Cinderella doesn’t always get invited to NBA Finals
One of the endearing aspects of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is that almost every year a Cinderella team or two finds its way into the later rounds. We love it when a low seed makes a run at the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, or beyond.
Cinderella, however, doesn’t seem to make many appearances in the NBA Finals. Now that the first round of this year’s NBA playoffs are complete, we see that all of the higher seeds defeated their lower seed opponents in the first round. Despite the seventh-seeded San Antonio Spurs taking the Denver Nuggets to a deciding Game Seven, the #1, #2, #3 and #4 seeds in each conference won their first round series against the #5, #6, #7 and 8 seeds.
With two rounds to go before the NBA Finals, the question becomes: Which seeds will we likely see in the NBA Finals?
To answer that, let’s take a look at the last 20 years of the NBA Finals (1999-2018). Last season the Western Conference #2 seed Golden State Warriors defeated the Eastern Conference #4 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals. It was the first year since 2012 that a #1 seed was not in the NBA Finals.
Here’s a few interesting stats concerning the seeds in the NBA Finals over the past 20 seasons:
- Sixteen of the last 40 teams (40%) in the NBA Finals were a #1 seed. Fifteen were a #2 seed; five were a #3 seed; three were a #4 seed, and there was one #8 seed (the New York Knicks in 1999).
- Ten of the last 20 Western Conference teams in the NBA Finals were a #1 seed (six of the Eastern Conference teams in the NBA Finals were a #1 seed).
- Thirty-six of the last 40 teams in the NBA Finals (90%) were either a #1, #2 or #3 seed.
- In the last seven NBA Finals, there has been only one team lower than a #2 seed in the finals… that was the Cavs last season as a #4 seed.
- In the last 20 NBA Finals, only three times was there a matchup of two #1 seeds… in 2016, 2008 and 2000.
- There were no #1 seeds in the finals in seven seasons since 1999… 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2018.
- Thirty-one of the last 40 NBA Finals teams (77.5%) were either a #1 or #2 seed
So what does all this mean? Well, there’s a good chance that the #1 or #2 seeds this year (#1 seeds Milwaukee and Golden State, and #2 seeds Toronto and Denver) could find their way into the NBA Finals this season. Only three #4 seeds have been in the NBA Finals in the last 20 years, but this year’s #4 seeds, Boston and Houston, are particularly strong #4’s this season and could easily crash the NBA Finals party this season.
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