The (In?)-significance of home court in the NBA Playoffs
In the 2018 NBA Playoffs, as Brad Stevens’s young pups were elevating all those pesky expectations that led to this season’s disappointment, Eastern Conference teams participated in 45 of the exactly 82 contests. Of those 45 games, the “Home” team emerged victorious 31 times, a near 70% rate of success.
This season, teams from the East saw action in 42 playoff games – but the “Road” team was able to “steal” precisely half of them. Overall, teams playing at home were 45-35 (.551) during the 2019 post-season.
The Raptors and Warriors just combined to match an NBA Finals standard for Road Victories / Home Losses in a single series at FIVE, an “achievement” equaled only by the Bulls and Suns in 1993 and the 1974 Celtics and Bucks (who needed seven games to turn that little trick).
The impact of Home-court Advantage on regular-season NBA performance has been steadily waning since Y2K … especially in this “Teens” decade during which league-wide “Home” winning percentage has exceeded .600 only twice and not since 2013. In the “Aughts,” the 60% plateau was eclipsed seven times (and a whopping 21 times between 1975 and 1999).
Since the 2002-03 season – when opening-round playoff series were lengthened to best-of-seven games – “Home” teams have won playoff games at a .645 clip (916-504) and regular-season tilts at .597 (12,286-8,300).
Notice that in only two NBA Finals this decade – and only 12 in 73 years – did the “Home” team lose more games than it won … this past season as well as back in 2014. Those just happen to be the two series in which Kawhi Leonard was recognized as the Most Outstanding Player. Just coincidence, or is there some sort of underlying causation that corresponds to young Mr. Leonard’s rather quirky make-up?
Survive & Advance
Of course, an NBA playoff run more resembles a 10,000-meter steeplechase than a sprint … the objective is to be first to four wins. Since ’03, the team with Home-court Advantage has won 196 of 255 playoff series, a winning percentage of .753
In 73 NBA Championship Series – all best-of-seven – the team owning the homecourt edge has earned the “brass ring” 55 times, again a rate of .753. (The only Boston Celtics to have traveled the “Road” to a championship were the 1969 and 1974 squads, each of whom earned a Game 7 victory on foreign turf.)
Losing Coach in 1955 Finals
In only one NBA Finals series did the Road team fail to win at least one game – naturally this encounter was extended to seven games. Of interest, perhaps, is that the teams posted identical, league-best regular-season records; the series was conducted under the 2-3-2 format; and the head coach of the losing team was a rookie coach – not a rookie NBA coach, a guy with ZERO prior coaching experience.
Also worthy of note is that this unique set of circumstances happened the very season that the NBA unveiled its most impactful rule change ever – the introduction of the 24-second shot clock for the 1954-55 season. Kinda fittingly, the NBA’s first shot-clock champions were owned by the man, Danny Biasone, who’d dreamed up the innovation.