NBA owners voted unanimously on Wednesday to officially change the format of the NBA Finals from 2-3-2 back to 2-2-1-1-1. The switch will take effect in the 2014 Finals.
“The Board of Governors today voted unanimously to approve the Competition Committee’s proposal to change the Finals home and away schedule to 2-2-1-1-1, with an extra day between Games 6 and 7,” said Stern.
The change was initially proposed by the NBA Competition Committee two weeks ago, and was pending the owners’ approval before becoming official. The approval was believed to be somewhat set-in-stone, so there was little surprise when the vote turned up unanimous on Wednesday. One of the many reasons the switch was inevitable was the growing belief that the 2-3-2 format is actually disadvantageous for the team with the superior record.
“There’s been an abiding sense among of our teams [that] in a 2-2 series, it’s not fair for the team with the better record to be away,” Stern explained. “It’s [also] difficult for the better team in terms of record to spend as many as eight days on the road away from home.”
Teams with the higher seed, who earned the right to be advantaged by having a better record, faced a very daunting situation if they split the first two games of the series under the 2-3-2 format. If the series is split 1-1 after 2 games (which has occurred in four of the past five NBA Finals), the higher seed has to head into a 3-game road trip knowing that the series could be closed out without ever returning home. This is exactly what happened to the Oklahoma City Thunder two seasons ago when they lost to the Heat. After a very convincing Game 1 victory for OKC, the Heat eked out a win in the last minute of Game 2, completely crushing the psychological upper hand the Thunder had going into the series. They were clearly a different team after the loss, and Miami won every game thereafter and closed out the series in Game 5 at home. This was likely a major driver for the series to return back to its original format; if nothing else it showed the NBA that teams who earned their advantage in the regular season were not being rewarded in the Finals.
The NBA had operated under a 2-2-1-1-1 format up until the 1985 season, when Red Auerbach convinced David Stern to switch to a 2-3-2 format for logistical and cost-saving reasons. This was back when the Celtics and Lakers were pretty much a given in the championship game, and flying back and forth across the country was very costly and wore heavily on the players. With the modern conveniences of air travel nowadays, these problems aren’t nearly as relevant.
With each passing year the 2-3-2 finals format became harder to defend. Thankfully this is no longer an issue.
“It made sense to do it now,” Silver said. “Events came together over many years, and it reached a crescendo. The basketball people thought it was important, and the business people stood down and said it was no longer necessary.”
Whether any noticeable differences result from the switch will remain to be seen in the 2014 Finals, but either way it’s nice to see the NBA going back to an old tradition that never should have been changed.