What Winning Game 3 Means for Both Miami and San Antonio

History is not kind to Game 3 losers in the NBA Playoffs. What do our algorithms say about it?

Although the NBA Finals changed from 2-3-2 to 2-2-1-1-1 this year, the previous rounds have consistently been the latter for a long time. That means, with the new format, we now have years and years of historical playoff data to determine how important each game in a seven game series is in determining the overall outcome.

Even to the most casual fan, it's obvious that tonight's game is important. I mean, it's the NBA Finals - every game is important, right?

Yes, but stats show that some are more important than others, merely by where they fall in the seven game order and where the series stands. And the data about Game 3's and how it affects the rest of the series, both algorithmically and historically, is very telling.

So our algorithms ran through the series, giving series odds based on both the Heat and Spurs winning Game 3 in hypothetical parallel universes. Here's the data:

If the Heat win Game 3, they have 66.44% odds to win the series.
If the Spurs win Game 3, they have 72.64% odds to win the series.

So how can we interpret this data? The most glaring thing is how big tonight's game is. The winner will be the new happy owner of an increase of 39.08% odds to win the title. That's very significant.

How does this stack up historically? Pretty well, actually. In the history of the NBA, the team that goes up 2-1 in a seven game series is 283-62, good for an 82.0% win rate. Very high. This is especially interesting when you look at the win percentage of teams in Game 4 that are up 2-1 in the series. Historically, they are 174-171, almost dead even. So for that number to be 50.4% and the overall outcome to be 82.0%, that shows that Game 3 is immensely more important statistically than Game 4.

The numbers specifically for the NBA Finals are even more drastic - the holder of the 2-1 record is historically 46-9, good for a 83.6% win percentage. However, as said above, with the change in the Finals format this year, the more accurate data will be looking at historical trends of other 2-2-1-1-1 series.

Just in case you were wondering about the odds for the Spurs if the Heat hold their home court and go up 3-1 in the series, it's not pretty. Historically, the team with a 3-1 series lead is 209-8. That equates to a 96.3% win percentage.

So even though I said that Game 3 is more important than Game 4 (and it still is), the odds of the Spurs being able to come back if they don't get a win in Miami before Game 5 is almost impossible. Spurs fans should hope that they take care of business tonight and grab home-court advantage back from their rivals. If the Heat win tonight, San Antonio will have a huge uphill battle to face.

As you watch tonight, especially in the crunch time of the fourth quarter, remember that this game will be the biggest factor (other than a Game 7, obviously) in determining who wins a title and who goes home disheartened.

Who will it be?