A look back at the NBA Playoffs heading into the Finals

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors both overcame 3-2 series deficits to advance to the NBA Finals. This will mark the fourth consecutive season these two teams will have played for the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Never before in the history of the four major North American sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) have the same two teams played each other in four straight championships.

Teams to make 4 consecutive championship appearances

Golden State and Cleveland now join a small group of 17 other teams across the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL to make 4 consecutive championship appearances. This is the sixth time that an NBA team has made it to the Finals four years in a row.

Besides the Cavaliers and Warriors, the only other of these spans to overlap within a sport were the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers during the 1984 and 1985 NBA playoffs.

Team (Sport) Years (Span) Champ. Record
Giants (MLB) 4 (1921-24) 2-2
Yankees (MLB) 4 (1936-39) 4-0
Bears (NFL) 4 (1940-43) 3-1
Yankees (MLB) 5 (1949-53) 5-0
Browns (NFL) 6 (1950-55) 3-3
Canadiens (NHL) 10 (1951-60) 6-4
Yankees (MLB) 4 (1955-58) 2-2
Celtics (NBA) 10 (1957-66) 9-1
Yankees (MLB) 5 (1960-64) 2-3
Canadiens (NHL) 5 (1965-69) 4-1
Canadiens (NHL) 4 (1976-79) 4-0
Islanders (NHL) 5 (1980-84) 4-1
Lakers (NBA) 4 (1982-85) 2-2
Celtics (NBA) 4 (1984-87) 2-2
Bills (NFL) 4 (1990-93) 0-4
Yankees (MLB) 4 (1998-01) 3-1
Heat (NBA) 4 (2011-14) 2-2
Cavs (NBA) 4 (2015-18) 1-2
Warriors (NBA) 4 (2015-18) 2-1

2018 seeding vs historical context

The No. 6 seeded New Orleans Pelicans swept the No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers in the first-round. This made then only the 18th No. 6 seed to win their first-round series since the NBA switched to its current playoff format of 16 teams for the 1984 playoffs.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers having marched to the NBA Finals as the No. 4 seed they have also bucked historical trends. Starting with the 1984 playoffs, Cleveland became only the sixth No. 4 seed to win a second-round series and the third to win in the conference championship round.

With both No. 1 seeds being eliminated this will be the seventh NBA Finals (2004, 05, 06, 07, 11, 12) since the NBA expanded to the 16 team playoff format to not feature a top-seeded team.

Teams seeded No. 4 or lower to reach NBA Finals

The Cavaliers are only the fifth team to be seeded No. 4 or lower to reach the NBA Finals since it expanded to 16 teams in the 1983-84 season.

Team (Seed) Year Finals result
Rockets (6) 1994-95 Won 4-0
Knicks (8) 1998-99 Lost 4-1
Mavericks (4) 2005-06 Lost 4-2
Celtics (4) 2009-10 Lost 4-3
Cavaliers (4) 2017-18 TBD

Jetpack

Point differential after each game for Cavs and Warriors during their path to the Finals

The Cavaliers point differential was at its lowest following their game six loss to the Pacers (-45) and is currently at its highest going into the Finals (+21).

Cavs PD

The Warriors point differential was at its lowest following their first game against the Spurs (+21) and is currently at its highest going into the Finals (+150).

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LeBron and the Cavs

While LeBron James won the Eastern Conference for the eighth year in a row, this season provided the toughest road to the Finals in that span.

Playoff Rec. # of game 7s # of sweeps
LeBron vs East (2011-17) 84-21 (80%) 2 in 21 series (9.52%) 8 in 21 series (38.09%)
LeBron vs East (2018) 12-6 (66.66%) 2 in 3 series (66.66%) 1 in 3 series (33.33%)

Following the Cavaliers first-round series win over the Indiana Pacers, I wrote about LeBron James’ historic performance in that series. After three series he is still on pace to have the sixth occurrence of a player averaging 30, 9 and 7 in the playoffs.

