Why The NBA Should Not Change The Length Of The 1st Round Of The Playoffs
It's the price we pay. On May 2nd two years ago I was at a party watching the NBA playoffs with a couple of my buddies. It was game 6 of the series between 4th seeded Houston Rockets and 5th seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Neither team had a chance to win the finals or even get to the finals, but nonetheless it had been an entertaining series so far. The Blazers led the series 3-2 but were down 98-96 with .9 second left thanks to a Chandler Parsons putback seconds prior. Then, amazing happened. Damian Lillard wheeled around a pick and received the inbound pass from Nic Batum. He fired a fade away 3 as time expired, and it went in. The stadium was in shock, me and my buddies were in shock, the sports world as whole were in shock. Then at once, everyone went berserk; it was incredible.
A year later, I sat and watched as Chris Paul drove and hit a floater over Tim Duncan to beat the Spurs in game 7. Once again, I was in awe, and so was everyone else. We had witnessed something truly fantastic. Everyone the Clippers knew couldn't compete with the Warriors or Cavaliers, but they had provided us with a moment of magic we wouldn't forget anytime soon
Both of the shots I just described are polarizing moments in the NBA and the clips still give me the chills. What's unique about these shots though? They were 1st round game winners. These shots didn't win their teams the finals, or even send them to finals. They simply sent their teams into the next round of the playoffs, in which both the Clippers and Blazers were eliminated. However, even though the Clippers and Blazers title hopes were discarded, the jaw-dropping moments they left us with were not. These 1st round playoff series have given us moments we would not be able to appreciate had the NBA decided to adhere to the requests of a large portion of the NBA fans. The request to switch the 1st round of playoffs to a best of 5 series.
It's the price we pay for being able to witness some of the most dominant teams in NBA history all playing at once. There's a team that contains the best 1-2 punch in the league, and would be a 65+ win team if they knew how to close out fourth quarters. There's a team that went 67-15 with 8 players over 30 and one player that's 40, but has a top 2 coach with the best system in the league. There's a team led by the best active all around player in the league, a guard with nasty handles and knack for showing up in big games, and a sharpshooting big man looking for revenge in the playoffs. Then there's a team who went 73-9, has the best shooter of all time, a triple double machine, and a bench so deep you would drown in it. They're the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Clevland Cavaliers, and Golden State Warriors. We were gifted with watching them dominate their opponents in the regular season, and now in the playoffs. The Cavs and Spurs have already swept their series while the Warriors and Thunder are both up 3-1. An NBA fan who does not support any of these teams might have found these series boring and not competitive, and their right. However, calls for first round series to be changed to 5 games because the series are boring are ridiculous. I mean these 4 teams are historically dominant, did people not assume they would make light work of their first round opponents?. Just because the first round isn't always competitive for the top NBA teams, doesn't mean we should shorten the series. There are 3 main reasons to prove my point.
1) Rest/InjuriesWhen an NBA team sweeps in the playoffs or even wins in 5, they earn something more valuable than bragging rights, rest. We forget that the players we cheer and boo each night are human just like us, and after pushing their body to the limit every night; they need rest. The Cavs "Big 3" of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love averaged 38 minutes per game in their first round. To put things in prospective, James Harden led the league averaging 40 minutes per game. The week they get off will allow them to refuel and get the rest they need to perform at maximum capacity. The rest will also make them much less susceptible to injury and heal any minor issues bothering their body. This applies to the Spurs as well as their older players especially benefit from the extra rest they recieve. As a matter of fact, as I am writing this Stephen Curry has just been ruled out for two weeks. Imagine this. The series are best of 5, and the Warriors win yesterday sends them to the next round. They could play the entire next series without Curry and possibly fall to the Clippers or Blazers (depending on who wins that series). Just like that, the historically best team of all time would be eliminated in the second round because their superstar player didn't have enough time to recover. However, because the 1st round is best of 7, Curry will have more time to recover and possibly play in the second round.
Contrary to popular belief, there are lots of competitive series in the 1st round. Since 2010, 61% of first round playoff series went to either game 6 or 7. In addition, 21% of those series went to game 7. That's a very good percentage. When you consider that in that same time span only 54% of second round series go to game 6 or 7, and only 2 of the 24 games went to game 7; it looks even better. In reality, in recent years the 1st round has been more competitive than the 2nd. However, because the more watched teams often sweep in the 1st round, there is a common belief that the 1st round isn't competitive.
3) Magical moments and more basketball!
I already mentioned the Damian Lillard and Chris Paul game winners that were only possible by a best of 7 series, but there are more. Jarred Bayless had a game winner in 2015 to prevent the Bucks from being swept. The Celtics vs Bulls 7 game series in 2009 was riveting and the series had a total of 7 overtimes, including a triple overtime in game 6 which the Bulls won 128-127 to force a game 7. There are other examples, but the ones I mentioned are the most famous. The point is that the 1st round contains life changing moments just like the rest of the playoffs. If the NBA changed it a best of 5 series, many of these moments would never happen. In addition, there are more games being played with a best of 7 series and it's simply fun to watch. You get to appreciate teams you might have not watched much during the regular season, even if their not the most well known team in the NBA. Best of 7 series also elongate the playoffs and we are able to watch the sport we love for much longer than we would be able to if we had best of 5 series.
Now that I've presented my argument I hope you understand why changing the 1st round to a best of 5 series would be a disaster. The decision to make the 1st round of playoffs a best of 7 series serves many purposes, and without it the NBA would be much different than it is today
-Jack B. @Nbatalkalways on twitter