NBA playoffs truest test of champions in major North American sports – Chicago Tribune
If they do, they will break the history book. No eighth seed ever has captured the Lawrence O’Brien trophy. In fact, since the NBA expanded the playoffs to 16 teams in 1984, No. 1 seeds are 61-5 against No. 8 seeds in the first-round series.
Since 2003, when the NBA expanded the first round from best-of-five to best-of-seven, only three No. 8 seeds have advanced. That included, of course, the 2012 76ers when Derrick Rose‘s left ACL betrayed him and Joakim Noah also went down with a severe ankle sprain.
No. 1 seeds have won 51 of the last 70 NBA titles. Ten No. 2 seeds have prevailed.
And this lack of upsets is a good thing.
The one-and-done drama of the NCAA tournament is great for memories. Go back and watch Jim Valvano running around looking for somebody to hug after North Carolina State shocked Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma or David slaying Goliath when Villanova upset Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown team. They were better teams for a night.
Think Villanova could shoot 78.6 percent three more times? Over the course of a seven-game series, “ball don’t lie.” And the best team wins.
The NBA playoffs are the purest form of competition from the four major North American sports. No hot goalie standing on his head can steal multiple 1-0 victories en route to Lord Stanley’s Cup. No hot pitching staff can deal multiple 1-0 pitching duels en route to a World Series title.
Even the Super Bowl and its one-game nature can give Tom Brady a platform for a miraculous comeback. Could he do that three more times? (OK. Maybe he could.)
The NBA playoffs, and ultimately, the NBA Finals are a 16-victory test of the best team. And it never fails.
So the Warriors’ record-setting, 73-victory regular season didn’t produce a title and they were the better team than the Cavaliers? Maybe with Draymond Green. But he got suspended for kicking LeBron James, who, as the best player on the planet, led the best team over the Green-less Warriors.
Bulls associate head coach Jim Boylen served as Rudy Tomjanovich’s assistant when the sixth-seeded Rockets became the lowest-seeded team to win a championship. That the Rockets repeated while Michael Jordan ended his baseball experiment suggests that, even as the sixth seed, they were the best team.
“We never talked about that we were an underdog as a sixth seed,” Boylen said. “We did have some confidence that we won it the year before. That always helps.
“Rudy was unbelievable at compartmentalizing every game to every possession. His big thing was if you make a mistake, win the next possession. We never looked at the totality of it.”
Boylen made one NCAA tournament appearance while going 69-60 in four seasons coaching Utah. He thinks both stages are great. But he has a preference.
“Here’s where I think the NBA playoffs is really special, and I’ve been in both: You get home games. So the whole city is locked in,” Boylen said. “As great as the NCAA tournament is, you play at a neutral site. It’s not the same vibe.”
NBA playoffs also feature slower, more physical games in which defense and rebounding are so critical. So for those claiming the NBA is a run-and-gun league where only the last two minutes of each game need to be viewed, just watch a first-quarter playoff possession. There will be enough contact for a football scrimmage.
“I think the average fan thinks at this time of year, you get creative or add this. You don’t. You do the basics better,” Boylen said. “Rebound, guard, communicate, get back in transition. The games slow down.”
And they always produce the most worthy champion.
Even if the Bulls knock off the Celtics, not as much of a long shot as a typical No. 1 versus No. 8 meeting given how well the Bulls match up, they won’t win a championship.
James likely will be lurking at some point. And the “ball don’t lie.”
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