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NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 3: If Boston wins tonight, history would giggle with delight at their chances

Jun 8, 2010, 11:47 AM EDT

At some point, playoff game descriptors seem to get a bit ridiculous. There’s the crucial Game 1, the decisive Game 3, the tide-turning Game 5, and sometimes a winner-take-all Game 7. Our apparent affinity for odd numbers aside, it’s all a way of disguising one ever-important fact: every playoff game is essential. Game 7s may hold all the drama, but in truth they’re no more pivotal than a lowly Game 2, in which one team secured a victory in order to lock down a Game 7 in the first place.

Then again, sometimes the records of past NBA finals provide us with some interesting perspective on the dynamics of a series. How do teams typically respond after losing at home? How are they impacted by the 2-3-2 format that’s exclusive to the finals? A look back can provide us with an interesting tidbit or an overwhelming trend, even if each series has a unique personality of its own.

Here’s something to consider, from Art Garcia of NBA.com:

On 10 occasions over the last 25 years we’ve seen the series tied 1-1, with the last being the Pistons-Lakers in 2004. The team that began with the home-court has gone on to win seven. The only three teams to claim the championship after splitting on the road are the Lakers (1985), Bulls (1998) and Pistons (2004).

Oh, that Detroit team happened to beat the Lakers 4-1. Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson remember it well.

Boston’s best chance for joining that club is winning Game 3 and taking at least two of the three at TD Garden. (Obvious alert: Win all three and parade plans winding through Copley Square are set.) Road dogs have gone up 2-1 four times in the 2-3-2 format and have gone on to win each time. The same hold true for 3-1 leads, and they’re 5-1 when up 3-2.

Before we go any further: sample size, sample size, sample size. If only four road teams (for the first two games, mind you) have gone up 2-1 once returning to their home court, that doesn’t exactly give us the proper foundations to make predictions based on the outcome of a singular game. However, the fact that they’ve only defended their home court successfully in Game 3 four times in the history of the 2-3-2? It says something. Not everything, but something.

Of course, even that trend is more representative of lopsided finals series (think Lakers vs. Nets early in the decade, or Spurs vs. Cavs in 2007) than one as evenly matched as this. Their proximity in greatness puts these Lakers and these Celtics to buck every trend in the book when it comes to anticipated results. After all, the underdogs in this series just bested the two best teams of the regular season (both in terms of record and efficiency differential) in the last two rounds, and took Game 2 on L.A.’s home court.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are as formidable as match-ups get, and actually have the personnel and talent needed to find and exploit the weaknesses of Boston’s defense. Game 2 seems indicative of how the rest of this series should play out: hard-fought, competitive, occasionally unexpected (like the Lakers’ late-game dry spell), but ultimately so close that things could really go either way.

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