Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The NBA Finals are 1-1 so why am I throwing things?

A few things happen in our apartment when the Lakers lose a game like they lost on Sunday night. First I throw something. Preferably a soft object, like an old sock or a small pillow. If there's a pen within arm's length, that's always a good candidate, although I have to be careful to make sure it doesn't shatter. Spilled ink helps no one.

Then I always rewind the tape I used to record the game and prepare it for the next game. I almost always tape over the losses. Totalitarian dictators have nothing on me when it comes to erasing history. I still have a few losses from the Showtime era, including the entire 1989 Finals. In the third quarter of Game 2 of that series, you can still see the exact moment Magic's hamstring gave out and the Lakers' hopes died. But I keep the games because 20 years later it's still fun to occasionally pop in Game 4 and see Kareem's last game, or watch Worthy dominate, or scream at Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. But as I've gotten older, I've lost patience with keeping the losses, so now I only maintain the victories. 

But to alleviate the pain, I also retreat to history, just not the recorded kind. I look to the past to see if it has any bearing on the present. It probably doesn't. A series from 1992 has nothing to do with what happens in Boston in 2010. But somehow it can make me feel more confident about the Lakers' chances, or more depressed. Even as a kid I did that. After the 1983 Finals, when Philly swept an injury-depleted Lakers squad, I curled up in bed with an NBA handbook and looked over previous Finals results to see how many teams came back after a sweep to win the following year. This comforted me in the wake of Moses Malone's dominance. 

So let's look at the history. Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985, there have been 10 previous series knotted at 1-1. It happened the very first year, the 1985 Finals between...the Celtics and Lakers. Celtic fans still complain about that series. Dennis Johnson hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer of Game 4, evening the series at 2-2. In previous years, that would have meant a return trip to Boston for the pivotal Game 5, a scenario that played out during the infamous 1984 Finals. But with the new format, the Lakers had another home game and coasted to a 3-2 lead, before finally finishing off the hated Celtics in Game 6 in Boston. Celtics fans like to say there's no way the Lakers would have won Game 5 back in Boston, as if there aren't a thousand what-ifs Laker fans can break out every year as well.

In those 10 series, the team that started with the homecourt advantage has won seven of the series. Hey, that's good news for the Lakers (again, I know, it probably has nothing to do with this year's series, but still, historically interesting and something to grasp on to as I mentally replay the image of Ron Artest dribbling around like Bob Cousy). The only teams who lost after leaving their home tied at 1-1 were Boston in '85, Utah in 1998 and the Lakers in 2004. Only three series since 1985 have gone seven games - 1988, 1994 and 2005, and the team with homecourt for Games 6 and 7 won each time. Both the Lakers in 1988 and the Rockets in 1994 trailed 3-2 when the series returned home for the final two games. The Lakers won in part thanks to Isiah Thomas' injury, while the Rockets won thanks to John Starks's jumper.

So, if the Lakers can simply get back to LA - even if they're trailing 3-2 - they should have a decent chance.

And, only twice has a team won all three middle games at home - Detroit in 2004, Miami in 2006. 

The stat trotted out most often after the opening game was the astounding number that Phil Jackson's 47-0 when his team wins the first game of a series. So I'm still clinging desperately to that, while trying to block out the memories of that Detroit series in 2004. Game 4 that year was on my wedding night. June 13. It was a disastrous night - the game, of course. 

Breaking down those 10 series a bit more:

Game 3 is always a critical one, in any series, but particularly in the 2-3-2 format. In those 10 matchups, the team that won Game 3 won all 10 series. Ten for ten. That's actually a pretty stunning stat, and one I'll conveniently forget if the Lakers lose Game 3.

Those middle three games were troublesome for the home team in the early 1990s. In fact, between 1989 and 1992, the road team in the three middle games won a ridiculous 9 straight games. Detroit took two from LA in 1989 (put an asterisk there, in the shape of Magic and Byron Scott's hamstrings), and then three straight from Portland in 1990. The Bulls swept three in a row from the Lakers in 1991 and then won the first game in Portland in 1992. 

I don't know if any of these numbers mean anything, even the one about Game 3. But this is what I do after a Lakers loss like Sunday night, search through the history books for clues about the present and the future. Come late Tuesday night, I hope things are quiet in our apartment. I don't want to throw things. I don't want to erase tapes. It makes me feel juvenile.

And I don't want to have to find some stat or historical footnote that will make me feel better about the Lakers losing a game that history tells us is a must-win.


Dad said...

More than once on Sunday nite the comment was made "I wonder if Shawn threw something after that play".

Shawn Fury said...

And more than once, the correct answer would have been yes, yes he did.