No Place Like Home

 
on June 01 2012 3:07 AM
No Place Like Home

This time of year I'm constantly bombarded with a phrase that's so pervasive in playoff sports, it's even spawned spin-off phrases that are about as exciting as an episode of "Joey". Home court/field/ice advantage must carry a lot of significance for teams since they fight all season to be in just the right position. It helps define their postseason path to their ultimate goal. But simply stating that having a home court/field/ice advantage is not enough anymore. Now all I hear is that we have to stop overacting to one or two games in a seven game series because someone decided to coin the phrase, "the series doesn't start until the home team loses."

Well that sounds like a pulled-out-of-somewhere statistic, and as I heard on Mike and Mike, "statistics are like a woman in a bikini, they don't tell the whole story".

Last night, however, that phrase seemed prescient as the Thunder turned around impossible odds against a team running through the playoffs like a Mack Truck. The Spurs had not lost in 20 (!) games, including eight in the playoffs. That is truly a crazy number. But the Thunder were determined to hold home court, and they did exactly that. The OKC crowd was predictably raucous, and nearly willed their team to, according to the above, keep the series from starting.

Tonight, we will find out if the Celtics can turn this into a trend as they attempt to fend off the Heat in their own Game 3 showdown. In the NBA, this really doesn't seem to be much of a surprise. We've come to expect teams to be able to win at home, unless their totally overwhelmed.

But Wednesday, we saw how this plays out in another sport. In the NHL, for some reason, home ice advantage doesn't seem to amount for much. The Kings are a perfect example. The eight seed, facing the one, two, and three seed, in succession, had won eight straight road games in a row. I will boldly predict that an eight seed in the NBA will never be able to claim that same feat.

In Game 1 of the Cup Finals, the Kings grabbed number nine in front of an energetic New Jersey crowd. As Anze Kopitar threw himself into the boards after scoring the winner, you could clearly see fans sitting in their seats with a stunned look on their face. Probably not because they had just lost, or in amazement at the quality of the goal, but likely because they couldn't believe that their team had that kind of defensive breakdown in OT of the Cup Finals.

But back to the idea of home ice "advantage". What is the reason for the significant difference between the NBA and NHL? I think part of it has to do with the NHL having a lot more parity throughout since the lockout. After all, we're watching a six play an eight. But there has to be more to it.

Is it simply the single layer of Plexiglas separating the fans from the ice? This seems unlikely since we have more encounters between on-ice and fans that we do with on-court and fans, Mr. World Peace not-withstanding.

Maybe it's the helmets, or that hockey is inherently more noisy, or some other reason attached to the intricacies of the sport. But whatever the reason, it lends itself to a far more interesting, less-predictable outcome, and this fan loves it.

So here's to the NBA Conference Finals not starting till Game 7 and the Cup Finals having started on Wednesday night. I'm looking forward to a lot more mystery in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, unless winning on the road starts to become more predictable.

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