As we approach the Eastern Conference and Western Conference finals, one thing comes to mind: the NBA Playoffs are a war of attrition.
This postseason alone, we’ve seen injuries to Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul and Joel Embiid. Those injuries have caused them to miss games all together or severely limited them in the games they have played.
In three of the past six NBA Finals, we’ve seen injuries play a significant role in influencing the outcome — Kevin Durant’s torn achilles, Klay Thompson’s torn ACL, Stephen Curry’s MCL sprain, Kyrie Irving’s fractured knee cap, and Kevin Love’s shoulder.
Much is made about how these injuries affect the outcome of a playoff series, but we rarely speak on the impact of fatigue and attrition on the next series.
Would the Golden State Warriors have blown a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals if they weren’t coming off a grueling seven game series against the Oklahoma City Thunder?
The Cleveland Cavaliers went into that NBA Final after playing a series where they had +15.5 point differential, defeating the Raptors by a combined 64 points in Games 5 and 6. The Warriors spent the final four games of the 2016 Western Conference finals fighting for their playoff lives. It’s a different level of stress and intensity.
You could pose a similar question about the 2014-15 Los Angeles Clippers, who blew a 3-1 lead to the Houston Rockets. In the preceding series, they defeated the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series that came down to the final possession.
Now in 2021, we have two seven game series with the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks facing off on Saturday and the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks meeting on Sunday. How will this impact them going forward?
I went through the past 33 years of data to see how teams performed in their next series after winning Game 7. I was particularly interested in how teams performed in both Game 1 and if they went onto win their respective series. Teams that win Game 7 are 31-48 (39.2%) straight up in Game 1 of the following series.
Game 1 Point Differentials After a Game 7
In the 79 Game 1s featuring teams who won Game 7 of their previous playoff series, those teams have been outscored by a total of 318 points for an average point differential of -4.02 points.
Teams that win Game 7 have a 34-45 (43%) record in the following series. Last season we saw the Denver Nuggets win a 7-game series against Los Angeles Clippers while coming off winning a 7-game series against the Utah Jazz.
In what could be pertinent for the winners of the 76ers vs. Hawks series in the Eastern Conference Finals, there have been seven playoff series over this span in which two teams have faced each other with both teams coming off a Game 7.
The higher seed has won all of them with the exception of the 2006 series between the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns. The Mavericks finished with a better record but had a lower seed due to them not winning the Southwest Division.
- 1992: Chicago Bulls (1) def. Cleveland Cavaliers (3)
- 1994: Houston Rockets (2) def. Utah Jazz (5)
- 2001: Philadelphia 76ers (1) def. Milwaukee Bucks (2)
- 2006: Dallas Mavericks (4) def. Phoenix Suns (2)
- 2014: Oklahoma City Thunder (2) def. Los Angeles Clippers (3)
- 2016: Toronto Raptors (2) def. Miami Heat (3)
- 2018: Golden State Warriors (2) def. Cleveland Cavaliers (4)
If you were to blindly bet against those 79 teams that a Game 7 to lose their following playoff series, you’d be up $515 dollars (not a great return on investment, but something to note).
Shocking upsets can and will happen, so make sure you’re not playing any angle blindly. Think back to last year in the bubble when the Denver Nuggets upset the Los Angeles Clippers as +800 underdogs as they came back from a 3-1 deficit.
In 2009, the Orlando Magic won a seven game series against the Celtics, had one day of rest and then disposed of the LeBron James and the top-seeded Cavaliers in six games. They were +550 underdogs, according to data from Sports Odds History.
The Raptors lost Game 1 of their 2019 playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks before eventually winning the series. Toronto held a 83-76 fourth quarter lead before running out of gas and being outscored 32-17 to close the game.