Do all Playoff Games matter equally?
Part Two of a two-part series
This two-part series was written by Pregame Skate contributor Thomas Pepin.How strong is the correlation between the sequence of wins and winning a series?
The Study: In Part One, I presented the correlation between how series progress and the series outcome from 2013-14 to 2018-19 for each series length separately. In Part Two below, I’ll examine the data more broadly and offer some discussion and conclusions.
The Results: This time using all of the data combined, I calculated the correlation between the sequence of wins and the series outcome again at each Game. However, given that not all series go beyond four Games, the sequence after three Games was as far as I could go in order to maintain consistent data. Thus, organizing the data in this fashion should at least give us a good indication of the most common routes to winning through the first three Games.
That being said, in the most broad sense, we’re just trying to figure out if there’s a relationship between the sequence and the outcome. Since all data points have sequences and outcomes, running the correlation for all of the data is still useful as it can tell us what we want to know in general.
So, with all of the data combined (180 teams), the correlation turned out being 0.479 (moderate). What this tells us is that there does appear to be some relationship between the sequence of wins in a series and the outcome. Beyond that however, since there are 35 different potential sequences across a seven game series, it won’t tell us much more.
Now, let’s look at the correlation at each of the first three Games.
After Game One, the correlation between the winner of the Game and the winner of the series was 0.356 (weak-moderate). 61 of 90 series winners won Game One.
After Game Two, the correlation between the sequence of wins (0-2, 1-1, or 2-0) was 0.466 (weak-moderate).
6 of 90 (6.7%) were 0-2
24 of 90 only won Game One and 23 of 90 only won Game Two; 47 of 90 (52.2%) only won one of the first two Games
37 of 90 (41.1%) won the first two Games
47 of 90 (52.2%) series losers won one of the first two Games
6 of 90 (6.7%) series losers won the first two Games
After Game Three, the correlation between the sequence of wins was 0.480 (weak-moderate).
1 of 90 was 0-3
20 of 90 (22.2%) were 1-2
52 of 90 (57.8%) were 2-1; 37 of 52 won Game One, 35 of 52 won Game Two, and 32 of 52 won Game Three
17 of 90 (18.9%) were 3-0
21 of 90 (23.3%) series losers were up 3-0 (1) or 2-1 (20)
Discussion: An obvious conclusion is that a team needs to win a Game in the first three in order to win a series. But, we all knew that already.
Next, it’s important that I modify a statement I made in Part One. While it is true that “securing early wins [matters],” when any one or more of those wins happens doesn’t appear to be all that critical. Being down 1-2 is not insurmountable—as 22.2% of teams came back to win the series—and it doesn’t appear to matter which game you win as the frequency of each game is similar (7 for Game One, 8 for Game Two, and 5 for Game Three). This is further proven by teams that win a series when they’re up 2-1: 37 won Game One, 35 won Game Two, and 32 won Game Three. That being said, you can see a slightly higher weighting towards Games One and Two.
And on that note, a data point that is especially interesting is that 6 of 90 (6.7%) series winners came back from being down 0-2. This definitely solidifies the fact that winning one of the first two Games is extremely important. While your first instinct might be that this is due to the fact that “weaker” teams start the series on the road, 2 of 6 of those teams were higher seeded; that is, it appears to be more a question of winning one of the first two, regardless of your seeding.
So, I believe that the biggest conclusion is that teams really need to focus on winning one of the first two Games in order to win a series, with Game One being most preferable. Beyond that, the data doesn’t suggest that there is too much of a relationship between the sequence of wins and who ultimately wins a series.