The NBA did a stupid thing back in 2003 and it hasn’t been the same since.
That year, the Association announced it was reformatting the playoffs, switching up first round series from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven for the only reason that ever really matters in the world of sports—money.
More games would mean more money for the league in the form of additional TV revenue. And from the owner’s perspective, more games meant more fans paying for tickets and concessions in their arenas.
So we get why the league did it. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And in our eyes, the best-of-five series in the first round of the NBA Playoffs was perfect. It made the start of the postseason so much more exciting than it currently is and actually produced the kind of upsets usually reserved for the NCAA Tournament.
I think I speak for all of us when I say I’ve already seen all I need to see from the Warriors and Blazers series to know how that one’s going to end.
But with the prospects of having to endure more games between the Raptors-Bucks or Hawks-Wizards than necessary, it got us thinking about how desperately we miss the good old days and all the reasons why we want to see the NBA go back to a five-game first-round format.
We Want Drama
When the NBA switched things up 14 years ago, it robbed us of drama. Or at least took it down a few notches in the first round.
In a five-game series, lower seeds have a better chance of pulling off the upset and taking higher seeds the distance than they do in a seven-game series. Back in the day, we occasionally saw the unthinkable, like the Nuggets knocking out the top-seeded Sonics in 1994 or the eighth-seeded Knicks shocking the Heat in 1999 on their way to the NBA Finals.
Sure, we’ve seen a No. 1 seed go down in the first round as recently as 2011 (Grizzlies over the Spurs), but today’s top squads have become so dominant, what are the chances we see another monumental upset like that over the course of seven games? Slim, because more games and more opportunities for the better teams to exert their strengths against the lower seeded squad’s weaknesses mean the odds of an upset plummet.
A five-game series also meant lower seeds played desperate basketball quicker. Down 2-0, facing elimination at home, how rabid do you think those teams were, trying to extend their season in a do-or-die situation in front of their fans for the first time in the postseason?
Get To the Good Stuff
A shorter first round gets us to the matchups we want to see quicker. Three wins—often in three games—used to mean a quick trip to the semis for the NBA’s best teams. I think I speak for all of us when I say I’ve already seen all I need to see from the Warriors and Blazers series to know how that one’s going to end. We don’t need a fourth game—we’re just delaying the inevitable. Remember, no team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.
Give It A Rest
Less games, less wear and tear.
Rest became the most controversial issue in the league this season, but giving guys more time to recover and fewer games to play at intensity levels that are exponentially higher than the regular season only makes for a better product down the road, right? You think Gregg Popovich wants his Spurs, the second-oldest team in the league, playing extra games against the rugged Grizzlies?
And of course, more time on the court subjects players to greater injury risk. Imagine if Kevin Durant went down with a crippling injury in the fourth game of the Warriors-Blazers series? The outrage would be deafening.
So We're Stuck With A Seven-Game First Round Series?
Pretty much. The prospects of the NBA switching things back to the way they were are farfetched. Plenty of people have thrown out hybrid proposals that would allow teams to advance to the semis if they won the first three games of the first round. But getting that legislated into the next collective bargaining agreement has about as much of a chance of happening as LeBron James cracking a few beers with Lance Stephenson.