Have Mercy on the Undeserving

So let’s talk about mercy.

After heaping praise on a Mavericks team that had slept through most of the regular season, but had impressed me after two highly spirited playoff performances,  the boys in blue let me down tonight.  A  95-79 defeat essentially ended the Mavericks’ season.  Dirk Nowitzki delivered a stinker of a performance — 17 points and nine rebounds on only 40% shooting, as well as three missed free throws — and the rest of the team looked uninspired and largely defeated.  As fans started streaming towards the exits with about eight minutes left in the fourth, the air left the building and the Mavericks’ title defense ended.

But that’s the thing.  It’s not over!  There’s still one more game left to play.  The Mavericks will have one more chance to keep their season alive.  Then, after that, they’ll have to win another game.  And another.  And another.  In other words, they’ll have to beat the Thunder four times in a row. Or, if you prefer, the Thunder will have to go on a four game losing streak — something they haven’t done in over two seasons — in order to face the winner of the Lakers-Nuggets series in the second round.  Simply put, it’s not gonna happen.

In this week’s roundtable, we discussed whether we preferred a five-game series or a seven-game series in the first round.  Most of us voted for the bygone five-game series, as it offered (presumably) a better chance for an upset, and wrapped up lopsided matchups rather quickly.  On the other hand, the seven-game series has been a saving grace for a number of teams.  The 2002-03 Detroit Pistons saved themselves after falling behind 3-1 in a first round series against the Orlando Magic, and won the series 4-3.  The 2009-10 Atlanta Hawks, who had lost three straight to the Bucks after going up 2-0 in their first round series, won two straight to advance.  Obviously, there are situations where seven games can be useful.  But 3-0 is not one of those situations.  No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.  Alternatively, no NBA team has ever blown a 3-0 lead in a series.  It just doesn’t happen in this sport.

So what to do?  I don’t want to watch a Game 4 in this series that just prolongs the inevitable.  Further, I would guess that neither team really wants to play in a Game 4.  The Mavericks would just as soon get their offseason started.  The Thunder would appreciate the extra rest as they get ready for the Lakers (sorry Nuggets fans).  Neither team wants to incur any injuries in an essentially meaningless game.  There has to be a solution.

So how about something like a mercy rule?  Jason Angeles, who watched Game 3 with me, suggested that once a team goes up 3-0 — or, if you like half-empty glasses, that a team falls behind 0-3 — you call it.  That’s it.  If you’ve got a 3 game lead, you’re obviously the better team.  If you’ve got to win four straight games to get back into the series…well, that’s just not going to happen.  But, if you win a game between games one and four, you’d still have the luxury of seven-game series.   This would allow for a series like the Thunder-Mavericks to wrap up in a timely fashion, but gives teams that show some fight in the first four games a chance to stay in the tournament.

In any case, that’s my random playoff thought for tonight.

One more thing: excited Grizzlies kid.

About Jacob Greenberg

Jacob is a behaviorist by day, blogger by night, and founded the Diss. Follow him on Twitter @jacobjbg
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5 comments on “Have Mercy on the Undeserving

  1. Jordan Durlester on said:

    No, thank you. There's no way in good faith I can sign off on this. To me, this goes against everything a sporting event/league stands for. Remember the 2004 MLB playoffs when the Sox fell behind the Bronx Bombers 0-3? A team had never come back down 3-0 in MLB history either. But it happened…and it was fantastic.I'll concede that it'd be a MUCH tougher task to pull off in the association, but that just means that when it does happen it will be that much greater. Let's just say it DOESN'T happen - I guarantee a team down 3-0 will at least force a game 7 at some point in the relative near future, and the excitement that that would generate alone justifies leaving things the way they are.I can understand reverting to a 5 game series, but the mercy rule kills the phenomenal and inherently humanistic “but it could happen!” glimmer of hope that I personally love.

    • Jacob Greenberg on said:

      That's the argument I was anticipating, and I honestly have no recourse. That Red Sox win was a game changer. I know there have been 3-0 comebacks in the NHL (even this year, right?) too. So yes, it can happen. I'd never want to see a mercy rule in rounds 2-5. Only the first round.

  2. Joe Bernardo on said:

    I wouldn't go to the mercy rule. I see no way an NBA team would ever use it. It'll basically be a screw you to their fans. And if the rule was in place, the Knicks would still have a losing playoff streak! (Not like that have a chance at winning the series, but still.) With all that said, however, I think the Mavs could have used it. Ha!

    • Jacob Greenberg on said:

      Yeah, this is the unseen part of a sweep: revenue. Even in a four game sweep, Cuban and the Mavs made a lot of money on tickets, merchandise, TV spots, billboards, etc etc. The playoffs bring in a ton of money for a team. And further, the playoffs bring a lot of money to the NBA. Some random internet fact asserted that the NBA makes about 4.2 million dollars off of every playoff contest. You'd be hard pressed to see David Stern give up that revenue, even if it's watching snoozers like Dallas-OKC, Orlando-Charlotte (2010) or Spurs-Cavs (2006 finals).And Joe, pretty sure the Lakers could've used the same thing against the Mavs last season. Getting that fourth game axed would've saved Bynum a few games suspension.

    • Joe Bernardo on said:

      Touche, my friend.

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