Boy has this been a boring playoffs so far. There have been a few moderately memorable moments. Even worse, the Conference Finals might have been the worst ever in terms of competitiveness. How bad were they? Well, since 1983-84 (when the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams), there have been only two times when the Conference Finals went fewer than 10 total games between the two series. This year, we were one LeBron flu in Game 3 from having two easy sweeps.
Moreover, margin of victory also shows the lack of watchable games. Here is the list of Conference Finals in which both series went fewer than ten games along with the average margin of victory in each of the series:
2014-15: Cavs over Hawks 4-0 (+13.3), Warriors over Rockets 4-1 (+8.2): total victory +21.5
2010-11: Heat over Bulls 4-1 (+2.2), Mavericks over Thunder 4-1 (+4.0): total victory +6.2
1985-86: Celtics over Bucks 4-0 (+15.0), Rockets over Lakers 4-1 (+3.6): total victory +18.6
1984-85: Celtics over 76ers 4-1 (+5.0), Lakers over Nuggets 4-1 (+12.2): total victory +17.2
So, the worst Conference Finals’ experience came only two years ago when the very same Cavs and Warriors tore through the Hawks and Rockets. That season, both winners had very healthy margins of victory (the highest aggregate of the group). Now, let’s look at this year’s numbers:
2016-17: Cavs over Celtics 4-1 (+20.0 ), Warriors over Spurs 4-0 (+16.0): total victory +36.0
Yeesh. Both the Cavs and Warriors broke the 1985-86 Celtics mark for victory margin. It can’t get any worse than that.
On the bright side, the fact that the Conference Finals have been so terrible isn’t necessarily an argument that the NBA needs to make corrections. Bad timing may have made thing worse than they should have been as fluke injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Isaiah Thomas changed things. The Spurs/Warriors series was supposed to be the battle of the two best teams in the NBA and, instead, was a huge dud (though the Cavs would’ve dispatched the Celtics easily even with Thomas). All we can do is sit back and hope the third round of Cavs v. Warriors lives up to last year’s Final. If it does, no one will remember how bad the rest of the playoffs were.