Deconstructing Game 5
By Jeff Dengate
But why place such importance on a game that doesn’t necessarily guarantee either team the Larry O’Brien trophy?
Because, it puts the winning team in the driver’s seat, needing only one victory whereas the loser must find the resolve to play with their “backs to the wall” – “win or go home” as some like to say.
Simple math, not to mention the NBA’s annals, tells us it’s easier to win one game than two. In the history of The Finals, a Game 5 was staged 24 times when the teams were tied at two wins apiece, as is the case when the Heat and Mavs meet in Miami on Sunday. On only six occasions, the team that won Game 5 lost the next two and, consequently, watched an NBA title slip from its grasp (see table at right).
Another way to put it is that, when tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner goes on the the NBA title 75 percent of the time. That's significant enough to be called a trend.
But there’s more to it than needing one win vs. two; location plays a huge factor. A win by Miami in Game 5 would mean the Heat still must find a way to get a W in Dallas – just as the 1955 Fort Wayne Pistons, 1988 Detroit Pistons and 1994 New York Knicks attempted. Note the word “attempted.” On all three occasions, the team with homecourt advantage closed out the series by winning Games 6 and 7 on their own floor.
Of course, the above series were all played in the 2-3-2 format, which was in place from 1953-1955 and has been common practice since 1984. The 1956 season saw the home court alternate from game to game, while the format of the Finals was 2-2-1-1-1 from 1957 until 1984 except in 1978 when the format was 1-2-2-1-1 because of building conflicts in Seattle.
But don’t be so quick, Heat fans, to go thinking it would be any easier in a 2-2-1-1-1 setting to get a Game 5 win on the road and take the championship at home, like 14 teams tried from 1957-1984. Only three teams were able to get that Game 5 win away from home – the 1958 St. Louis Hawks, 1962 Los Angeles Lakers and the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers. The Hawks and Blazers won in six, while the Lakers lost in seven. Conversely, Game 5 was won by the home team 11 times.
Of those 11, only the 1969 Lakers and the 1978 Sonics won Game 5 at home but failed to win the championship.
So, as you see, it might not matter much what the Heat does in Game 5. A third straight home win – something only the Pistons teams of 1955 and 2004 have been able to accomplish – means Miami still has to win one in Dallas. Neither of the aforementioned teams was able to pull off the feat. A Miami loss on Sunday, meanwhile, would force the Heat to have to win two games in north Texas. Judging by the way the team played there early in the series, you’d have to agree that might be too much to ask.
Then again, we’re only talking about the NBA’s record books here.
Aren’t records made to be broken?
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