From a drama and entertainment standpoint, the 2016 NBA playoffs have been spectacular. But through the lens of competition? Things could be a lot better.
Wednesday night’s Game 5 blowout victory by the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Toronto Raptors was just the latest absolute laugher from this postseason. Be honest: you probably didn’t even watch the second half last night. Why would you?
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Unfortunately, that’s been the case all too often this year. A quick perusal of Basketball-Reference confirms that these are in fact the least competitive playoffs of the past 20 years — and we’re not even done yet.
The 2016 postseason has already featured 21 games decided by at least 20 points, which is the cutoff we’re using to define a blowout. That’s out of a total of 71 games, or almost 30 percent of these playoffs so far.
That gives this postseason a pretty solid lead on the second-most awful NBA playoffs of the past 20 years. In 2009, there were 18 20-point games, as the league went through a three-year stretch of some pretty lopsided postseason basketball. The year prior, 2008, featured 16 such games; 2010 had 15.
But over the past 20 years, the average postseason has seen roughly 11 20-point blowouts, or almost half as many as we’ve seen in 2016. In the two playoffs prior to this season, for the sake of comparison, there were 26 total 20-point games.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the 2016 postseason is the worst ever. We’re not having to sit through miserable affairs such as 2004’s Eastern Conference finals Game 2, when the Detroit Pistons beat the Indiana Pacers 72-67. The games themselves are much more enjoyable these days, even if they are completely lopsided.
But maybe Charles Barkley is right after all. Perhaps the NBA is more watered-down than it’s ever been. The numbers seem to back him up. Yet even if that’s true, we’re on pace for an awesome NBA Finals that should make up for all the blowouts. We hope.