all four of their series that year in six games.

The home team went 5-1 SU but just 3-3 ATS in the NBA Finals, after home teams had gone 7-4 SU and 5-6 ATS in the two conference finals. That left home teams 64-22 (.744) for the entire postseason, going 49-35-2 ATS (58.3 percent). However, in the Hawks/Celtics (first round) and Spurs/Hornets (2nd round) series, home teams went a combined 13-1 SU and ATS. That means in the other 13 series, home teams were a more modest 51-21 (.708) and 36-34-2 ATS, which is minus-1.4 net games.

'Under' bettors did very well in the postseason, as 49 games went under, 34 went over and two were considered pushes. That's a profit of 10.5 net games. Bettors following the "Zig Zag" theory (playing 'on' the SU loser of the previous game), wound up 34-35-2 ATS or minus-4.5 net games.

There was a lot of "parity talk" this year, especially in the West where all eight playoff teams won 50 or more games (first time ever). However, heading into the NBA Finals, all 14 series had been won by the favored team. The Celtics, who despite owning the NBA's best record with 66 wins (nine more than the Lakers' 57), found themselves as the underdog prior to the start of the series. Six games later, Boston convincingly proved that the wrong team was favored.

Good luck, Larry

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