The last five games in the NBA playoffs were unwatchable blowouts decided by 25 or more points, including a disappointing Game 7 performance in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Phoenix Suns when the Dallas Mavs dusted them by 33 points in an unwatchable train wreck where the Suns were down as many as 46 points.
At this point of the postseason with four teams remaining, you expect the four best teams would be engaged in close nailbiters. Through the first three games of the conference finals, the opposite occurred.
Game 1 and Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the #1 Miami Heat and #2 Boston Celtics were decided by 25 points in both games.
In game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the #3 Golden State Warriors defeated the #4 Dallas Mavs by 25 points.
Blowouts Galore in 2022
Overall in the 2022 NBA playoffs, 24 games were decided by double digit margins. No less than 12 games included blowouts of 20 or more points. An alarming five games in the NBA playoffs had 30-plus point blowouts.
The last eight games in the NBA playoffs were decided by 13 points or more including three games were blowouts with a point differential of 27 or more points.
Let’s not forget the sports-entertainment aspect of the NBA postseason. The NBA playoffs is a TV show, and in the era of cord-cutting, live sports are one of the few ways to capture the attention of a worldwide audience.
If you’re a network suit or one of their advertisers, these unwatchable blowouts are a huge red flag. In the last 13 playoffs games, the average margin of victory is 22 points per game. These blowouts cause viewers to turn off unwatchable games as early as halftime to tune into other sports like the NHL playoffs, or regular season baseball. Or viewers are turning off the NBA playoffs in favor of other streaming services like Netflix or Hulu.
Live and Die by the 3
The modern NBA is driven by analytics and advanced metrics. Mike D’Antoni introduced a spread offense with a run-and-gun mentality with the Phoenix Suns 20 years ago. D’Antoni instilled a “Seven Seconds or Less” philosophy where he wanted his team to get the ball quickly up the court and take a shot in less than seven seconds.
These days, teams seek out layups or 3-pointers. Layups, or points in the paint, are high percentage shots. Three-pointers are tougher to make, but if teams can knock down an optimal percentage above 35%, then they’ll put themselves in a good spot to win. Elite 3-point shooting teams can knock down 40% or better, and when those teams are shooting hot from the perimeter, they’re impossible to beat.
Defensive wise, the best teams generally defend the 3-point shot the best. One of the reasons we liked the Boston Celtics to win the 2022 NBA championship is that they are an above-average shooting team from long range, but they also defend the 3-pointer with impunity.
Let’s look at last night’s Celtics/Heat game as an example. The Celtics beat the Heat by 25 points mostly due to their torrid shooting from deep. The Celtics shot 20-for-40 from 3-point range for 50%. The Heat were 10-for-34 from 3-point land for 29.4%. The Celtics nailed 10 more 3-pointers than the Heat for a 30-point differential. It’s no surprise they won by 25 points.
When teams are living and dying by the 3-point shot, the final scores can be glorious for the hot team, and utterly atrocious for the losing team. As a result of this over-reliance on 3-point shooting, there’s been an uptick in blowouts.
Sometimes a team knows they don’t have “it” for a game. Sometimes they know from the opening tip. Other times the moment of clarity occurs in the second half. The deeper a team goes into the playoffs, the entire roster suffers greater fatigue. Toss in injuries — which many players play through in the postseason — and you have a lot of banged-up and exhausted players.
If teams know it’s not their night, they’ll pack it in early and head coaches will empty the bench. In poker terms, it’s like folding a losing hand after seeing the flop. It might be unwatchable from a viewer perspective, but NBA teams are trying to win games and not entertain the audience. It’s better to rest up, regroup, and focus on the next game.
We saw this happen with the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Memphis Grizzlies. They were up 3-1 in the series and Ja Morant from the Grizzlies was most likely out the remainder of the playoffs after an injury in Game 3. Once the Warriors fell behind early in Game 5 in Memphis they knew it was wise to focus on the next game instead.
The older Warriors had the luxury to lose a game against a younger and more energetic team with a 3-1 series lead, especially with Game 6 schedule at home in San Francisco. The Warriors ended up losing Game 5 by 39 points in a game in which they looked like they gave up early on. Because — let’s be frank here — they did. In Game 6, the Warriors clinched the series and advanced to the Western Conference Finals.
Check out more coverage of the 2022 NBA Playoffs.