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Rest vs. Rust: Settling the Non-Debate

 

The Heat got out of the first round today. They did so three days after the Celtics, giving Boston three extra days of rest before the next round. We don’t need to speculate over which team has an advantage because of this.

Every time a team sweeps in the first round, a few articles emerge raising the issue of whether or not this is bad for the sweeping team because of the ensuing days off. There have been a metric buttload of articles like this in the last five years, and they usually look something like this:

Rest vs. rust. The unsolvable question. The eternal enigma. Throughout sports history, ideological wars have been fought over whether it’s better for a team to have days off before a playoff series, or to sustain their rhythm by seamlessly blending the last game of the first round into the first game of the second round to form one giant game. Where do the (insert team) stand on this bloodstained battlefield?

“It’s rest,” says one player.

“It’s definitely rest,” said another player.

Back and forth these warring factions go, neither able to persuade the other. Will the two sides of this argument ever resolve their differences?

“The answer is rest,” said the first player again.

To present this as a debate at all is a bit specious, because I don’t think basketball people are really split on this issue. I honestly believe the discussion only exists because it gives people something to talk about over boring off days and the traditional phrasing of the debate is fun to say. It’s not that the extra days off have a profound positive effect, necessarily: it’s that the idea that they might hurt a team’s performance makes no sense and is totally unsupported by data.

The most-cited examples of days off costing a team a playoff series in recent years are the Mavs in 2007 and the Cavs in 2009. The top-seed Mavs blew the first round against the Warriors because, some people theorized, Avery Johnson rested his core after they clinched the West. Here are three better explanations:

A) The Warriors were the worst possible matchup for the Mavs, which is why Golden State swept the season series.
B) The Mavs were not as good as their record indicated because they won a huge number of close games.
C) Mark Cuban made a deal with a bunch of ABC execs to throw this series in exchange for a spot on “Shark Tank.”

That last explanation is not super likely, but I still take it over the rust factor. As for the Cavs series, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was not physically capable of stopping Dwight Howard and Mo Williams somehow made a negative percentage of his shots. Mo, you’ll recall, was the team’s second-best player and an All-Star (probably the result of a complicated prank, but still an All-Star). LeBron averaged 38.5 points in that series. How did he manage that after the extra days off caused his metal skin to oxidize, forming rust??

This is a cowardly, risk-free argument for me to make, because if the Celtics play badly in this series, it won’t visibly have anything to do with those extra three days. Still, until evidence shows up to suggest that too much rest is WORSE THAN a long series that results in fewer days off, I will hear none of it. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence that rest doesn’t hurt. Thanks Mark Cuban!

  • Mark_07

    For the C's, well yeah, I think rest will definitely do them good. They usually play better after a couple of days off.

    The C's Big 4 Vs Heat's Big Two feat. Bosh
    Oh yeah EPIC Series ^_^

  • Ben

    I think the rust argument has some merit in baseball where batters a. don't need rest and b. can lose their timing without seeing live pitching for a week. Of course, this is basketball.

  • Francois H. Pienaar

    For those of us that have played competitive ball you'll know that fatigue a b**tch for those days / weeks of plenty of ball. Rest with more treatment and home cooking is for sure the big one here!

    • Morpheus

      You're not THEE Francois Pienaar are you? Captain of the Springboks 1995 World Cup champs?

      And yes, having played competitive bball, having extra days rest definitely helps the body and mind.
      In fact, i play a lot better having 2-3 weeks off playing bball after playing everyday, for 2-3 weeks. It just resets your focus, loosens up your nerves, joints… so that when you play again your mind and body are fresh.

      • http://twitter.com/fhpienaar @fhpienaar

        @Morpheus. Sorry to dissapoint as I'm not THEE Francois Pienaar. I do however have his autobiography signed which is pretty funny ~ "To Francois Pienaar, hope you make this name look better, from Francois Pienaar."

        You South African? Hit me up on Twitter.

  • http://gymratrants.blogspot.com Tom W

    Haha. I always forget to check who is writing these, but whenever it's Hayes, I can pretty much tell immediately.

    Good stuff, and I definitely agree, especially with this group.

