There has been mass confusion all over the place, including here, about whether Boston or Atlanta holds the tie-breaker should the two teams finish tied for 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Boston is a division leader, but Atlanta swept the season series 4-0.
There is potentially a lot at stake. Both teams have tough schedules going forward, and there’s a not-too-small chance they actually finished tied. If you’re one of those folks who’d rather not face the Bucks in the 4-5 series, then you probably care about this tie-breaker.
And the C’s have it. Per the Globe:
As a division leader, the Celtics hold the first tiebreaker over Atlanta, which defeated Orlando, 86-84, last night. Meaning, the Hawks have to be a game better than the Celtics at season’s end to finish third.
It’s a system that even Celtics coach Doc Rivers wasn’t aware of until a few days ago.
“I didn’t even pay attention to it,’’ he said. “I actually did think if we tied, Atlanta would get it. I think Danny [Ainge] called me and he said, ‘Did you know?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I didn’t either.’ No one knew.’’
A few words on this:
My gut reaction is that the Hawks are getting ripped off here. Don’t get me wrong—I’ll take the 3rd seed in the event of a tie and smile about it.
The background, for those unfamiliar: The NBA revamped the playoff seeding format after the 2006 season, when the Mavs and Spurs met in the Western Conference Semi-Finals despite having the two best records in the conference. They ended up being seeded 1st and 4th because of the league rule that the other two division winners, despite having worse records, should get the 2nd and 3rd seeds.
The series was epic, but fans felt it should have been the Western Conference Finals and not the semis.
So the NBA changed the seeding format. The league decreased the importance of winning one’s division by declaring that the teams with the two best records would get the top two seeds in a conference regardless of divisional placement or finish.
A lot of people believe—incorrectly, it turns out—that the rule change meant teams would be seeded 1 through 8 based on records alone, with a divisional championship holding no impact in terms of seeding.
But the league, for whatever reason, didn’t go that far. It almost went that far, but not quite.
Flash forward to this season: The Hawks would be seeded ahead of the C’s if they finish with a better record than Boston. That’s true even if the Hawks finish 2nd (to Orlando) in their own division.
To me, this is as it should be. You don’t want to give a 44-win division champion a higher seed than a 50-win runner-up just because the 44-win team happens to play in a crapola division.
But if Atlanta and Boston finish tied, the fact that Boston will win the Crapola Atlantic Division suddenly becomes relevant again. That division championship gives Boston the tie-breaker over the Hawks, despite the Atlanta’s season sweep of Boston.
Again, this is just my initial take—I still have some deep thinking to do on this. But my initial take is that this seems like a strange thing. If you’re going to de-prioritize divisional championships, then just go ahead and de-prioritize them completely. I realize doing that would make the divisions themselves irrelevant, and if you’re going to take that step, you might as well just eliminate the divisions entirely and create two conferences.
And I realize doing that would mean reworking the way the schedule is organized, which may take as much brain power as passing health care through Congress.
But even if you keep the divisions around, it just feels that head-to-head record should trump a divisional title in breaking a tie in the standings.
What do you think?