Think back to the very first game of this NBA postseason: A one-point nail-biter of a win for Cleveland over Indiana, that outcome not getting decided until the final second.
Hardly any have gone like that since.
Dramatic playoff finishes have been very rare this year. Through 68 games, the average victory margin is 12.9 points. More than half of the 23 games in May have seen one team lead by 25 points or more. A postseason record has already been tied with four 4-0 sweeps – all by Golden State and Cleveland, who are a combined 19-0 and en route to what seems like an inevitable third consecutive NBA Finals matchup.
If you like blowouts, you love these NBA playoffs.
“Double-digit leads and wins are pretty surprising,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “But it’s just part of it right now.”
They seem less surprising every day.
Only eight playoff games this season have been decided by three points or less, while 40 have been decided by 10 points or more – a rate significantly higher than the NBA average over the last 30 years. San Antonio’s blowout-filled postseason has included winning a game by 39 and losing another by 36, both without star forward Kawhi Leonard. And the lone “upset” in a series so far was fifth-seeded Utah topping the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in their first-round Western Conference matchup.
Calling that an upset is a real stretch, since both teams finished the regular season 51-31.
“So many blowouts, it has surprised me a little bit,” Miami center Willie Reed said. “Playoffs, the crowd intensifies, the games get a lot tougher. I can see why the home teams are blowing out teams, jumping on them early. But it’s happening a lot. Seeing 10-point games doesn’t surprise me, but seeing the 20-point, 30-point games, that does.”
It’s certainly odd. But nobody seems to be complaining.
Every ticket for every game has been sold so far; it was the fourth straight year all first-round games were sold out and the third straight year where all conference semifinal tickets were purchased. Combined viewership for playoff games across the league’s network partners – ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV – is up 3 percent over last year’s pace, averaging 3.7 million.
Turner is enjoying its best numbers for playoffs since 2014, the network saying it’s up 6 percent over last year with gains across all key demographics. Blowouts might have people leaving arenas before the final horn, but the at-home audience – the main reason why the league has a new $24 billion television deal that is changing the financial landscape of the game – remains strong.
“What you look at, it doesn’t matter how many points you win by,” Golden State acting coach Mike Brown said.
The top teams are predictably driving the storylines, as are stars like Cleveland’s LeBron James, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Houston’s James Harden and San Antonio’s Leonard. When those stars are matched up, like Westbrook vs. Harden were in the first round and Harden vs. Leonard were in the second round, the interest level rose accordingly.
Although injuries derailed some teams – Chicago seemed poised to knock off Boston before Rajon Rondo got hurt, the Clippers finished the first round without Blake Griffin, San Antonio was already without Tony Parker and saw its best hope in the West finals damaged when Leonard re-rolled his ankle, and Toronto’s slim chance against Cleveland got slimmer when Kyle Lowry turned his ankle – the interest level isn’t ailing.
The top two teams in both conferences are the ones still playing now.
Whether they’re close games or routs, the matchups now are the ones many probably have been waiting for.
“This is the best time of the year,” Golden State forward Draymond Green said. “Every game matters. Every single possession matters. I love to play that way. When you’re just out there playing and it doesn’t mean anything, and whether you’re good or bad, it does not matter. It’s kind of boring to me. But every possession matters in the playoffs, every little detail. I love playing that way.”
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed to this report.