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Most Competitive Series, Part II

Posted by Neil Paine on March 3, 2010

On Monday I looked at the most competitive playoff series of all-time by the point differentials of the games, and I got some good feedback from readers about how to more accurately capture the "competitiveness index" of a series. Chief among the suggestions was what to do with overtime games, especially in light of the way Boston & Chicago's epic series last spring was perhaps being underrated by my initial metric. My favorite suggestion was that we simply count the point margin at the end of regulation time, which sets the margin of an OT game at 0 no matter what the final score was. I liked this because it was directly comparing apples to apples -- point differential at the end of regulation for both games that went into OT and games that didn't -- instead of forcing OT games to remain close for another 5 (or more) minutes. Also, I made the arbitrary choice to average raw point differential per game for each series rather than squared differentials, since it seemed like one blowout was being unfairly punished in an otherwise-close series. The results of these modifications are as follows:

Rank Year Winner Loser G avPtdiff
1 1980 SEA MIL 7 3.6
2 2000 NYK MIA 7 3.9
3 1955 SYR FTW 7 4.3
4 1989 MIL ATL 5 4.4
5 2006 DAL SAS 7 4.4
6 1976 CLE WSB 7 4.6
7 2002 LAL SAC 7 4.6
8 1984 NYK DET 5 4.6
9 1987 MIL PHI 5 4.6
10 1989 CHI CLE 5 4.6
11 1994 UTA DEN 7 4.7
12 1997 HOU SEA 7 4.7
13 2009 BOS CHI 7 4.9
14 1987 BOS MIL 7 5.1
15 1984 DAL SEA 5 5.2
16 1961 STL LAL 7 5.3
17 1981 BOS PHI 7 5.3
18 1969 BOS LAL 7 5.6
19 1974 CHI DET 7 5.7
20 1993 PHO LAL 5 5.8
21 1996 ATL IND 5 5.8
22 1994 HOU NYK 7 6.1
23 1998 CHI IND 7 6.1
24 1984 PHO POR 5 6.2
25 1957 BOS STL 7 6.3
26 1963 CIN SYR 5 6.4
27 1991 BOS IND 5 6.4
28 1965 BOS PHI 7 6.7
29 1988 ATL MIL 5 6.8
30 1988 DET WSB 5 6.8
31 1994 NYK CHI 7 6.9
32 1995 IND NYK 7 6.9
33 2004 MIN SAC 7 7.0
34 1988 CHI CLE 5 7.2
35 1952 MNL NYK 7 7.3
36 1979 SEA PHO 7 7.3
37 1986 MIL PHI 7 7.3
38 1981 HOU SAS 7 7.4
39 1966 BOS LAL 7 7.6
40 1979 SAS PHI 7 7.6
41 1962 BOS LAL 7 7.7
42 2001 MIL CHH 7 7.7
43 1953 MNL FTW 5 7.8
44 1970 NYK LAL 7 8.1
45 1986 PHI WSB 5 8.2
46 1987 GSW UTA 5 8.2
47 1954 MNL SYR 7 8.3
48 1960 STL MNL 7 8.3
49 1977 PHI BOS 7 8.3
50 1978 WSB SEA 7 8.3

Bulls-Celts is still probably not as high as we'd like, but at least it ranks much higher than it did under the old method.

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6 Responses to “Most Competitive Series, Part II”

  1. DSMok1 Says:

    Perhaps another modification would be to emphasize the later games in the series, for instance doubling the value of each elimination game. That's the most competitive part. If most of the games come down to the wire but then the 7th is a 15 point game... that's simply not as competitive as a similar series with the 15 point game the first of the series.

  2. Steve Says:

    These results seem more sensible. Also, noticing that only a handful of those series took place in the last decade, it may just be that many older fans have forgotten (and younger fans never knew) about how competitive some previous series were. Since just a few recent series can compare, we have elevated BOS-CHI to be something that was utterly unique (even though it may only have been unique for its era).

  3. Ian Says:

    That Dallas-San Antonio series in 2006 was quite epic.

  4. Romain Says:

    I like what you've done for overtime games, but shouldn't double or triple OT games be taken into account in some way? With some kind of a bonus ?

    I konw they're rare but they can definitely turn a series into something epic. I remember Game 3 of the 1993 Finals, now that was something !

  5. Ray Says:

    It's interesting that all these metrics show Heat-Knicks 2000 at or near the top of the list. What more could you ask for? A seven game series between two teams that had knocked each other out of the playoffs the previous three years in a row, each time taking the maximum number of games. Granted, things got really nasty between them, which didn't appeal to many people, but those were tense, down-to-the-wire showdowns where home court didn't mean a whole lot.

    And although as a Miami fan the result was a heartbreaker, I developed a fondness for the Pacers and Reggie Miller ever since, just like the year before made me a lifelong Tim Duncan fan. I know I'm not alone in that, and such a ripple effect sure says something about how bitterly close that series (and rivalry) was. And make no mistake, when it comes to the playoffs, close always means bitter. The only thing worse than an embarrassing blowout is being right at the finish line but not getting to cross.

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