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It’s official: NBA to return to 2-2-1-1-1 Finals format this season

Oct 23, 2013, 2:24 PM EDT

Larry O'Brien trophy Getty Images

The NBA Finals are going old school again.

After 28 years of a 2-3-2 Finals format — where the team with the worse record hosted the three games in the middle of the series — the NBA is returning to the 2-2-1-1-1 format used prior to that, as well as the format used in every other playoff round. David Stern confirmed the change at a press conference Wednesday following the NBA Board of Governors meeting where the owners approved the switch.

This was the expected outcome after the league’s Competition Committee unanimously recommended it. Stern said it was unfair for the team with the better record to have to play three games in a row on the road, including a potentially crucial Game 5.

“Easy sell,” Stern said of the change.

It was Stern who ushered in that change back in 1985. Back then the NBA’s popularity was skyrocketing thanks in large part to the Magic/Bird rivalry and suddenly newspapers from across the country sent someone to cover the Finals. The bean counters at those papers complained about the costs of the cross-country flights, plus at the time even the teams flew commercial. The change made some sense then.

Times change. Now the players fly charter and how the media covers the Finals is different (publications can hire freelancers already in a location, far fewer papers pay for their guy to fly with the series). However, the league said there will be an extra day off between Games 6 and 7 — those normally happen on a Tuesday and Thursday — to allow for travel. (The league also could tweak the start date to put the games on different days, but the Finals usually run on a Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday format).

Bottom line is the Finals are back to 2-2-1-1-1. It makes you wonder if last year’s series between San Antonio and Miami, or even the year before with Oklahoma City and Miami, might have been different with this format.

  1. mdkaton - Oct 23, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    Interesting stuff, I’ve always hated that the home team had to play three straight road games like that.

    I blogged a bit about the Bucks in this blog I’m doing for school if anyone is interested:

  2. johngalt1783 - Oct 23, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    So the NBA decides to increase its carbon footprint

  3. GT - Oct 23, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    20 years late in coming, but I’ll take it. Finally the right format, I hope they don’t get tempted to change it back.

  4. rajbais - Oct 23, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    Bad idea. Apparently travel causes no fatigue according the NBA.

    Let’s just hope that the Grizzlies and Bulls are in the Finals. Then we don’t have to hear about travel fatigue after a team has to travel 3000 miles.

    • nflcrimerankingscom - Oct 23, 2013 at 4:10 PM

      Exactly. Hasn’t anyone traveled before? Constant back and forth across multiple time zones messes with you, and could very likely reduce the quality of play.

  5. RavenzGunnerz - Oct 23, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    Better format imo. Game 6 is usually a pressure game for the higher seeded team, especially if the lower seeded team wins all 3 home games.

    Usually, Game 6, the higher seeded team is in elimination mode. However, since Game 6 will be away, then the higher seeded team does not feel the urge to win it, since they think they have Game 7 at home.

    All in all, this will result in more Game 7s. Which is good for the league and good for the fans.

  6. katra2logic - Oct 23, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    The best team tends to win whatever format is used. I think it does make it easier for the team with the best overall record (home court advantage), one of the original reasons they switched to the 2-3-2 format.

  7. nacho50 - Oct 23, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    so annoying. the entire world series is played in a span of 9 days if it goes 7 games. The nbas first round, let alone the finals, takes over 18 days to complete. I dont care if it is for tv. it kills momentum and drags on foreverrrr

  8. provguard - Oct 23, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    Why not just have year around NBA????

  9. metalhead65 - Oct 23, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    it will stay this format until the lakers become relevant again and become a finals team and lose to a also relevant Celtics team and blame the loss on the travel like they did back in the day which is why they changed to the 2-3-2 format.

  10. ProBasketballPundit - Oct 23, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    I have yet to hear a compelling argument for how 2-3-2 benefits the away team. In the 28 or so years of that format the lower-seeded team has won all three of their home games exactly 3 times. That means that the vast majority of lower-seeded teams have needed to win at least TWO away games to come away with a championship. And that’s a statistically improbable feat. 2-3-2 benefits the home team because they are very likely to steal a game somewhere on that long road trip.

    • redbaronx - Oct 24, 2013 at 1:54 PM

      @ProBasketballPundit – I agree. 2-2-1-1-1 series are also much more exciting. Teams like the Heat that are front-loaded with the starting 5 would have a much harder time winning, and it leaves more room for teams that are more well rounded. (The Spurs or older teams being the exception to that line of reasoning)

  11. sdelmonte - Oct 24, 2013 at 5:44 AM

    The format works fine in baseball. But then baseball doesn’t need ridiculous numbers of offdays in its playoffs.

    • redbaronx - Oct 24, 2013 at 1:51 PM

      @sdelmonte – The only reason the NBA has that many offdays is for interest/marketing. Once upon a time, NBA playoff games were once every two days with occasional back-to-backs.

      I’m very happy the 2-2-1-1-1 format is back, and I hope the NBA considers removing all 3 day lulls between games. It makes teams use their bench more.

  12. cruzan80 - Oct 24, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Great, now the Finals can end in August.

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