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by Larry Ness - 06/07/2005
The Pistons went into Miami on Monday night and beat the Heat 88-82, sending the defending champs back to the NBA Finals for the second straight year. The Pistons became the first team to win an Eastern Conference finals Game 7 on the road since the 76ers won in Boston over the Celtics 120-106 in 1982!
However, road wins have come as no surprise in this year's playoffs. Over in the West, the Spurs clinched their series against the Suns by winning Game 5 in Phoenix (Spurs actually won all three games played in Phoenix!) in a series that saw the home team lose FOUR of the five games! With home teams going a collective 5-7 (also 5-7 ATS) in the two conference finals, home teams are likely to finish this year's postseason with the worst record since the league expanded to its current 16-team playoff format in 1984.
For the record, home teams have gone just 41-36 in this year's playoffs, a winning percentage of just .532. Home teams are under .500 ATS, going 37-38-2. Over the last 21 years, teams have won less than 60 percent of their playoff home games in just four postseasons. The all-time playoff-low came in 1995 (40-33 .548).
Now I'm not the sharpest tack in the box but I do own a calculator. The only scenario in the Finals that allows 2005 playoff home teams to top that 1995 playoff-low winning percentage of .548, would be if the Pistons won one of the first two games at San Antonio and then swept Games 3 through 5 at home (that's exactly what they did last year, by the way!).
SETTING THE STAGE
For just the THIRD time since the NBA-ABA merger (1976-77), both conference finals were won by the team without the home court advantage. It happened for the first time in 1978 but this year makes it two straight seasons in which both teams without the home court advantage have won in the conference finals. It should also be noted that in 1978 when Washington beat Seattle and last year when the Pistons beat the Lakers, both teams captured the title without the benefit of having home court advantage (a good omen for Detroit?).
The Pistons needed all seven games to get past the Heat and while they won Game 1 (Game 1 winners of conference finals have now won 39 of the 44 series since 1984), the rest of the Eastern Conference finals was hardly traditional. Tied at one-all, Detroit lost Game 3 at home and tied at two-all, the Pistons also lost Game 5 in Miami. That meant the Pistons needed to overcome a 3-2 deficit in the postseason for the second straight year. They did it last year against the Nets in the semifinals (won Game 6 at NJ and Game 7 at home) and did it again this year, this time winning Game 6 at home before winning at Miami in Game 7.
The Spurs had an easier road to the Finals, beating the Suns in five games. San Antonio beat Phoenix at its own game, outscoring the Suns 121-114 in Game 1 and 111-108 in Game 2 (both in Phoenix). While the Spurs allowed 104 PPG in beating the Suns (far above the team's league-leading average of 88.4 PPG allowed during the regular season), it did represent an average of 12 PPG less than Phoenix averaged versus Memphis and Dallas in the first two rounds!
The Pistons and Spurs tied for the league's best defense during last year's regular season and Detroit finished second (allowing 89.5 PPG) to San Antonio this year. Detroit has turned up the defensive 'heat' in this year's postseason, allowing a league-best 85.9 PPG in 18 games. However, there can be no doubt about San Antonio's defensive abilities. What could be called into question is Detroit's ability to play a more up-tempo game if San Antonio chooses to play like it did versus Phoenix?
If one is looking for an edge in coaching in this series, good luck! Larry Brown's 12 playoff wins this postseason gives him 97 in his career. Three more (he'd like FOUR!) and he'll pass Red Auerbach's total of 99, making him the third-winningest playoff coach of all-time (behind Riley's 155 and Jackson's 175 wins). As for Popovich, he already owns two titles (Brown's lone title came last year) and his career playoff mark of 65-38 puts in some fairly select company. His winning percentage of .631 places him fourth among coaches with a minimum of 25 games and if he could add a third title this year with four more wins, his 69 wins would move him into 10th place all-time.
While the Pistons are the defending champs, the Spurs are the solid favorite to win the Finals! San Antonio opened at minus-$2.50 to win the series (it was a high as minus-$3.00 in some places as of Wednesday morning) and as 6 1/2-point favorites in Game 1.
As the Finals progress, keep in mind some of these facts. Just seven NBA Finals have resulted in four-game sweeps. There have been 15 series go all seven games, with the home team prevailing in Game 7, 12 times! The Game 1 winner of the NBA Finals has gone on to win 42 of the previous 58 Finals. If the series is tied at 1-all, the Game 3 winner has gone on to win 27 of 31 times. If the series is tied at 2-all, the Game 5 winner has won 17 of 21 times.
The NBA Finals switched from its traditional 2-2-1-1-1 format after the 1984 season and has since used the 2-3-2 format. It was controversial when it was first introduced and over the years, has produced results that are far different from what many anticipated. I delve into this in greater detail on Monday, as the series head back to Detroit for Games 3 through 5.