Player Year Games MP Points TRB AST FG% 2P% 3P%
Oscar Robertson 1962-63 12 47.5 31.8 13 9 47.00% 47.00% N/A
LeBron James 2008-09 14 41.4 35.3 9.1 7.3 51.00% 57.10% 33.30%
LeBron James 2014-15 20 42.2 30.1 11.6 8.5 41.70% 46.50% 22.70%
Russell Westbrook 2016-17 5 38.8 37.4 11.3 10.8 38.80% 44.70% 26.50%
LeBron James 2016-17 18 41.3 32.9 9.1 7.8 56.50% 62.50% 41.10%
LeBron James 2017-18 18 41.3 34 9.2 8.8 54.20% 60.1% 34.40%

LeBron is also on pace to have his fourth occurrence of having a usage percentage of at least 34% in the playoffs (minimum 7 playoff games). Only 15 different players (33 total times) have had a usage percentage that high in the playoffs.

Michael Jordan (8 times) is that only player with more than LeBron. Jordan is also the only player who was older than Lebron with a higher usage percentage (Age 34 in 1997-98, 36.6 USG%).

Year (LeBron age) LeBron usage % Rank among 33
2014-15 (30) 37.6 3
2008-09 (24) 36.4 10
2017-18 (33) 35.9 12
2007-08 (23) 34.7 27

Lastly, let’s take a look at how LeBron and the rest of the Cavs compare to each other these playoffs playing at home (8-1 record) compared to on the road (4-5 record).

I found LeBron’s home/road splits for these playoffs using NBA.com. Then I found the Cavs splits as a team for these playoffs at home and on the road. I subtracted LeBron splits from the Cavs team ones to get the numbers for the rest of the players on the Cavs.

Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers FG% 3P% FT%
Lebron stats (at home) 38.1 8.3 8.2 2.2 0.8 3.8 58.70% 40.50% 76.40%
LeBron stats (on road) 29.9 10.1 9.3 0.6 1.3 4.4 49.80% 30.50% 66.20%
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers FG% 3P% FT%
Rest of Cavs (at home) 67.7 32.4 10.8 5.1 3.9 10.2 42.88% 36.09% 79.85%
Rest of Cavs (on road) 66.7 29.7 9.4 3.8 3 7.3 42.26% 31.51% 75.57%

Interestingly enough, the rest of the Cavaliers have been remarkably similar playing at home and on the road. The only notable difference is they average almost three most turnovers at home while shooting about 5% worse on three-pointers and free throws on the road.

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Three-point shooting costs Celtics, Rockets in game 7

The Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets both had their chances to win in game 7 but ended up shooting themselves out of it by putting on two of the worst three-point shooting performances in playoff history.

*Minimum 30 three-pointers taken, five worst games listed below.

Date Team Opponent 3’s (PCT) Result
5-25-15 Hawks Cavaliers 5-32 (.156) Loss 118-88
5-28-18 Rockets Warriors 7-44 (.159) Loss 101-92
4-25-17 Rockets Thunder 6-37 (.162) Won 105-99
5-27-18 Celtics Cavaliers 7-39 (.179) Loss 87-79
4-27-16 Rockets Warriors 6-32 (.188) Loss 114-81

Not only was the team performance bad, but Terry Rozier and Trevor Ariza managed to have two of the worst three-point shooting playoff games in NBA history.

Player Date 3’s taken Total FGs Points Result
John Starks 6-22-94 0-11 2-18 8 Loss 90-84
James Harden 5-24-18 0-11 5-21 19 Won 98-94
Terry Rozier 5-27-18 0-10 2-14 4 Loss 87-79
Trevor Ariza 5-28-18 0-9 0-12 0 Loss 101-92
Joe Johnson 4-29-12 0-9 3-15 11 Won 83-74
Rashard Lewis 4-22-08 0-9 7-21 18 Won 104-103
Derrick Rose 4-16-11 0-9 10-23 39 Won 104-91

Other notable stats from the 2018 NBA Playoffs

It was the first time Boston lost a series after going up 2-0 in franchise history.

Game 6 of the Rockets-Warriors series saw the largest second-half point differential in an NBA playoff game.

Trevor Ariza joined Nate Robinson and Marvin Williams as the only players to take at least 10 shots in a playoff game and score zero points.

The Rockets also recorded the largest point deficit of any Conference Finals series that went to seven games.

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Sources and Info: (*Any sources not listed here are linked in article above)

Featured Image: “LeBron James” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY-2.0

NFL teams to make 4 consecutive championship appearances

NBA teams to make 4 consecutive championship appearances

NHL teams to make 4 consecutive championship appearances

MLB teams to make 4 consecutive championship appearancesMLB teams to make 4 consecutive championship appearances

https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/NBA_2018.html (Used scores on here to calculate point differential per game for Cavs and Warriors)

All tables and graphs make using Google Spreadsheet

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