  • Jon

    I think the rest vs rust depends on team. What I mean is like if 76ers swept the Heat I think it would be better for them to keep playing instead of getting rest because they would be playing out of their minds so they would want to keep playing to ride the momentum. In all other cases different from the one i just said I think rest is the overwhelming favorite because with such a long season everyone is a little beat up at the end.

    • Celtics Freak

      It depends on how old/young the team really is

  • NHBluesMan

    There was another article on this on ESPN where Jermain O'Neal talked about his experience with the Pacers where they had 11 days off between series. THAT is too much rest, but a week for the Celtics is good, because
    1) it gives them a chance to give their bench some attention with the play-book
    2) it gives even more of an opportunity for Shaq to get better (although i'm skeptical of how much he'll contribute)
    3) with the Celtics getting rest, and the Heat having a tough series, i think it plays into our favor.

    The Heat's "big 3' didn't get much rest in their series with the Sixers, and with the way the Celtics are clicking right now, i think the Celtics can take this in 6 (steal 1 on the road, and take care of business at home the rest of the way). Of course there are alot of factors that come into play, but if Rondo keeps attacking, and KG wins his match-up with Bosh and the bench can hold/build on leads or chip away at a Heat lead, the Celtics can deff do this

  • NHBluesMan

    yeah, thats what i mean't, but didn't clearly communicate it. It wouldn't be too many days if the team was focused, but they lost focus during that time. I have no doubt that the C's focus is going to stay sharp during their off week

    • hdavenport

      I somehow had not seen that article, but I'd point out to JO that they won the series against the Heat after all that rest. He says the fact that the series went six games took too much out of them to beat the Pistons, but that's the opposite point he was making before…he's saying that FATIGUE actually ended up hurting them, not rest. Also they won the first game against the Heat, when the rust would affect them the most.

      The thing to keep in mind when talking about rest is that the alternative is playing a longer series.

  • James Patrick

    This one week break has definitely been good. Good points about getting the new guys acclimated. I was thinking they were gonna go on Friday, but Sunday is good. Any longer and I'd be a little worried.

    And I love what I saw in that Heat/Sixers series. The Heat just don't have the mental toughness this year. Same can be said for the Bulls. And hopefully Atlanta closes the Magic out because it looks like Atlanta had the edge during the regular season. I'm really thinking it's going to be a Celtics/Thunder Finals!

  • skeeds

    pffff… JO rested pretty much all season and it didn't do him any harm did it? these guys aren't gona lose their coordination by not playing for a week. that's the advantage of having a 4 year old core (of 33 y/o average). Although, I'd go as far as to say that any team that "loses it" after a couple of days off, didn't "have it" in the first place.

    • Jmt

      Actually, they're only 32 on average now (thanks JO!).

  • phreesh

    I love to ponder the idea of a late timeout of a close game five where everybody looks at each other and they agree to throw the game because they don't want to get any rust.

  • BOS 17 LA 11

    Even if it were debatable (which for a young, inexpreienced team riding a hot streak it may be), I'd take extra rest, and then even more rest, every time with this group. Don't forget, this is a team that has started each of the last for seasons on fire, going 29-3, 27-2, 20-4, and 23-4 out of the gate. In fact, they're the only team in NBA history to win 20 games before losing 5 four consecutive seasons in a row…and nobody else has even done it three times. Was it a coincidence that this Celtics team went 5-0 in games with 3+ days rest this season? Perhaps. Was it a coincidence that they AVERAGED 31 assists (!) in those games? I doubt it, and if there's a single-stat barometer for this bunch it's assists. That's a pretty sick stat, considering they led the league by a wide margin in that category already with 24. Bring on the SHeat!

    • James Patrick

      I love your bos 17, la 11. tired of laker fans trying to count the 5 from minneapolis! they don't even know who george mikan is! lol You ask any C's fan who bill russell is and there's no hesitation!

      • Guest

        What's worse is when they try to say the ones we had in the 50s and 60s didn't really count even though the Lakers were one of the other few teams around as well back in the day.

  • Stephen

    C's fan from here on the left coast and take my word for it. Never, EVER try and get in to a basketball discussion with a Laker fan. I have tried and you cannot reason with them. In fact, I know more about the Lakers then they do !!!!!!

    • Celtics Freak

      so true, my whole family are Laker fans and all they can say in the conversation is Kobe this and Kobe that

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