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Flipside: Does the NBA Need to Change their Playoff Format?

The Flipside is a column on The Sideline that serves to show two well researched opinions on opposite sides of the same issue from two of TSL’s authors. See all Flipside posts here.

NO. – Noah Kutner

It safe to say that, outside of whatever you want to call the massacre in Cleveland, these have been a pretty exciting NBA playoffs. With 3 series’ going to 7 games and 3 more going to 6, there have been very few blow outs. The 7 game series is great for the NBA and the casual basketball fan in my opinion.

I’m not a huge NBA fan. I just don’t find it as exciting as college basketball. With 82 games it feel like very rarely do individual games really matter. Plus with the distance between the leagues best teams and even just the average ones so large, it feels like most regular season games are meaningless blowouts.

But despite this, I become an NBA fan during the playoffs. When every game you play actually matters, it makes it a little more exciting. 7 games give teams the opportunity to prove who is the consistently better team, rather than which team happens to get hot on an individual night, or happens to get off a lucky shot.

Think about it, in college basketball you play one game to decide it all. Villanova won the national championship on 1 shot. Who knows what would have happened had they of played best of 7 rather than 1.

The best example of this in this year’s playoffs is without a doubt The San Antonio Spurs vs The Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs absolutely dominated OKC in game 1, with a final score of 124-92. People thought it was over, and that the assumed Western Conference Finals vs Golden State was all but official. But then, OKC showed some grit and won game 2 to even it up before conceding game 3 to give Pop and his boys a 2-1 lead. I think we all know what happened next. OKC reeled off 3 wins a row to take the series. It clearly didn’t happen in game 1, but OKC showed that without a doubt they were the better team than San Antonio, and it took 6 games to do that.

Now if you dive even deeper to that series, you’ll see what may be an even stronger point for 7 games.

Referees.

Now refs are humans, and humans make mistakes. Simple as that. But when it clearly affects the outcome of a game is when people don’t have much tolerance for it. That’s what happened in game 2 in San Antonio, during what many have called the most bizarre final sequence to a playoff game ever. The NBA came out and admitted that there were 5 missed calls in the last 14 seconds of the game. 5 missed calls in the fourth quarter of a big game would be big, but in the last 14 seconds of a 1 point game is absurd.

If just one of those is called against OKC, there is a pretty good chance the Spurs win game 2 to take a 2-0 lead. Imagine if this is a best of 3 or even best of 5 series. That game could have been make it or break it for both teams.

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But because of 7 games, it gives wiggle room for lucky shots and crazy endings. It forces a team to prove they better over at least 4 out 7 nights rather than just as good for 47 minutes but better for the last 1.

Yes. – Ella Brockway

If there’s one thing that all sports fans should know by know, it’s that time can be a pretty false concept in sports. Sports are the only place where a minute is not really a minute, and a thirty-second timeout certainly doesn’t last thirty seconds. Anyone who has sat through three commercial breaks in a sixty-second period during a sporting event knows what I’m talking about. If you don’t, here are some fun facts for you:

  • A Wall Street Journal study in 2010 found that in the NFL, the ball is in play on the field for only about 11 minutes per game.
  • In 2014, the last 60 seconds of all 52 NCAA tournament games totaled a combined length of 5 hours, 44 minutes and 61 seconds.
  • The final minute of the UConn-Saint Joe’s first round NCAA tournament game in 2014 (the tournament that UConn went on to win) took nearly twenty minutes, plus the five minutes of overtime.

We usually like when time seems to move slower in sports. We usually like when we can sit back and enjoy a moment in sports in slow motion.

Key word: usually.

There’s one period of time in the sports season when it seems to most fans that time just won’t pass quickly enough, and that’s the NBA Playoffs. Out of the four major sports leagues (NBA, NHL, MLB, and the NFL) in the U.S., the NBA has the second longest regular season, with 229 days spent in season, corresponding to 63% of the entire year.

To go further, that’s 229 days of 48-minute games, totalling 659,520 minutes of basketball per season. When you consider the fact that the average non-overtime NBA game actually lasts 135 minutes, you’re now up to 1,845,900 minutes per season.

That’s a lot of basketball.

So where am I going with this?

This year’s NBA Playoffs started on April 16, and the Finals don’t begin until June 2. That’s forty-seven days in between, more than twice the maximum amount of games that an NFL team plays in one season (17).

It’s plain and simple: the NBA Playoffs are an unnecessarily long end to a season that’s already pretty long. The main issue is that when a team has to win a minimum of 12, maximum of 21 more games (that’s a minimum of 1,620 minutes, maximum of 2,835 minutes) just to get to the Finals, the games start to lose meaning.

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

Ask yourself what you got out of the Rockets-Warriors first round series, other than that the Twittersphere really freaks out when Steph Curry gets hurt, that the relationship between NBA fans and NBA refs, and, for that matter, NBA players, is not very amiable, and that Dwight Howard was angry that his post-season vacation was delayed by a day after Houston beat Golden State to extend the series.

We didn’t need seven games to know that the Warriors would beat the Rockets. We needed one.

Why dwell on the fact that the Warriors lost to the Thunder–which, nothing against the Warriors, should be attributed to the fact that Russell Westbrook and the Thunder have been playing well for the majority of these playoffs–when you can just make up for a Game 1 loss with a 27-point Game 2 win? And then, after three full days of rest, a Game 3 loss with a Game 4 win? And then a Game 5 loss with a Game 6 win? (All hypotheticals, of course, but you get the point.)

All leading up to a Game 7 that closes a playoff series that lasted 12 days.

The NBA is already facing issues regarding interest and meaning. How do you make fans care about an afternoon game in November or a weekday night game in late January when all that allegedly matters is that when it comes down to a Game 7 in May, you win?

The league can start by giving a new playoff system a shot, one similar in kind to that of the MLB. A one game wild card playoff that means something. A five game series so Game 1 matters just as much as Game 3 and Game 5. And once you get to your conference finals and your league finals, then you can play the best of seven.

If not, we can always just adopt the Bill Simmons strategy, the Entertaining-as-Hell Tournament, which would, in fact, be entertaining as hell.

People pay more attention when things have meaning. It’s human nature. That’s why more people (exactly 120.8 million) watched the last few minutes of Super Bowl XLIX between the Patriots and the Seahawks than did the first two and a half hours.

They won’t watch something if they know that they won’t miss anything.

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