Tuesday, June 1, 2010

NBA Finals storylines

By Rick Morris

For the second time in three years, David Stern gets what David Stern wants as one of the most storied rivalries in sports returns to center stage in the NBA Finals. Here’s a look at some of the key storylines of this matchup.

^ 31 championships have been won by teams other than these two finalists, one short of their combined total. Boston leads with 17 titles. The Minneapolis/LA Lakers are second with 15 titles, but that point of comparison doesn’t do justice to how the Celtics have been chased down over the past quarter century. Since their last title in the 1980s run (1986), the Cs have only won in 2008, while LA has captured six to pull close to even. If and when the trend continues and the Lakers overtake the Celtics in the next decade or so, it will represent the team reclaiming what was originally theirs, since they won four of the league’s first five titles from 1950-54 (in Minneapolis) before taking 18 years to win their next one (in LA, with eight Finals losses sandwiched in-between). The Celtics started their legendary run of titles in 1959 and passed the Lakers for the most titles in 1962.

^ Boston’s Finals appearances have been between 1957-69 (with 11 titles and an additional Finals loss in there), 1974-76 (two titles), 1981-87 (three titles and two Finals losses) and 2008-10 (with a title two years ago). While that is certainly impressive, the Lakers can be better summed up by the times they haven’t been in the Finals! In the entire history of their franchise, they have had more than five years between Finals appearances only twice (1974-79 were years without Finals appearances, as were 1992-99). That is a record of resilience unmatched in sports.

^ This series pits the team of the 1950s, 1980s and 2000s (LA) against the team of the 1960s (Boston). Celtics fans might make an argument about being the team of the 1970s with their two titles in ’74 and ’76, but the Knicks also managed two titles with an additional conference title that decade.

^ If Boston wins the title, Doc Rivers joins the ranks of two-time champion coaches. Believe it or not, that would leave Larry Brown (2004) as the only one-time champion coach since Bill Fitch (1981)!

^ Here’s another one to blow your mind: this is only the second time in league history that the two most recent champions have met in the Finals – and the only other time happened five years ago! In 2005, San Antonio (2003 champs) beat Detroit (2004 champs), but this actually marks the first time that the two most recent champs have met with one having beaten the other in the last two years, since Boston upended the Lakers to win in ’08. What is the cause of this dynamic? It’s very simple. In the NBA, repeat (and multiple-repeat) champions are far more evident than in the other major sports, thus reducing the chance for the two most recent champions to meet on the court in the Finals.

^ That ‘05 series also looms in one other way: if you think these Finals are headed for seven games, you need to consider that 2005 was the only time since 1994 that the championship went all the way to the limit. Actually, in addition to those two times, 1988 was the only other time since 1984 that the series went seven games. Meanwhile, there have been four sweeps since then (2007, 2002, 1995, 1989), so statistically, we’re every bit as likely to see this one go four as we are to see it go seven. In that span, the series has gone six games 11 times (2008, 2006, 2003, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1993, 1992, 1987 and 1985) and five games six times (2009, 2004, 2001, 1999, 1991 and 1990). In other words, figure on the series going six games.

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