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NBA Should Institute a 3-Game Sweep to Eliminate Meaningless Playoff Games

No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA playoff history. Eric Griffith explains how the league could use that fact to create more excitement.

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Over 100 teams have faced a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series in NBA history. None have come back to win. Thus, the Portland Trail Blazers face a true “must win” scenario tomorrow night against the Golden State Warriors. The series won’t technically be over if the Blazers lose and fall behind 3-0, but the odds will be practically insurmountable.

Add in the fact that the Warriors have won more games over the last three seasons than any team in NBA history, and that the Blazers struggled to reach .500 this season, and it becomes difficult to concoct a direr scenario. In short, game 4 of this year’s Blazers vs. Warriors series has the potential to be one of the most uninteresting playoff games in league history.

Irrelevant playoff games, however, are not particularly uncommon for the league. The outcome of NBA playoffs series are more predictable than any other professional sports league in the country. The high scoring and small team sizes significantly reduces volatility (i.e. unexpected outcomes) in uneven matchups. And since the league is hellbent on keeping the playoffs at 16 teams, the first round series almost always feature extreme mismatches – this year’s Boston vs. Chicago matchup not withstanding.

Extreme mismatches, low chances of an upset, and long series means that there will always be unexciting/irrelevant game 4s in the NBA playoffs. It’s unavoidable. Or is it?

3-game sweep

We’re proposing a radical idea to eliminate irrelevant playoff games: Institute a 3-game sweep policy for the 1/8 and 2/7 first round matchups.

How it would work: If a top-two seeded team jumps out to a 3-0 lead the series would automatically end. Game 3 would become a mini-playoff “win or go home” contest. This would eliminate unnecessary games from the most lopsided playoff series and add intrigue to otherwise boring series.

How the 3-game sweep helps

Here are the details on how a 3-game sweep would make the NBA playoffs more compelling:

Eliminates “dead [team] walking” games: Games played after the series outcome has been de facto decided are not fun for fans. The Game 4 tickets purchased before the series started become overpriced reminders that your team has underperformed. For season ticket holders, Game 4 become an extra bill that many likely want no part of. The television product is hardly captivating – the airtime and attention could be spent on closer series. Overall, these games add little or nothing to the fan experience.

Ups the competitiveness: Having Game 3 of a lopsided 7-game series mean something definitive would bring out to best of both teams. Players on the underdog side wouldn’t want the ignominy of playing only three games. Owners would also be upset with players if they lost out on the gate receipts from a second home playoff game, adding another dynamic to the story.

The favored team would be very interested in the extra days off that come with the cancelled game and the pride in completing a 3-game sweep. It could also inspire them to play stars who are otherwise questionable – if the Warriors knew they could finish the Blazers tomorrow night would Kevin Durant be more likely to suit up?

This scenario creates a made-for-TV spectacle for the fans. Having a decisive Game 3 essentially adds a mini-one game playoff to every postseason. Contests that were previously part of a boring 1/8 matchup suddenly becomes interesting.

Reward top seeds: The NBA season is an unnecessarily long slog. Many teams, especially veteran teams, lose motivation as the season progresses. This year the Cavaliers seemed to check out for weeks before the playoffs began, content to cruise rather than fight for home court advantage. If there’s a true advantage attached to winning a top two seed beyond home court advantage, it will push some teams to play harder for all 82 games. This will also add compelling storylines to the media coverage of the regular season games for top teams.

Why it will never happen

Losing the chance to witness the most miraculous comeback in league history – a No. 8 seed winning four consecutive games – does carry some risk. Fans watch sports hoping that the unexpected will happen. But that scenario is so close to being impossible it’s outweighed by the added intrigue of making game 3 more meaningful. Every season would have the potential for a 3-game sweep, and all of the excitement that would come along with it.

In reality, the real opponents would be the owners. They would never be willing to sacrifice the money. Losing a fourth game would mean lost gate receipts and fewer appearances on national TV. The entire point of upping the first round from five to seven games was to generate more revenue – the owners would have to be hard pressed to agree to this amendment.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the back of my head when the Blazers play the Warriors tomorrow.

Readers: Tell us what you think - would you be in favor of a 3-game sweep policy?


Would you support a 3-game sweep policy for 1/8 and 2/7 matchups in the NBA playoffs?

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Eric Griffith | @EricG_NBA