The NBA Playoffs have arrived, and now we get to listen to talking heads, volume Tweeters and national columnists jerk the NBA-watching public around with horse-race journalism after every night of action. This is OK: it’s what the public wants and giving the masses what they want pays the bills. But there are a few fallacies that pop up every time the postseason rolls around, and these same NBA tastemakers routinely forget they’re buying into a worn-out narrative, one that doesn’t really hold up to even cursory scrutiny.
It’s not that some of these postulations are out-and-out wrong, but they’re either misunderstood, or the majority of them follow the hivemind mentality Twitter has enhanced and rewarded. Let’s get into the meat of these inferences, either striking them down or amending them one at a time.
A 2-0 Series Lead for the Home Team Doesn’t Forecast a Victory In The Series
People, and even some short-sighted analysts who have fallen in love with their own opinions on Twitter, can get caught up in the momentum a 2-0 series lead usually engenders. Right now seven of the eight first-round contests are at 2-0. But when the higher seed successfully defends their home court, that’s all they’ve done. Even with this caveat in place, when an NBA team with home-court advantage has a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series, they win that series 94.4 percent of the time, according to WhoWins™, which tracks the postseason odds of advancing throughout all professional sports.
Even with that 94.4 percent expectation of a victory, the home team is usually favored anyway and they’ve successfully defended home court — at least in the first two games. We’re surprised it’s not a higher percentage, really. Still, with so many teams up 2-0 going on to win the series, they’re just doing what they’re supposed to: defending their home floor in the playoffs. That’s why teams bust their humps over the course of a protracted regular season, one that’s probably a third too long.
Acquiring a home-court advantage is huge, but the series doesn’t start until someone wins on the road (another playoff trope that’s actually true). If the opposing team comes back and wins Game 3, which happens almost 60 percent of the time (via WhoWins) because — again, home team — then it’s a series all of a sudden. Have no fear, Bucks, Celtics, Nets, Mavs, Pelicans and Blazers fans. Raptors fans should probably worry since they blew their first two games at home.
(Ed Note: this was written before Thursday night’s trio of playoff games)
Only 11 NBA teams have come back from a 2-0 hole (we’re counting teams without home-court advantage, too) since the Blazers did it in the 1977 Finals (RIP Dr. Jack). All of them happened in the last 25 years, and perhaps that’s why it’s become such a common refrain in the media — the old standbys likely gained full basketball sentience in the 1980s — when no one came back from an 0-2 deficit.
Here are the 11 teams who have come back, just in case someone asks you about them at the bar:
-Bulls (vs. Knicks) 1993 Eastern Conference Finals
-Rockets (vs. Suns) 1994 Western Conference Semifinals
-Rockets (vs. Suns) 1995 Western Conference Semifinals
-Lakers (vs. Spurs) 2004 Western Conference Semifinals
-Mavericks (vs. Rockets) 2005 Western Conference First Round
-Wizards (vs. Bulls) 2005 Eastern Conference First Round
-Heat (vs. Mavericks) 2006 Finals
-Jazz (vs. Rockets) 2007 Western Conference First Round
-Cavaliers (vs. Pistons) 2007 Eastern Conference Finals
-Spurs (vs. New Orleans then-Hornets) 2008 Western Conference Semifinals
-Thunder (vs. Spurs) 2012 Western Conference Finals
That last one you probably remember. Every pundit on the planet had handed the 2012 NBA Champion to the Spurs, with LeBron having still not answered questions about his cool under pressure and the Spurs having won their last 10 games of the regular season and the first 10 games of the postseason. OKC lost the first two in San Antonio, affirming that widespread stance. But then something not quite as crazy it seemed happened: the Thunder took the next four straight to win the Conference crown. Everyone was wrong.