By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
The weekend happened. An NBA Finals game didn’t. It was weird. Let’s scratch the surface a little.
If you were flicking through the channels on Sunday night and wondering where the heck the latest installment of action between the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics was, don’t worry, you weren’t the only one.
It was all a bit confusing. Of course, schedules are set ahead of time. But with the series tantalizingly poised at 2-2 following the Warriors’ critical win in Game 4, what better way would there have been to round out the weekend than by watching Steph Curry, Jayson Tatum, Klay Thompson, Jaylen Brown and their pals duke it out in Game 5 — a game that will go a long way to deciding the championship?
Instead, hostilities will resume Monday, and there is a pervasive feeling that an opportunity was lost somewhere along the way — an opportunity to turn this intriguing series into an obsessive national talking point.
“Total whiff by the league,” tweeted USA TODAY columnist Dan Wolken.
“Game times are based on a calculation most of us don’t understand,” wrote FOX Sports Radio host Doug Gottlieb on Sunday. “So maybe someone can help as to why the #NBA is playing on a Monday instead of today.”
The most straightforward reason why there was no game on Sunday is that there was one on Friday, with a crossing of coasts from Massachusetts to the Bay Area in the intervening period.
The NBA doesn’t mind making its teams play with a single day of rest in the conference finals, even when switching locations. But it implements an additional off day when it comes to the Finals, which is virtually guaranteed to have greater distances involved.
The Eastern Conference title series between the Celtics and the Miami Heat saw the opener and clincher separated by just 14 days, and took on the natural feel of an ever-rumbling soap opera that fluctuated and sizzled. In the Finals, the plot is unfolding a little more steadily.
There appears to be one overwhelming reason for setting up the Finals slate this way. If Golden State and Boston continue to trade blows as evenly as they have been, and we are treated to a Game 7, it would take place next Sunday — Father’s Day — thereby guaranteeing a whopping number of eyeballs taking in the action.
But at what cost? There is no certainty this thing even goes seven. Both teams have shown an ability to win on the other’s hardwood, with the first two games at the Warriors’ Chase Center split and the same thing happening at TD Garden on Wednesday and Friday — thanks in no small part to Curry’s explosive 43-point haul to level the series.
All of which could mean that this thing winds up a six-game series — where only one of the matchups was staged on a weekend.
On the surface, it seems like it would not have been so hard to line things up in a more viewer-friendly way. Yet some relatively simple math clarifies things slightly and shows how the league’s hands were tied by its own policies.
The NBA seems steadfast on its insistence that teams get an extra day off when traversing the country in the Finals. Given that there are four such mid-series trips if it goes the whole way, the quickest span the schedule could have taken was 17 days.
Warriors-Celtics will actually take 18, as there was an extra day of rest between the first two games in San Francisco. Neither a 17-day nor 18-day Finals allows for three weekend games — unless a tweak was made to have a huge gap of three days between Games 6 and 7. That would slow the series’ momentum right at the time it was reaching its crescendo.
It is a quality series, not perfect by any stretch, but filled with numerous points of interest. The youth of Tatum and Brown against the experience of the Warriors’ core. The realization that both teams are the antithesis of star-loading, with virtually every key player drafted by the franchise he represents. In that sense, it has a little of a throwback feel to it, and no, that’s not just because the Celtics are involved.
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While we are on the subject of a throwback, one way to fix the scheduling woes that lit up Twitter on Sunday evening would be to take a glance at the past.
There is no widespread movement clamoring for a resumption of the old school 2-3-2 formula for the Finals. But guess what? If you want two days off after games that precede a plane ride, and for the action to hit the weekend audience as often as possible, it works beautifully.
Sunday–Tuesday–Friday–Sunday–Tuesday–Friday–Sunday is just one potential method that feels stacked with primetime pizzazz. Of course, 2-3-2 was regularly maligned and gave way to 2-2-1-1-1 in 2014. It hasn’t been missed much.
“I like 2-2-1-1-1 better,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “It’s a more fair format. And given that we have a couple of days in between every game, other than 3 and 4, I think both teams will be able to handle the travel.”
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Commissioner Adam Silver also iterated his faith in the present system, highlighting the availability of “beautiful planes” to counteract the effects of all those trips.
That there was no weekend game is hardly the most drastic or serious issue currently facing basketball. It probably won’t feature too highly on the list of things Silver wants to talk about with his most trusted associates once the season is done.
It was a problem for no one other than those of us wishing for something to keep us occupied on a barren Sunday night, and it will prove to be nothing more than a mild — and temporary — frustration.
But on what felt like should have been an ideal sporting Sunday, it wasn’t. Instead, it felt like an entrance into the quiet days of summer.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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