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The Shape of a 7-Game Series

Posted by Neil Paine on June 16, 2010

As a follow-up to this morning's post about historical 7-game series, here are some notes about the "shape" of this year's Finals...

First, what I mean by "shape" is the pattern of wins and losses by the home team in the series. For instance, the 2010 Finals look like this:

WLLWWW

In other words, the home team won Game 1, lost Games 2 & 3, and then won Games 4, 5, & 6. How often has that happened through the first 6 games of a 7-game series?

10 other times in NBA history, including 4 other Finals:

Year Round Series Winner Series Loser Shape
1952 FIN MNL NYK WLLWWW
1960 FIN BOS STL WLLWWW
1970 EDS NYK BAL WLLWWW
1970 FIN NYK LAL WLLWWW
1976 WCF PHO GSW WLLWWW
1981 ECS PHI MIL WLLWWW
1993 WCF PHO SEA WLLWWW
1994 FIN HOU NYK WLLWWW
2000 ECS NYK MIA WLLWWW
2006 WCS PHO LAC WLLWWW
2010 FIN ??? ??? WLLWWW

That actually makes WLLWWW the most common shape for any Finals series! And they said this year's series had no discernible pattern.

The most commonly-shaped 7-game series in overall NBA playoff history is "WWWWWW" -- the home team winning each of the first 6 games, which has happened 24 times (but only twice in the Finals):

Year Round Series Winner Series Loser Shape
1955 FIN SYR FTW WWWWWW
1959 EDF BOS SYR WWWWWW
1962 EDF BOS PHW WWWWWW
1963 WDF LAL STL WWWWWW
1965 EDF BOS PHI WWWWWW
1969 FIN BOS LAL WWWWWW
1971 ECF BAL NYK WWWWWW
1971 WCS LAL CHI WWWWWW
1973 WCS LAL CHI WWWWWW
1977 WCS LAL GSW WWWWWW
1984 ECS BOS NYK WWWWWW
1987 ECF BOS DET WWWWWW
1988 WCF LAL DAL WWWWWW
1990 ECF DET CHI WWWWWW
1990 WCS POR SAS WWWWWW
1993 WCS SEA HOU WWWWWW
1994 ECS NYK CHI WWWWWW
1995 ECF ORL IND WWWWWW
1998 ECF CHI IND WWWWWW
2004 EC1 MIA NOH WWWWWW
2007 WC1 UTA HOU WWWWWW
2008 EC1 BOS ATL WWWWWW
2008 ECS BOS CLE WWWWWW
2008 WCS SAS NOH WWWWWW

The least common shape for a 7-game series are LWLLLW and WWLWWL, each of which has only happened once:

Year Round Series Winner Series Loser Shape
1966 FIN BOS LAL LWLLLW
1973 ECF NYK BOS WWLWWL

In the Finals, there are plenty of combinations that never get used, so much so that it's easier to list which ones have occurred in the championship round than the ones that haven't:

Shape Count
WLLWWW 5
LWWLWW 2
WWWWWW 2
LWLLLW 1
WWLLWW 1
WLLWLL 1
WWLWLW 1
WLWLLL 1
LWWLLL 1
WWWWLL 1
LWLWWW 1

One thing that all of these different shapes have in common, though, is that the home team usually wins Game 7... And that's bad news for the Boston Celtics tomorrow night.

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6 Responses to “The Shape of a 7-Game Series”

  1. AHL Says:

    Funny, in one of your earlier blog posts, I think you determined that this year's Finals would be highly similar to the Rockets-Knicks series, and look at that...

  2. Bill Reynolds Says:

    Interesting. Of the ten previous series with the same shape as this one through 6 games, the road team (i.e., the Celtics tonight) won game 7 twice -- Phoenix in 1976 and the Knicks in 2000. However, it seems to me that analogizing the shape of a 2-3-2 series to that of a 2-2-1-1-1 series is a little questionable.

  3. Romain Says:

    Neil,

    In 2008 SAS won game 7 against NOH on the road so this would be a WWWWWWL, not a WWWWWWW

  4. Romain Says:

    I remember this series very well because the Spurs had been blown off at NO in game 1, 2 & 5, and somehow they found a way to win game 7 on the road which is, as you point out, very rare.
    Both teams went 56-26 in the regular season, so I guess this might explain why you had it the wrong way.

  5. Neil Paine Says:

    Hi Romain,

    Actually, I'm just looking at the first 6 games of the series (which is all we have to go on for this year's Finals). It is true that the away team won Game 7 of that series after losing the first 6, though.

  6. Romain Says:

    You're right I read your post too fast!
    My mistake, sorry