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FINALS UPDATE

   by Larry Ness - 06/13/2005

Do you think the Pistons just might be in a little trouble? The defending champs scored 69 points in Game 1 of the Finals, the fourth-lowest Finals point total in the shot-clock era, and lost by 15! After 'adjustments' by legendary coach Larry Brown, the Pistons roared back in Game 2 by scoring 76 points, losing by 21!

How bad has Detroit been? During the regular season, the Pistons averaged 93.3 PPG, on 44.4 percent shooting, including 34.5 percent from the three-point line. The team got to the free throw line an average of 26.2 times per game, making an average of 19.4.

Through the Finals first two games, Detroit has scored just 69 and 76 points, an average of 72.5 PPG. That's almost 21 PPG less than its season average! The Pistons have shot just 39 percent from the field, including an ABYSMAL 1-of-12 (8.3 percent!) from the three-point line. The team's lack of aggressiveness and its failure to work the ball inside for good shots has limited them to just 30 free throws in the two games (made 20). That's an average of just 15 FT attempts per game (10 made), way below the team's season averages (19.4-26.2)!

Individually, neither Ben nor Rasheed Wallace have been factors, while defensive ace Tayshaun Prince has been 'schooled' by Manu Ginobili (53 points on 16-of-24 FGs and 15-17 FTs!). The team's best scorer, Rip Hamilton has gone just 12-of-36 through the first two games, while Prince has made just 5-of-19 shots when not chasing Ginobili.

Outside of these few 'minor' problems, Detroit's in good shape! It's now back to Detroit for three games (or maybe just two?). History tells us that the Pistons are in BIG trouble!

In 58 previous NBA Finals, the Game 1 winner has gone on to win 72.4% of the time (42-16). Twenty-four NBA teams have opened the Finals by winning the first two games and 22 have gone on to win the championship (91.7 percent). The lone exceptions were the 1969 LA Lakers, who went on to lose to the Boston Celtics in seven games in Bill Russell's final season (also his 11th title in 13 years!) and the 1977 Philadelphia 76ers, who lost four straight games to Bill Walton's Portland Trailblazers!

Also working against the Pistons is the 2-3-2 format used by the NBA for the Finals. The league changed its traditional 2-2-1-1-1 seven-game format in the Finals to the current format for the 1985 postseason. Now the team with the home court advantage opens and closes with two home games, while its opponent gets three consecutive home games in the middle (Games 3-5). The prevailing wisdom at the time was that this new format could very possibly benefit the team without the home court edge. Two scenarios were mentioned. The first being that the road team could win one of the series' first two games and then return home for three consecutive games and by winning all three, never have to play again away from home. The second was, that Game Five (especially if the series were tied at 2-apiece) was now being played on the home court of the team with the WORST record!

Here's what happened over the first 19 years of the 'new' format.

The team with the home court edge won 15 of the 19 series played, or 79 percent. In comparison, the previous 19 years (2-2-1-1-1) saw the team with the home court edge win just 11 times, or 58 percent! NO team, under the revised format, had ever split Games 1 & 2 on the road and returned home to sweep those middle three games! In fact, three times a team had split the first two games on the road, only to return home and LOSE all three games (it happened in 2001, 1991 and 1990)!...

As far as Game Five scenarios in which the series was tied a 2-2, it occurred five times. While the home team won that Game 5 three of the five times, just ONCE did they go on to take the series (the Lakers in 1985, the first year of the format). The 1988 Lakers lost Game 5 at Detroit but returned home to win Games 6 & 7 in LA, as did the 1994 Rockets (losing Game 5 in NY but winning Games 6& 7 in Houston). In 1992, the Bulls won Game 5 in Portland and closed out the Blazers in Game 6 at Chicago and in 1997, the Bulls won Game 5 in Utah and closed out the Jazz back in Chicago in Game 6! Maybe even more surprisingly, two times a team had an opportunity to close out the Finals at home in Game 5, only to fail! In 1993 against Phoenix and in 1998 against Utah, the Bulls held a three-games-to-one lead heading into a Game 5 at home but LOST! Each time however, they recovered to capture the series, by winning Game 6 (on the road).

So what we've actually seen since the switch to the 2-3-2 format, was even a GREATER advantage for the team with the home court edge, not a LESSER one as many had feared! A closer look shows that from 1985 through 2003, teams playing Games 1 & 2 plus Games 6 & 7 at home went 34-16 .680. Over the previous 19 years, teams owning the home court advantage got Games 1, 2, 5 & 7 at home and went 37-23 .617. The HUGE difference however, showed up in the teams without the home court advantage! In the years of the 2-2-1-1-1 format, teams playing Games 3, 4 & 6 at home, went 29-22. .569. However, under the current format of Games 3 thru 5 at home, they went just 24-30 .444 in their home games!...

Pointing out the disadvantage of this format to the team without the home court advantage even more, is this. Of the four teams that won the title from 1985 through 2003 without the home court edge in the Finals (the 1985 Lakers, the 1993 Bulls, the 1995 Rockets and the 1998 Bulls), history shows that those teams won not as a result of them winning their home games (they went a combined 7-4 .636) but rather by being able to win their road games (they went a combined 9-2 .818)! Under the 2-2-1-1-1 format, where eight teams without the home court edge won the title the previous 19 seasons, those teams WON IT AT HOME! They went 18-3 .857 in home games, while going just 14-12 .538, on the road!

I point this out because the 2004 Detroit Pistons changed all that last year, making some playoff history on the way to their title! They won Game 1 in LA but then lost Game 2. Remember, no team had won all three home games after splitting the first two games on the road in the 19 previous years of the 2-3-2 format! However, Detroit did just that, beating the Lakers in Games 3 through 5 by scores of 88-68, 88-80 and 100-87!

Can the Pistons now make some more history, becoming the first team since the 1977 Trailblazers to win an NBA Finals after losing the first two games? Maybe they can but this just in....The Spurs are PRETTY GOOD!

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