NBA BASKETBALL BETTING—AVOIDING THE SWEEP
There’s nothing more humiliating for a professional sports team than getting swept in a seven game series. When an opponent beats a team in four straight games it establishes a dominating level of superiority for the winning team and is completely disheartening to the losing team and their fans. We’ve been looking at what happens when a sports team is down 3-0 in a best of seven series across all North American professional sports. In this section, we’ll turn our attention to NBA basketball.
Every Spring during the NBA playoffs we’re reminded that no professional basketball team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best of seven series. It has happened in other sports—three times in NHL hockey and once in Major League Baseball. The teams that have done it are the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders, the 2004 Boston Red Sox and the 2011 Philadelphia Flyers. Given the nature of the NBA betting circa 2016 there’s no reason to hold your breath thinking it will happen in basketball any time soon.
The question we’re really asking, however, isn’t quite so daunting. It’s obviously a rare feat to come back from three games down to win a best of seven series. But what about a team down 3-0 just winning Game Four to avoid a sweep? How often does the leading team win Game Four to complete the sweep and how often does the trailing team ‘man up’ for at least one game?
NBA TEAMS AVOIDING THE SWEEP
We used data from the three North American professional sports that play a ‘best of seven’ playoff series format. These are MLB baseball, NHL hockey and NBA basketball. First, we looked at the aggregate performance of teams in a 3-0 series across all sports. We found that the team leading 3-0 was a very strong play to win Game Four. To put a more specific number to it, the team leading a series 3-0 wins Game Four to complete the sweep 63.3% of the time. It doesn’t really matter whether it happens at home or on the road—they’re a plus sixty percent winner in either venue. At home, the 3-0 team wins Game Four 61.6% of the time. Away from home, they win Game Four 68.8% of the time. And when a 3-0 situation happens in the playoff finals it’s an even stronger chance that the team leading 3-0 will win Game Four and complete the sweep—it happens 77.8% of the time.
Specifically in the NBA, it’s interesting to learn that from a statistical standpoint a team down 3-0 has a better chance of winning Game Four than any other sport. The team up 3-0 wins Game Four and completes the sweep 59.3% of the time. If they’re playing at home, they only complete the sweep 57% of the time but a team up 3-0 on the road does it 72.2% of the time! Maybe it’s a case where the ‘no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the NBA’ lore is so great that a team returning home down 2-0 knows they have to win Game 3 or their season is over. If they don’t, they essentially ‘throw in the towel’ only winning Game Four 27.8% of the time.
Now, let’s look at the percentages series by series. In the first round, the team up 3-0 wins Game Four 63.6% of the time. They do it 62.5% at home and there’s only been one series where a team up 3-0 plays Game Four on the road—and they won Game 4 for a 100% tally. In the quarterfinals, the Game Four winning percentage for the leading team drops to 56.8% with a 54.1% record at home and a 71.4% record on the road. In the semifinals, it’s even more competitive—the team up 3-0 wins Game Four 55.2% of the time with a 52.4% record at home and a 62.5% record on the road. In the NBA Finals, the team up 3-0 wins Game Four 66.7% of the time, winning at home 60% of the time and on the road 100% of the time—though there’s only been two relevant situations.
It’s important to keep in mind that we’re looking at a fairly small sample size and particularly for the ’round by round’ breakdown. Still, it’s apparent that the deeper you go into the playoffs you’re getting teams that are more competitive and less likely to roll over. This dynamic holds up until the Finals—the reason for this is unclear but it is consistent across all professional sports.