What if I told you that I could predict the winner of this year’s NBA Finals?
Just not with 100% accuracy.
OK, that might give you pause, but what about with 70% accuracy? That would be something you’d want to check out, right? Well that’s exactly what the team over at NBA lines site Betway did.
They went back and looked at every Finals series in the 71-year history of the National Basketball Association and found something incredible. Of those 71 years worth of Finals, the home team has won 50 times. For those without a calculator handy, that’s 70 percent of every Finals ever played. That’s quite the advantage.
Now, that might seem self-evident. The higher-seeded, “better” team gets home court advantage for the Finals, and home teams tend to be more successful (in the last five years, home teams have won 57% of regular season games as well). So you could say there isn’t any reason not to want to play your best and secure home court advantage.
That isn’t entirely true, however. You still have to MAKE the Finals, and the teams that stand in your way may pose a threat to your ability to do that.
Take for example, this year’s Los Angeles Clippers. Fighting with the Jazz, Suns, and Nuggets at the top of the standings and with two games left in the regular season, the Clippers sat many of their starters, including Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The result? They lost both games, fell to the No.4 seed in the Western Conference, and dodged having to play the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Mission accomplished.
The cost of this move is that they may not have a shot at home court advantage in the NBA Finals should they make it there, as the regular season record is the determining factor. Run into a team in the Finals that had a better record than you, and there goes your home court advantage. As we’ve seen, having home court is huge.
On a per game basis in the Finals, whoever the home team is wins that game at a 61% clip. The home advantage lies mostly in pre-game schedules for the players- being able to sleep in their own beds and go through their pre-game procedures with relative ease, as opposed to late night flights, hotel rooms, and inferior visitor locker rooms. Not to mention playing in front of tens of thousands of people supporting you and booing your competition.
In fact, the home fans’ effect can be seen in that the two most anticipated games in the series, games one and seven, own the two highest winning percentages by the home team- 75 and 79 percent respectively. With game sevens in particular, there have been 19 of them in NBA History. The home team has won 15.
You read that right. The road team has only won a game seven of the Finals four times. Ever. What’s even more remarkable is that three of those victories came before 1978. A road team hadn’t won game seven of the Finals for 38 years until Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in 2016.
However, there was a less dominant period for the home team in the Finals. From 1985 until 2013, the NBA attempted to reduce cross-country travel for teams by changing the format of how the home games were structured. Until then, the team with the better record got home court for games one, two, five and seven- called the “2-2-1-1-1” format. In ‘85, they switched to the “2-3-2”, with the better team having to play three consecutive games on the road.
The result was less flights but also a lower winning percentage for the team with home court advantage, dipping to 61% as opposed to 71% before the change, effectively reducing the impact. After the switch was made back to “2-2-1-1-1” in 2013, the team with home court advantage has dominated, going 6-1 over seven years.
So if you wanted to have a good chance predicting the winner of the NBA Finals this year, you have only one question to ask- “who’s got home court?”