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PBT Roundtable: Is NBA returning to 2-2-1-1-1 Finals format a good idea?

Oct 3, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

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Welcome to PBT’s regular roundtable on issues around the NBA, where our writers weigh in on the topic of the day.

Today: Is the NBA’s likely return to a 2-2-1-1-1 format for the NBA Finals (instead of the 2-3-2 that has been in place since 1985) a good idea?

Kurt Helin: I like it, but I don’t think it’s that big a change on the court, ultimately. The rule was put in back in an era when virtually every newspaper in America was flying reporters back and forth between Boston and Los Angeles in the Finals every year and complaining. The players few commercial, everyone did, and it made some sense from a logistical standpoint to go 2-3-2. I don’t think it does anymore, they should go back to a format where the team with the better record gets Game 5 at home. That said, no team gets to say they lost because of the format. It’s not that big a deal. Not to go all coach Norman Dale, but the basket is still 10 feet from the ground and 15 feet from the free throw line. The better team wins in seven games.

D.J. Foster: Now this explains why Kurt was at Summer League just muttering “my team is on the floor” over and over again. I agree that the 2-2-1-1-1 format won’t change an awful lot from a competition standpoint, but I do think it’s more exciting and gives more of the back-and-forth vibe that basketball is all about. It might be easier for casual hometown fans to stay more involved the series as well, for whatever that’s worth. And sure, the extra travel is a little tougher on media, but it all evens out because we get free ice cream at games. So long as I can rake in the free treats and airline miles, I’ll make it.

Brett Pollakoff: While I agree that the 2-3-2 format has never been the cause of a team losing (except maybe the Lakers in the 2004 Finals to the Pistons, but that’s a longer conversation for another time), it does give the team with home court advantage an incredible leg up in a longer series. No team should have games 6 and 7 at home, because it’s too much for the visitors to overcome — the last two times the Finals went 7, the home team trailed 3-2 in the series before winning the last two games to secure the title.

Every champion wins on the road in the playoffs, so ultimately the advantage isn’t too great. But I do believe that in closeout games is where the home court advantage is truly a factor, so it’s good to see the format switched to make it more equitable for both teams.

Dan Feldman: In terms of which team wins the series, it doesn’t matter. Essentially, the NBA is changing the order the favorite and underdog get their third home game. I don’t see a reason that switch would affect the likelihood either team wins the game, and the numbers back me up.

2-3-2 Finals (1985-2013, 1953, 1949)

Underdog third home game: 15-12 (56 percent)

Favorite third home game: 13-6 (68 percent)

Other Finals (including 1956, when the teams switched cities after each game)

Underdog third home game: 15-9 (63 percent)

Favorite third home game: 21-11 (66 percent)

That’s practically the same and well within random variance. The road to determining the champion might wind a little differently, but the destination will be the same either way.

Rhett Anderson: Since statistically and historically the Finals’ format hasn’t really affected their outcomes, the main reason I see is to streamline them with the rest of the playoffs. 2-3-2 always seemed arbitrary to me anyways, similar to first-round 5-game series of the past: why not standardize it all?

With the change, all series are now 7 games and 2-2-1-1-1 and the playoffs as a whole are more cohesive. In the end it’s probably not going to affect much other than team travel schedules and player rest levels – and that’s a moot point since if you make the Finals you’ve been traveling the 2-2-1-1-1 schedule for three series already anyways.

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