The Heat and Spurs play Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night.
If the Heat wins, of course, the series is over. Teams don’t come back trailing three games to two, headed on the road for the final two games of the series. Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985 (the three middle games in the same venue), nine times has a series been 3-2 with the leader headed home for the final two games. The leader always has won the title, usually without the necessity of Game 7. Only once (the 2005 Pistons) has the team trailing 3-2 won Game 6 on the road.
But if the Spurs win Game 5 Sunday night, it offers up a fascinating discussion on who actually has the advantage.
Would you rather be leading the NBA Finals 3-2, headed for two road games, or be trailing the NBA Finals 3-2, headed for two home games?
Two schools of thought. 1) You always want to be ahead. 2) You always want Game 7 at home.
History gives the advantage to the road team. Eight times since 1985, a team that does not have homecourt advantage has taken a 3-2 series lead. Five times, that road team has won the championship. But never in Game 7.
The message is clear. If the Spurs win Game 5, they need to close it in Game 6 Tuesday night in Miami. The NBA Finals have staged 17 Game 7’s throughout history. Only thrice has the road team won – the 1969 Celtics in Los Angeles, the 1974 Celtics in Milwaukee and the 1978 Bullets in Seattle.
Since the 2-3-2 format was implemented, here are the eight series in which the team without homecourt advantage has led three-games-to-two:
2011: Dallas led 3-2, won Game 6 in Miami.
2010: Boston led 3-2, Lakers won the title in LA.
2006: Miami led 3-2, won Game 6 in Dallas.
1998: Chicago led 3-2, won Game 6 in Utah.
1996: Chicago led 3-2, won Game 6 in Phoenix.
1994: New York led 3-2, Rockets won the title in Houston.
1988: Detroit led 3-2, Lakers won the title in LA.
1985: Lakers led 3-2, won Game 6 in Boston.
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