The Coast to Coast Finals match brings back attention to the old 2-3-2 format

The Coast to Coast Finals match brings back attention to the old 2-3-2 format

Stephen Curry and the Warriors return to center Chase tied 2-2, looking for an advantage over the Celtics.

San Francisco – There was a time when the date line in this story still read “BOSTON”, and there was no different orientation to Game 5 than it was after Game 3 or Game 4.

The Celtics, having slipped to a 2-2 tie in a better-of-seven series with a 107-97 loss on Friday at TD Garden, will have a certain level of comfort at home in one last game. But they may also feel a little pressure not to squander it, knowing that everything from that point on will be at the Chase Center in San Francisco. By contrast, the Golden State Warriors will know that no matter what happens in Game 5, they will stay in their court in both Game 6 and Game 7 as needed.

Not so long ago, and for almost three decades, the NBA Finals were played in a 2-3-2 format similar to the World Baseball Championship. The first two matches and the last two matches were played in the city whose team had the best record (or won the tiebreak). The three-game block in a row was in the middle in the other team’s building.

This setup began in 1985 under Commissioner David Stern, at a time when the Finals seemed to have been decided by frequent confrontations between the Celtics and Lakers. Prior to this, the 2-2-1-1-1 format used in all play-off rounds was required – for the Finals – teams, media, executives and league staff to move from Boston to Los Angeles and back again to as many as possible. As five flights across the country.

Behind Magic Johnson and Karim’s 29-point double, the Lakers topped the Celtics in the NBA Finals for the first time in 1985.

For various reasons – perhaps including rumors that Boston coach Reed Auerbach doesn’t like doing all that travel – the league’s board of governors unanimously approved the change. It didn’t hurt that the 1984 Finals had a maximum of seven games, with everyone going back and forth, 2,592 miles per ride.

And so it went on for 29 years, from 1985 until the 2013 Finals. In 2014, with commissioner Adam Silver to take over Stern, the league was re-evaluated. The 2-2-1-1-1 format has been dusted and restored.

This is the first time since the change, however, that it is truly a coast-to-coast match. Golden State spanned against Cleveland (2015-2018) or Toronto (2019) over three time zones, but the mileage is significantly lower. This can certainly make a person nostalgic about 2-3-2, which only requires two or three trips before the streak is complete.


It’s not one thing,” Silver said before the series opened in San Francisco. “As long as the trip, we feel it is better from a competitive point of view.

“I always felt throughout my years in the league before we got back into that shape, first of all, the players got used to, on their bodies, the 2-2-1-1-1 format from the previous rounds. And I always felt, even unsure of where the injustice was, But the three in that second city felt long and arduous.

“We have beautiful planes in this league. It’s a long journey. Again, it’s hard on everyone’s bodies. It’s hard for the media to go back and forth across the country, but it seems to be the right formula.”

There is a lot to unpack in Silver’s comments.

On the “competitive point of view”, the primary objection to 2-3-2 almost from the start was that the local court advantage was barely there. In fact, during the first five matches, the smaller team got more matches in its field than the team that got the advantage.

The probability of losing on their home ground in Game 1 or 2, and then never returning the series to their hometown hangs on those teams. But the reality almost never happened.

It wasn’t until 2004 that the host team won the middle three games, when Detroit did so against the Lakers. After splitting in Los Angeles, the Pistons held a Lakers who were poised to oust him to 68, 80 and 87 points to close the series at five points.

Prior to that, the road team was more likely to win all three middle matches. Detroit did it in Portland in 1990, Chicago did it with the Lakers in 91 and the Lakers did it in Philadelphia in 2001.

Just once again, the home team swept games 3, 4 and 5, winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy while denying the favorite team to bring the series back to their hometown. It happened in 2012 when Miami, after the 1-1 split in Oklahoma City, sent Thunder at five in South Florida.

LeBron James earned his first NBA title when the Miami Heat defeated Kevin Durant and the Thunder in 2012.

Prior to that, the Heat had also won all three middle school games at home against Dallas in 2006. But the Mavericks, by grabbing their 2-0 lead, still had at least one more home game. They lost it and the championship in Game 6.

The idea of ​​a strong week-long shop in the middle city may make the team on the road out of date with the condition of hotel itis. But at what cost?

The head of sports medicine for an NBA team acknowledges that life on the roads is a challenge. But then, he said, so did the additional cross-country flights. Jet lag, negative effects on sleep patterns, how injuries react to changes in air pressure and more can make the case convincing for 2-3-2.

As impressive as the team’s travels are in progressing from commercial travel to chartered to franchise-owned aircraft, the planes are equipped to meet every need to near-luxury limits. Convenient sleeping seats, coaching facilities, fine dining, and room to roam through the cab for better spin – all are standard these days. Compression clothing helps combat the swelling that changes in air pressure can cause, and hydration is maintained vigilantly to deal with dry cabin air.

But keeping the number of trips to a minimum limits the number of times players have to change time zones. This enables them to settle into a better circadian rhythm, the medical expert said, while keeping their internal clocks aligned with their game and practice schedules.

This isn’t likely to happen much once teams delve deeper into the series, switching cities from game to game for 5, 6 and 7. Teams are taking sleep more seriously than ever before in the NBA.

For example, after injuring his foot in Game 3, Warriors guard Steve Curry said he got “about ten and a half hours of sleep” Wednesday night. Ten and a half? When was the last time you slept ten and a half hours?

Obviously, teams without the home stadium advantage are more inclined to favor 2-3-2 for this advantage in Game 5. But will the team that starts the finals at home opt for fewer flights and travel requirements?

Golden State’s Steve Kerr won five championships as a player in the 2-3-2 series but has led the Warriors to six Finals since the switch.

“I prefer 2-2-1-1-1,” he said. “It’s a more fair format. And given that we have two days in between each match, other than 3 and 4, I think both teams will be able to handle the travel.”

The NBA has scheduled travel days for each city change, extending the Finals on the calendar but allowing some recovery time.

Kerr said, “What I remember is, any time a team lost one of their first two home teams during that era, it wasn’t right to go on the road and play three road games in a row. I think that’s why the format changed again.”

Kerr admitted that the host team “barely at all” won the middle three matches. But he added: “It was fine to travel, but it feels like a more natural flow to get back to 2-2-1-1-1.”

So here’s the final tally: In the 29 years of the 2-3-2 format, teams with a home court advantage have gone to 21-8, with a winning percentage of 72.4. In the 45 finals played before that and since then, teams that have been at home have fallen 36-9 (80%). That includes the 5-2 mark (71.4%, with one neutral bubble in 2020) since switching back in 2014.

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Steve Ashburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here and Follow him on Twitter.

The opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect those of the National Basketball Association, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.

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