Get Your "NBA Playoffs Rigged" Argument Starter Pack Here With Some Definitely Not Conspiracy Theory Adam Silver Stats

Alex Goodlett. Getty Images.

Pictured: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Not pictured: NBA referees looking into stands for approval (unconfirmed)

It's getting about that time in the NBA Playoffs when your favorite team might be on the ropes of getting exposed and despite your best efforts, you start to run out of excuses. Have no fear. I have your argument starter pack here to prevent you from having to admit your team actually just sucks. Screw that. Bury that notion deep into your subconscious and get ready to spit some facts to all the haters. It's not your team that's the fraud, it's the league! 

Here's the idea. There's an argument to be made that Adam Silver and the NBA cronies are rigging the playoffs so that series' last longer than they normally would. Is it a good argument? That depends how bad your playoff team was. But that's how propaganda works. Those in most need will be drawn to it and as Costanza School of Logic taught us all:


Giphy Images.

Let's get you buttered up just a bit with some surface level data. The modern playoff structure of 15 total playoff series began in 1984 - the same year David Stern began as Commissioner. Adam Silver took over in 2014. The era of the Larry Bird Celtics, Magic Johnson Lakers, and Bad Boy Pistons opening for the headliner that was Michael Jordan brought great prosperity to the league before ratings took a dump at the turn of the century:

We all know how smart and shrewd David Stern was. He knew the league needed a spark in a post-Jordan era even with new stars being born in Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan along with guys that would go on to be exceptional role players in their 20th year like LeBron James. What better way to fix those ratings than to lean on the officials just a little bit to encourage longer playoff series? 

Show you what I mean. I put in the work to track the percent of playoff series that went four, five, six, and seven games in total. The two graphs below highlight the percent of series' that went six games (blue line chart) and seven games (red line chart) from that start of David Stern's reign until last year's playoffs. I grayed out lines for series that ended in any other number of games so each game 6 and 7 stand out. 


Clearly something happened at the turn of the century - especially with series lasting six games. How clearly? Again that depends on how bad your team shat the bed. But roughly 10-20 percent of playoff series from 1984-2002 went exactly six games before averaging about, I don't know, 40ish percent or so immediately afterwards. The red seven game series' line is a bit muted but still pretty much doubled as well from around 10 percent (minus two outlier years) to about 20 percent. 

Here's the theory. David Stern passed the plan of extending series' on to Adam Silver like the dream passed from king to heir in House of the Dragon. Look back at the graphs above. From 2014 to 2020, there was a sharp downward trend in game 6 percentage and game 7 percentage was basically flat. Seems pretty clear Adam Silver didn't buy into Stern's secret plan at first as ratings were on a bit of a comeback from around 2010 to 2017 as shown above. That is until the pandemic and the fake bubble championship put ratings at the bottom of the sewer. You see, Silver tried doing things the right way at first, but was left with no other play. That's when the big spike in game 6's shot up in 2021 and 2022. 

You might think this all sounds crazy and conspiratorial. You might think this is narrative chasing with spurious correlations. If so, I'm glad your Nuggets are doing well, but buzz off because I'm trying to help some people in need here. 

Turns back to the congregation

Now that you're all buttered up, let's fucking cook. I broke the data down in a way you can't find anywhere else. Took me a bit longer to write out the code and back check than I care to admit, but below is a breakdown of each major playoff game situation for a team along with said team's win percentage pre-Adam Silver and during Adam Silver. I guess you could call this some stratified specific series situation states (SSSSSS). 

The SSSSSS table below groups various game numbers of a playoffs series relative to a team's record in that series (wins-losses), whether that team was the higher seed and thus held home court advantage, and whether they were at home or on the road for that particular game. 


Data for playoff games from 1984-2022

Cracks knuckles. Let's discuss.

Game 1 (0-0) | Lower Seed on Road

Game 1's have always been a huge home court edge. The crowd is jacked. The home team is usually fresh and rested, and the refs are ready to give in to the power of the home court bias. That is… unless they get a call from an unnamed source. Only 23 percent of road teams won Game 1 before Adam Silver took over (out of 450 total David Stern Game 1s) vs 34 percent since 2014. A sleuthy way to avoid bringing attention in contriving for a longer series is to give the worse team an edge from the beginning. Well played.

Game 2 (0-1) | Lower Seed on Road

There was pretty much no change in win percentage pre/during Silver because he already selected the road teams he cared about to win in Game 1. Easy pivot. 

Game 2 (0-1) | Higher Seed at Home

We drop from an 80 percent win rate to 72 percent. Silver likes the drama of a favorite going down 0-2. You expect the favorite to comeback and give Silver 6 or 7 games to the series. 

Game 4 (1-2) | Higher Seed on Road

This is a pretty big one. Higher seeded teams down 1-2 in game four on the road have won 23% more with Silver at the helm. Too much risk in letting them go down 1-3.

Game 5 (1-3) | Lower Seed on Road

No change again. I mean, there's really no point in Silver playing Weekend at Bernie's with some dead ass lower seed down 1-3 on the road. Sometimes enough is enough. 

Game 5 (1-3) | Higher Seed at Home

This decrease doesn't help but I'm going to play the "low sample size" card here as there were only 12 matching situations in the Silver era. Plus if you add the Warriors and Knicks Game 5 wins from just the other day, that's going to bring it up. So actually, the sample size isn't that bad after all. Conspiracy still on!

Game 6 (2-3) | Higher Seed on Road

It's kind of crazy that only 28% of the higher seeds won a Game 6 on the road when down 2-3 before 2014. Silver came in and doubled that figure. There's another smoking gun. You think this didn't help the Celtics last night???

Game 6 (2-3) | Lower Seed at Home

Hopefully you've already won the argument because I'm not even sure how to spin this one. Teams in this situation have done worse with Silver so I guess if you're a Suns fan you can sadly try to pretend this was the reason they gave up 81 in the first half last night.

So there you go. Pick from this research as best suits your team's needs. You'll probably hear naysayers tell you the reason for these differences is because of increased competition leading to better series or some other nonsense. Don't buy it. You know the truth. 

At least. If you believe it. 

- Jeffro