Today’s Sportstat: April 18, 2019

A look at the last 10 years of NBA first-round matchups

This year’s NBA playoffs have begun and each of the eight first-round series has seen two games played. The Bucks, Celtics, Rockets and Trailblazers each have a 2-0 lead in their series while the other four first-round matchups are tied at one game apiece.

So how long will each of these series go? How many will be a four-game sweep? Will there be any first-round series that go to a deciding seventh game?

To answer those questions, let’s look at the last 10 years of first-round series in the NBA (2009-2018). There have been 80 first-round series played in the past 10 seasons (four first-round series in each of the two conferences each year).

Following is a chart of how many games each of the series went over these past 10 seasons. It is broken down by the seeded series matchups (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5).


  4-game series 5-game series 6-game series 7-game series
1 vs. 8 6 5 7 2
2 vs. 7 7 5 4 4
3 vs. 6 2 5 7 6
4 vs. 5 1 4 10 5
Total 16 19 28 17


As you can tell, 28 of the 80 first-round series (35%) in the past 10 years went six games, the most of the four potential series lengths. The fewest were a four-game sweep which happened in only 16 of the 80 series (20%).

Other highlights from the above chart:

  • The most common length of a series was 4 vs. 5 going six games. That happened 10 times in the first round in the last 10 years.
  • The most seven-game series occurred in the 3 vs. 6 series; it happened six times in the last 10 years.
  • The most four-game sweeps happened in the 3 vs. 6 matchup. It happened seven times.
  • Forty-five of the 80 first-round series in the past 10 years went either six or seven games.
  • Surprisingly, the 1 vs. 8 first-round series the past decade went six games seven times and even went the full seven games twice.
  • The 2 vs. 7 series had seven four-game sweeps; the 1 vs. 8 series had six four-game sweeps. You would think the 1 vs. 8 matchup would have more four-game sweeps than any matchup.
  • In the last two seasons, the first-round series went four games three times, five games four times, six games six times, and seven games three times.

If history is any indication, there might be one or two first-round series that end in a four-game sweep. More likely, however, is that the majority of these eight first-round series will see a Game Six or Game Seven.


Follow Jerry on Twitter @StatsonTapp


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