If Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers Are Going to Advance, They Need to Make NBA History
Given how their first-round series has gone thus far, the Los Angeles Clippers appear to have the Dallas Mavericks right where they want them. Game 6 of the series is at Dallas. Given the road team is 5-0 in this series, the LA Clippers may have Dallas right where it wants them.
If this series feels like an anomaly, that’s because it is. The Clippers-Mavericks series is just the second in NBA history in which the road team won each of the first five games. So, if LA is to get to a highly anticipated conference semifinals matchup with the Utah Jazz, the Clippers will need to do something new. Like, literally.
LA Clippers experiencing a homecourt disadvantage
The LA Clippers were in a series during which the road team won five straight games. In the first round in 2019, the Clips lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games. The Warriors took Game 1 at home, but the visitors came out on top in the subsequent five games. That was also the case for the NBA Finals between the Warriors and Toronto Raptors the same year.
LA has something on its side. Home teams have been dismal in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. While playing in their buildings, teams are just 21–18 thus far in the playoffs. Moreover, the four teams remaining in the Eastern Conference — the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Atlanta Hawks — are a perfect 10–0 between them.
So, yes, that means the other 12 playoff teams have combined for a less-than-sterling 11–18 homecourt mark. What in the name of the 1986 Celtics is going on, anyway? It seems they are continuing a trend. Home teams won less than 55% of their games during the regular season, the lowest in NBA history.
Are homecourt struggles part of an ongoing trend in the NBA Playoffs?
Through games of June 2, 2021, home teams are winning at a .538 clip. But if you look at the last time playoff games were played in teams’ home arenas, the percentage wasn’t that much better. In the 2019 playoffs, the hosts were 46–36, a winning percentage of .561.
But in 2018, the fans root, root, rooting for the home team usually went home happy. Teams went a combined 58–24 in their respective arenas in those playoffs, a healthy .707 pace. In 2017, the record was 45–34 when hosting, a .570 winning percentage not dissimilar to 2019.
There are too many potential factors to count as to why winning at home has gotten more complicated. Could newer arenas not have the same personality quirks as older buildings such as Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, or Oracle Arena? Is it attributable to a new generation of athletes conditioned to play in hostile environments more frequently as part of elite travel programs? Is it, as Mars Blackmon once insisted, all about the shoes?
However, the bottom line is that being on the road is not the disadvantage it once was. And this year? Heck, it’s just about a coin flip right now.
The one series that came before the Clippers and Mavericks
The only other time the visitors were victorious in each of the first five games of an NBA Playoff series was in 1984. That was the first year the NBA expanded the playoffs to 16 teams. That was also the year the first round was a best-of-five format rather than the previous best-of-three. Under its old structure, the division winners received first-round byes. A quick first-round series helped those teams get needed rest without accumulating too much rust.
The Philadelphia 76ers came into the playoffs as the defending champions but had slumped from nearly pulling off Moses Malone’s famous “fo-fo-fo” prediction in the previous postseason. The champs were the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference field and would face the sixth-seeded New Jersey Nets.
The Nets shocked the Sixers with a pair of double-digit road wins in Games 1 and 2 and returned to the Meadowlands primed to sweep the champs. But the 76ers fought back for a couple of eight-point victories in New Jersey. Order, it seemed, was restored.
That is until the Nets pulled off a come-from-behind surprise in Game 5, 101-98. New Jersey’s all-time NBA postseason record was a nice, round 0–6 entering the 1983 playoffs. So, yeah, it might have been a mild upset.
Do the LA Clippers make history and force a Game 7? If so, do the Dallas Mavericks have the advantage? Stay tuned.
Statistics and historical information courtesy of Basketball Reference.