In 1984 the NBA removed the bye in the first round for top seeds. Since then, every title team has had to endure four round of pain to hoist a championship trophy — although, teams pre 2003 did enjoy the luxury of best of five first rounds.
I had an fun question: how often has a title team faced elimination? As the saying goes: any team can beat any other team on a given night (For example the powerhouse 72 win 1996 Chicago Bulls lost to both the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors) If a title team faced elimination then you can call them a bit lucky. Let’s break it down.
|Season||Team||Playoffs Round||Situation||Elimination Games|
|2012||Miami Heat||Conference Finals||Fell 2-3 to Boston Celtics||2|
|2010||Los Angeles Lakers||Finals||Fell 2-3 to Boston Celtics||2|
|2009||Los Angeles Lakers||2nd Round||3-3 to Houston Rockets||1|
|2008||Boston Celtics||1st Round||3-3 to Atlanta Hawks||1|
|2008||Boston Celtics||2nd Round||3-3 to Cleveland Cavaliers||1|
|2005||San Antonio Spurs||Finals||3-3 to Detroit Pistons||1|
|2004||Detroit Pistons||2nd Round||2-3 to New Jersey Nets||2|
|2002||Los Angeles Lakers||Conference Finals||2-3 to Sacramento Kings||2|
|2000||Los Angeles Lakers||1st Round||2-2 to Sacramento Kings||1|
|2000||Los Angeles Lakers||Conference Finals||3-3 to Portland Trail Blazers||1|
|1998||Chicago Bulls||Conference Finals||3-3 to Indiana Pacers||1|
|1995||Houston rockets||1st Round||1-2 to Utah Jazz||2|
|1995||Houston rockets||2nd Round||1-3 to Phoenix Suns||3|
|1994||Houston rockets||2nd Round||3-3 to Phoenix Suns||1|
|1994||Houston rockets||Finals||2-3 to New York Knicks||2|
|1992||Chicago Bulls||2nd Round||3-3 to New York Knicks||1|
|1990||Detroit Pistons||Conference Finals||3-3 to Chicago Bulls||1|
|1988||Los Angeles Lakers||2nd Round||3-3 to Utah Jazz||1|
|1988||Los Angeles Lakers||Conference Finals||3-3 to Dallas Mavericks||1|
|1988||Los Angeles Lakers||Finals||2-3 to Detroit Pisons||2|
|1984||Boston Celtics||2nd Round||3-3 to New York Knicks||1|
|1984||Boston Celtics||Finals||3-3 to Los Angeles Lakers||1|
And for those of you keeping score, here’s title teams that managed to avoid any season-ending games on their quest for greatness.
|2007||San Antonio Spurs|
|1987||Los Angeles Lakers|
|1985||Los Angeles Lakers|
The final tally? Of the 29 playoffs played since the removal of the first round bye – 15 title teams have faced elimination, while 14 have avoided it completely. What’s more, 10 of our title teams faced multiple games where they could have gone home! The NBA is a lopsided league. Teams that win the title very rarely come as surprises. However, given the length of the playoffs, it is important to remember a little luck can come into play. More than half of all of our title winners in the last three decades could have gone home. A third of them courted disaster multiple times. When we reward title teams, we should accept they were top caliber teams that outplayed strong opponents. We should also remember, that many of them also had a little luck.