Last night the Golden State Warriors won their first NBA title in 40 years, making them the first team from Oakland to win a championship since 1989.
The Dubs were a perfect reflection of their passionate and devoted city. Hard working, team-oriented, flashy, determined, prideful, aggressive, poised, and so much more. And in true Oakland fashion, the best fans in the country celebrated by taking to the very streets that showed the most love towards their beloved band of nobodies. From Draymond Green, who came, “From people telling me I could never play in the NBA… to World Champion” to Shaun Livingston, who in 2007 nearly lost his leg to a traumatic knee injury; this team persevered. From Stephen Curry, who was told by scouts he was too small to effectively compete at any level beyond High School, to Andre Iguodala, who sacrificed his starting position before stepping up at the most crucial moment of his team’s season and deservedly winning the Finals MVP; this team flourished.
They had the best record. They had the best offensive and defensive efficiency. They were the best show on hardwood. They truly were the best team this season.
That’s the thing; the best team in basketball typically wins the championship. How many times have their been true upsets in the NBA Finals? Think about it. I’ll give you 1970 Knicks over Lakers and I guess in recent years one could consider 2011 Mavs over Heat, but besides that there just aren’t that many. The best argument I could find would be good teams losing in the Conference Finals, such as the ’73 Celtics, ’86 Lakers, ’02 Kings (probably the best because refs rigged Game Six), or even the ’07 Suns. Yet, these teams except for the ’86 Lakers (who were dominated 4-1) all lost to the eventual champs.
This is why it pained me when I overheard some local East Bay Area-ins last night talking about how – not this year, but in the near future – it’s the A’s turn. Unfortunately for all of you reading I have some bad news, winning the World Series is more difficult than winning the NBA Finals, even if you’re the ‘best team.’ Some may think I’m a little biased and that’s probably correct, but for good reason. Statistically, only 10 teams (essentially 8 because of the Wild Card play-in game) make the playoffs in the MLB as opposed to 16 in the NBA, so one is already at a disadvantage there. A part from the numerical, I have three reasons why baseball is tougher to win in the postseason.
1) Momentum is more difficult to build and easier to take away in baseball
So we’ve already discussed the fact that the best team in the NBA generally gets a ring, whereas with MLB teams that doesn’t apply. One of the reasons why is because it takes time to build up momentum in basketball. Besides a basket late in the game (via buzzer-beater or not), a single play before the fourth quarter really doesn’t change the outcome of a playoff game.
In baseball I would argue it’s just the opposite. The early innings make all the difference. A’s fans remember well plenty of instances where a game was lost before the clock struck midnight. One that sticks out in my mind was in Game Five of the 2013 ALDS when Verlander struck out the first two batters of the game. Seemingly insignificant at the time, he ended up going 8 shutout innings, only giving up 2 hits, with 10 K’s. A more memorable one might have came the year before when Coco Crisp dropped a fly ball with two outs in the 7th inning of Game Two of the 2012 ALDS to give the Tigers two unearned runs and a lead they never gave up. The worst however would without a doubt have to go to Mr. Giambi. Not Jason, but his little stripper-loving brother Jeremy who never learned how to slide. Thanks Jeter.
2) Good defense doesn’t stop a good offense in basketball
Even NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley has admitted while talking about Allen Iverson’s 2001 NBA Finals 48-point outburst, “This ain’t baseball where good pitching stop good hitting.” Now normally I’d have to take a second to think about how much legitimate thought went into a Barkley comment, but in this case he’s correct. How many NBA playoff games have you seen AI, Kobe, LeBron, KD, Dirk, KG, Shaq, and many others completely take over and win a game or series with their offensive playmaking abilities? Answer: A ton. How many MLB playoff games can you remember a slugger stepping to the plate a single handedly swinging his team to victory? Answer: very few. But how many times can you remember a dominant pitching performance in which a pitcher carves through the heart of a stacked lineup? Answer: A ton.
In fact it’s these types of playoff outings from starting pitching that allows a pitcher to make their mark in the league. Two postseasons ago, it was A’s Sonny Gray’s coming out party when he went toe-to-toe with Triple-Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and the hot-hitting Tigers and shut them down. That’s why the World Series has had many pitchers (offensive stoppers) who have won the MVP, unlike the NBA Finals in which Iguodala was the first player since Magic Johnson in ’82 to average less than 17 points and still win it. While that’s dope and he definitely deserved it, his ‘defensive effort’ (which factored heavily into the award) limited LeBron to 36 points per game. That’s essentially equivalent to a pitcher giving up six runs a game, but going 3-0 in the World Series. By the way that pitcher would not be given the MVP, I can guarantee it.
3) Home Field Advantage doesn’t matter in baseball
This is probably the biggest reason. In basketball, home court advantage can make all the difference. Look at the Oracle Arena for instance, Monty Williams (ex-Head Coach of the Pelicans) petitioned for the volume in Oakland to be legally lowered. “I’m not so sure that the decibel level is legal there, and I’m serious … There’s got to be something to that because it does get a little out of hand.” That was only in the first round, so imagine the sound level for a Finals matchup. One of my friends who attended Game One said there were many points in the game where he couldn’t hear himself it was so loud. If you’re an opponent, there’s very few players that wouldn’t get rattled in a situation like that and that’s why its called an ‘advantage.’
Yet, in baseball that just isn’t the case. From 2003 to 2012, there were 70 postseason series and two wild-card games in which the team with home-field advantage won only 37 of those matchups, which translates to 51 percent overall. So statistically, home field holds no advantage, and that’s the overarching reason baseball sees so many upsets in the postseason. In 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2013 the A’s held home field advantage and only won one series (’06). While the atmosphere of playoff baseball may seem different from a fans perspective, it is evident (especially if you happen to be a fan of the Athletics) that you have essentially zero impact on the game, whereas in hoops, fans can make a difference.
I would like to end this by saying thank you to the Golden State Warriors for finally bringing a Championship to the city of OAKLAND. ‘The Town’ is finally on top.