In this installment of nigh-useless NBA factoids, we will be focusing upon the four game playoff series sweep. There have been other kinds of sweeps in NBA history (3-0 and 2-0), but for my money the four-gamer is the only one worth mentioning. You can easily imagine why I'm bringing it up now, but in order to avoid any accusations of jinxing things or calling results ahead of time, I will only say that I found this stuff kind of interesting and wanted to share it.
The first 4-0 sweep in NBA history took place in the 1959 NBA Finals, when the Boston Celtics swept the then-Minneapolis Lakers by a total of 41 points, or an average of 10.25 points per game. The next sweep occurred in 1968, when the Los Angeles Lakers took out the San Francisco Warriors by the exact same margin. Why so many years between sweeps? Well, there were fewer teams in the playoffs then, fewer rounds, and not every series was a best of seven. Also there was another factor, illustrated by this quote by former NBA referee John Vanak, who began his officiating career in 1962:
Where officials made a few extra bucks was the playoffs. Again, you wanted as many games as possible. Hey, we pulled for every series to go the full seven. I’m not saying officials threw games to keep the series alive, but I do think it was a good idea when they finally changed to paying guys a flat fee for the playoffs.
Now - time for some sweep knowledge! So far, there have been 65 4-0 sweeps in NBA history. About them:
-The most lopsided sweep in history took place in 2010, when the Orlando Magic won their series with the Atlanta Hawks by 101 points, or 25.25 points per game. It is, to date, the only 100 point margin in a sweep in history. The second-most lopsided sweep? Our Spurs lost to the 2001 Lakers in the Western Conference Finals by 89 points, or 22.25 per game.
-The closest margin in a sweep took place in the 1975 NBA Finals, when the Golden State Warriors defeated the Washington Bullets by 16 points. The second closest? Again, our Spurs defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers by 22 points in the 2007 NBA Finals.
-It wouldn't be hard to guess which teams have the best broom closets. The three winningest franchises in NBA history are the Los Angeles Lakers (W% .614), the San Antonio Spurs (W% .614), and the Boston Celtics (W% .590). And the Lakers indeed have the most sweeps (12), followed by the Spurs (8), and the Celtics (5). The Spurs didn't sweep a best-of-seven until 1999, but there we are. We've got four in 2012 and 2013 alone.
- Who's bad at the sweeping game? That's trickier, since bad teams don't make the playoffs in the first place. As it happens, the Lakers have also been swept the most: eight times total. Seven, if you don't count their time in Minneapolis. The Bullets/Wizards (Blizzards? Wallets?) have been swept five times, twice while in Baltimore. The Bucks, Knicks, Hawks, and Grizzlies have been swept four times; in the latter two cases, they have no sweeps to their credit.
- There have been eight sweeps in NBA Finals history. Most of the who's-who of NBA coaching royalty have coached a Finals sweeper: Auerbach, Cunningham, Daly, Jackson, Popovich. Pat Riley never coached a Finals sweeper, but he was twice a Finals sweepee, in 1983 and 1989.
- On champions getting swept: several defending champions were swept the following year, but only the 2007 Heat and 2012 Mavericks got swept in round one. Of course, we've only had a best-of-seven round one for twelve seasons.
- Notable players, sweeping and swept:
Bill Russell/Sam Jones/Bob Cousy: 1-0
Jerry West: 3-0
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 6-3
Larry Bird: 3-1
Magic Johnson: 4-1
Michael Jordan: 3-1
Shaquille O'Neal: 5-5
Kobe Bryant: 5-3
Tim Duncan: 8-2
David Robinson: 2-1
Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili: 6-1
LeBron James: 5-1
-4-0 sweeps by decade:
1950s: 1 (out of 14 best-of-seven series played)
1960s: 2 (out of 37 best-of-sevens)
1970s: 7 (out of 70 best-of-sevens)
1980s: 13 (1984 began the 16-team playoff; 70 best-of-sevens)
1990s: 10 (out of 70 best-of-sevens)
2000s: 19 (2003 began all rounds best-of-seven; out of 126 best-of-sevens)
2010-14: 13 (out of 75 best-of-sevens)
- Nine franchises have only been swept once, including the Portland Trail Blazers
There you have it, Ells and Jeez. Everything interesting I can tell you about the four-oh.