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NBA the real benefactor of 2-3-2

While anticipating tonight’s Game 5, I started to wonder about the 2-3-2 series format’s effect on the series as opposed to the 2-2-1-1-1 format that the NBA utilized before the 1985 finals, and the one that the NHL uses. The NBA’s justification is that it cuts down on travel burdens for both the teams and players, since they’re in different conferences and therefore likely to be located relatively far apart. But I think it has another benefit for the league.

Although I wouldn’t argue that it significantly changes the outcome of a series, I think that it alters the path a series may take to get there, in particular, the occurrence of a Game 6. This higher potential for an extra game gives the NBA more TV revenue, and gives the favored team another chance to fill its arena.

For a series decided in four games, it has no effect. Both the favored team and the underdog get two home games. A sweep is equally likely in both formats. However, when the underdog gets a chance to play Game 5 at home, assuming it’s trailing in the series, it has a better chance to force a sixth game.

Even though the numbers don’t back me up on this, it just seems to make sense. What do you think?

(This series may not be the best example of this. In the time it took to fully flesh out this theory and write this post, the Magic have gone from a slight lead to trailing by double digits, but I’m still sticking by my story.)


  • Jun 17, 20093:40 am
    by Jonathan


    Perhaps this was part of their reasoning, but do you think the 2-3-2 format also makes Finals game 7s–something that appeals to the narrative of sports and draw high ratings–less likely?

    Since the format change the only series to go 7 were in 1988, 1994 and 2005–3 in 25, or 12% of the time. Before the change 13 in 37 NBA Finals went to game 7–35% of the time.

    Game 7s are usually forced by the home team winning a game 6, but the 2-3-2 format rarely allows for a team with home court advantage to be playing at home in game 6 down 2-3. This is because (a) they are (record wise, at least) the better team, and thus are less likely to be behind in the series and (b) for that to happen the team without home court advantage really needs to upset the other in game 1 or 2, or win its 3 straight home games–something done only twice since the format was introduced.

  • Jun 17, 20094:00 pm
    by Dan Feldman


    I don’t think it’s really a factor. In either system, the favorite has three home games before Game 7, and the underdog has three home games before Game 7. I don’t think the difference in order really matters as far as getting to a Game 7.

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