Playoff Quick Thoughts

So far, the Conference Finals have had some rousing moments but, ultimately, we have two 3-0 series.  Let’s quickly run through a few issues that have come up that interest me:

The Doncic Shot Over Gobert:  LukaDoncic’s step back three to win Game 2 was an incredible shot.  The isolation play was set up by a pick play that forced big Rudy Gobert to have to guard Luka 40 feet from the hoop in open space.  A review of the tape shows that Gobert did a relatively good job of staying with a smaller quicker player.  The only question is whether Minnesota should’ve anticipated the pick/switch and subbed out Gobert preemptively to avoid the match up.  I’m agnostic on this point.  Gobert’s contest was pretty good and it’s not like the regular match up had stopped Doncic anyway.  The best potential counter might’ve been to double Doncic hard on the pick and force him to pass to the rolling player Derrick Lively.  Luka would likely have found Lively but the risk of hitting a three-pointer and falling behind in the game would be lower.

Pacer/Celtics: The Pacers have blown two games but the overall sense I get is that the Celtics are the much better team and, whenever they dial up intensity on defense, the Pacers cannot compete with them.  The Celtics have been coasting through most of the playoffs so far and are just waiting for the Finals.  I don’t expect them to have this issue in the Finals.

Conference Finals Sweeps:  Despite the lack of drama, this year’s Conference Finals do have the chance to make history.  Since the Conference Finals have gone to a seven-game format, there have never been sweeps in both conferences.  In fact, the only dual Conference Finals sweeps since the shot clock was 1956-57, when Boston swept the Nationals and the Hawks swept the Lakers.

Casting a little wider net, having both Conference Finals go only five games (or fewer) is also exceedingly rare.  In the past 68 years, the Conference Finals have gone 4-1 or 4-0 in both conferences nine times.  Most recently, this occurred in 2016-17 when the LeBron Cavs dispatched a raw Celtics team 4-1 and the Warriors swept the Spurs (thanks to that major injury to Kawhi Leonard in Game 1).  Here’s the full list of such series:

YearECFPoint Diff.WCFPoint Diff.Total Diff.
2016-17CLE over BOS 4-120GS over SA 4-01636
2014-15CLE over ATL 4-013.3GS over HOU 4-18.221.5
2010-11MIA over CHI 4-12.2DAL over OKC 4-146.2
1985-86BOS over MIL 4-015HOU over LAL 4-13.618.6
1984-85BOS over PHI 4-15LAL over DEN 4-112.217.2
1979-80PHI over BOS 4-13.6LAL over SEA 4-13.47
1973-74BOS over NY 4-19.6MIL over CHI 4-014.223.8
1969-70NY over MIL 4-19.6LAL over ATL 4-08.718.3
1957-58BOS over PHW 4-17STL over DET 4-110.817.8
1956-57BOS over SYR 3-012STL over MIN 3-06.318.3

As can be seen, for about 25 years between 1985 and 2010, fans were guaranteed at least one decent Conference Finals series.  The award for closest abbreviated Conference Finals goes to 2010-11, where the Bulls and Thunder were pretty competitive for teams that lost 4-1.  The 1979-80 Conference Finals were also relatively close (the Celtics would close the gap a year later).

This year’s Conference Finals leaders have outscored their opponents by an aggregate 12.3 (Boston +8 and Dallas +4.3), which falls in the range of most of the above series.  We shall see if they can make a little history with the double sweep.