Where Ralph Sampsons Happen
I like the Celtics to win round 1 in four or five games, round 2 in five or six games, and the ECFs in six games.
So we could be walking into the NBA finals with a 12-4 playoff record, give or take.
The give or take is the interesting part.
It is one thing for an inferior team to force an extra game in a seven-game series, but it really takes some kind of unforeseeable and uncontrollable event for a clearly inferior team to force two extra games.
Take a look at 1986 NBA Playoffs (what else?).
In the first round, the 67-win Boston Celtics squared off against the 30-win Chicago Bulls. Gotta be a three-game sweep, right? That is what you’d think, and that is what happened. But the Bulls came this close (squeezing thumb and index finger an inch apart) from winning game 2 when God took the court "disguised as Michael Jordan” and scored 63 points. Jordan’s outburst would certainly qualify as both unforeseen and uncontrollable, but even it wasn’t enough to force an extra game.
The next series paired the Celtics against an Atlanta Hawks team lead by Dominique Wilkins and Doc Rivers. Coming off 50 regular season wins, the Hawks eliminated the Detroit Pistons in round 1, three games to one. However, the Celtics had swept the season series against the Hawks, 6 to zip. It stood to reason that the Celtics should have won the round 2 playoff series in four or five games, allowing for one extraordinary performance by the Hawks in Atlanta. And that is exactly what happened. The Celts took the series 4-1, with Atlanta winning their only game at the Omni.
Next the Celtics faced the Milwaukee Bucks in the ECFs. The good money had the Celtics sweeping this series. The Bucks had swept the Celtics out of the playoffs a couple years earlier, and Larry Bird was still bitter about it in 1986. Bird and the green had won all five games from the Bucks during the regular season. So it should have been a four game series, five if the Bucks shot the lights out in one of their two home games. They didn’t and the Celtics won the series 4-zip.
Finally, we get to the Finals. The coup de gras. Everything the Celtics had been working for all season was now within their grasp. Experts predicted a methodical sweep, but some allowed, as usual, for one Houston victory at home. And that is what happened. The Celtics won the series 4-1.
Oh wait. The Celtics actually lost two games.
How did that happen?
Oh yeah, Ralph Sampson happened.
Game five, of course, was the infamous “my girlfriend could be up Jerry Sichting” game where the 7-4 Mr. Sampson thought he’d pick a fight with 6-1 Mr. Sichting. The fight ignited the home crowd in Houston, and ignited the home team on the floor. The fight left the visiting Celtics listless, zombie-like condition. The Celts won game 6 in a blow-out.
The point here is that clearly inferior teams can win playoff games. But they should not get lucky more than once. If they start winning multiple games by fortuity and happenstance, then what you have are two teams that are more evenly matched than not.
Apply this theory to the 2008 playoffs, and both rounds one and two should go to the Celtics in five games or less, though round 2 might go six if something extraordinary happens. The Cs should win the ECFs in 6, 7 if the ball just doesn't bounce their way in one of the games.
We'll have to see how well the green is playing in those series before weighing in on the Finals.
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