When the NBA common season winds down, followers most certainly hear some variation of this outdated adage on one studio present after one other: “Within the playoffs, when the video games decelerate, they’re going to have some issues.”

The thought is that run-and-gun groups will see their tempo come to a grinding halt as soon as the postseason begins; groups will concentrate on getting again on protection and can give away much less in transition. How a lot this hurts up-tempo groups within the playoffs is hotly debated. The concept the sport slows down, although, shouldn’t be. It’s only a truism. However is it even true?

The quickest playoff rounds have been in recent times

NBA playoff rounds with probably the most possessions per 48 minutes, 1997-2018

YrSphericalTempo
2017Finals103.14
2017Conf. finals100.24
2018Spherical 299.94
2017Spherical 298.08
2015Conf. finals97.71
2018Spherical 197.52
2016Conf. finals97.28
2015Spherical 297.21
2002Conf. finals97.14
2015Spherical 196.85
2016Spherical 295.89
2017Spherical 195.85
2016Finals95.38
2016Spherical 194.99
2015Finals94.78

Supply: NBA Superior Stats

Based mostly on possessions per 48 minutes, the not too long ago accomplished second spherical of the 2018 playoffs was the third-fastest playoff spherical since 1997, which is way back to the NBA Superior Stats database reaches. Not solely that, however this yr’s first spherical was the sixth-fastest. And of the 15 quickest rounds previously 22 years, 14 of them have come previously 4 years.

After all, it makes a great deal of sense that playoff basketball is getting quicker, as a result of regular-season basketball is getting quicker as nicely. The league common pace during the 2017-18 regular season was 99.57 possessions per 48 minutes. That’s almost 10 full possessions quicker than the 1996-97 campaign, which was performed at an 89.78-possession tempo. The speed of change can be shortly rising: This yr’s common season was greater than 5 possessions per recreation quicker than the league was even 5 years in the past.1 With the sport getting quicker every season, it’s value inspecting simply how massive the drop-off between regular-season and postseason basketball actually is — if it exists in any respect.

Since 1996, the common season has certainly been performed at a quicker tempo than the postseason in all however one yr. However based mostly on how the playoffs are considered a slog, you’ll anticipate the speed of slowdown to be large. That has not truly been the case. On common, playoff video games over the previous 22 years have been performed 2.42 possessions per recreation slower than regular-season video games — roughly 2.6 % slower than regular-season video games in that span. However even the price of the postseason slowdown has been dropping off of late.

In 1997, the playoffs had been three.four % slower than the 1996-97 common season. By 2000, the drop in tempo reached 5.7 %. In different phrases, the truism, again then, truly was true. For the reason that flip of the century, nevertheless, it has turn out to be more and more much less true. And in 2015, the playoffs had been quicker than the common season for the primary time in not less than 20 years.

This yr’s convention finals determine to see an excellent smaller drop-off in tempo. The Celtics ranked 23rd in pace throughout the common season at 98.24 possessions per recreation, the slowest among the many 4 remaining groups. The three regular-season matchups between the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers had been performed at an average of 101.71 possessions, whereas the three Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets video games averaged 103.57 possessions. Even when the Cavs-Celtics collection is slower, the speed at which the Warriors and Rockets rack up possessions ought to make these convention finals one of many quickest playoff rounds in latest reminiscence — particularly if that Western Convention collection is as shut as many assume it will likely be and lasts six or seven video games. (The primary two video games of the Jap Convention finals averaged 95.20 possessions, per NBA.com’s calculations; whereas the West’s opening recreation was performed at a 100.12-possession tempo, confirming the expectation that it will likely be the quicker collection.)

However the anticipated distinction in tempo between the convention finals highlights one different NBA notion that has largely held true through the years: Western Convention video games are a bit quicker than these within the Jap Convention, and Jap Convention basketball slows down within the playoffs greater than Western Convention basketball does.

Because of the NBA Superior Stats database, we’re capable of isolate video games performed between Jap Convention groups and people performed between Western Convention groups for each common season since 1996-97. The West has been the quicker convention in 18 of the 22 seasons. The hole between the conferences has at occasions been portrayed as vast, and for a very good whereas (from 2006-07 to 2014-15), this was true. However the East has quickly caught up over the previous few years, and it has truly been the quicker convention every of the previous two common seasons.

The playoffs are one other story. Whereas regular-season video games performed between West groups since 1997 have been 1.36 possessions quicker than these contested between groups from the East, the typical West playoff recreation since 1997 has been 2.88 possessions quicker than the typical East playoff contest.


Even the conferences’ drop-offs from their regular-season tempo has been starker within the East than within the West. On common, Jap Convention playoff video games have been three.06 possessions slower than these performed throughout the common season. Within the West, the differential has been simply 1.54 possessions.

A lot of this may be pinned on one man: LeBron James. James’s groups — a continuing presence within the East playoffs for greater than a decade — not solely play slower than most consider, in addition they prefer to gradual the tempo much more throughout the playoffs, in an effort to permit James to manage each inch of the ground. His groups, both the Cavaliers or the Miami Warmth, have performed slower within the Jap Convention portion of the playoffs than within the common season in 12 of the 13 years he has made the playoffs, together with this yr. On common, they’ve performed three.40 possessions slower, and this yr they’re 6.70 possessions slower.

Apparently, James’s opponents have been capable of pace his staff up in all however one in all his NBA Finals appearances.2 If the Cavaliers beat the Celtics and get to the finals once more, the sensible wager can be on the Warriors or Rockets having the ability to pace up the Cavaliers this yr as nicely. If that occurs, and if the convention finals are performed at as quick of a tempo as I believe they’ll be, it’s doable that this yr’s playoff tempo will surpass that of the common season. And if that occurs for the second time in 4 years, we’ve got to start out rethinking the concept that attending to the playoffs slows down the sport in any respect.

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