Thursday, November 01, 2007

Playoff "closeout" games

At "The Sports Economist," Brian Goff argues that "hardly any game matters" in the NBA because:

Only 30% of playoff games were "closeout" games where a team could win or lose the series

Only 25% involved games where both teams were 2 or fewer wins away from winning the series

Only 17% of 7-game first round series and NBA finals met the 2 or fewer wins from winning situation.

On the other hand, Goff argues, in the NCAA and NFL, every game meets the first two conditions. So maybe, he says, the NBA could go to best-of-3 for the first round, or something.

My take:

1. Just because a game can't close out a series doesn't mean it's not important. In truth, if you go by "series win probability added," the 0-0 game is much more important than the 3-0 game.

2. Why assume that fans care so much about series-ending or near-series-ending games? Maybe they like a mix of close series and blowout series.

3. Might fans not be upset when their 60-22 team loses to a 41-41 team in the first round? That'll happen fairly often. A best-of-three does indeed make the series less predictable -- but, it seems to me, at the cost of fairness.

4. The first round has only half the number of "both teams with two wins" games, which is almost certainly because the teams are mismatched. Instead of tinkering with the series length, why not just allow fewer teams in the playoffs?

5. The maximum possible proportion of possible "closeout" games comes when team A wins the first three games, and team B wins the next three. When that happens, 4/7 of the games are possible closeouts. If you want that, just change the rules so that the home team wins 99.9% of games. Make sure that team A is at home for the first three games, and team B the next three. Then sit back and enjoy! :)

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