How often do NBA Finals series go seven games?

Including championships from the BAA, the predecessor of the NBA from 1947 to 1949, there have been 64 NBA Finals series to date. Here is a breakdown of how many NBA Finals go four, five, six and seven games.

How many games will the 2011 NBA Finals featuring LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) of the Miami Heat and Dirk Nowitzki(notes), Jason Terry(notes) and Jason Kidd(notes) of the Dallas Mavericks go? It's an intriguing match-up. The Heat rely on three superstars, while the Mavs have one superstar player but have much greater depth.

Jason Kidd of the Mavs will be playing in his third NBA Finals. His other two NBA Finals came when he played for my favorite NBA team, the New Jersey Nets. Kidd has played the most playoff games in NBA history without winning a championship.

How Often Do NBA Finals Series Go Seven Games?

Four Game Sweeps

By far the least common outcome of an NBA Finals series is a four game sweep. Only eight out of 64 NBA Finals went four games. That is just 12.5%. A sweep is a pretty rare occurrence in the NBA Finals.

The first sweep happened in 1959, when the Boston Celtics swept the Minneapolis Lakers. That started a string of eight consecutive NBA Championships for the Celtics, and it was the only series they swept out of the eight.

The last sweep occurred in 2007, when the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cleveland Cavaliers. I'm sure the memories of that are not too good for LeBron James. In this year's finals, I think the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks are too well matched for a sweep to occur. You never know though, the Mavs swept the Lakers out of the playoffs in second round in 2011, and nobody predicted that.

In 2002, my New Jersey Nets were swept in our first ever NBA Finals by Shaq, Kobe Bryant(notes) and the Los Angeles Lakers. Getting swept in the finals is no fun at all.

Five Game Series

A total of 15 NBA Finals series went five games. That's 23.4% of the time. So about one-quarter of the NBA Finals go five games. Almost double the amount of four game sweeps. And that makes sense, because even teams that are over-matched in the finals can usually put together one great game at home and get a win.

That is exactly what happened in the first and last NBA Finals that went five games. The very first championship series, in 1947, went five games and was won by the Philadelphia Warriors over the Chicago Stags. The Stags managed to win the fourth game of the series at home.

The last five game series was in 2009, when the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic. The Magic put it all together for a victory at home in Game Three though.

Again, I think the Heat and Mavs are just too well matched for a five game series. But it's a much more likely outcome than a sweep is.

Six Game Series

By far, the most common occurrence in an NBA Finals is a six game series. A total of 24 NBA Finals have gone six games. That's 37.5% of the time. If you are giving a prediction on how long an NBA Finals series is going to go, in general, your safest bet is to just say six games.

The first six game series occurred in 1948, the second year of the finals, when the now defunct Baltimore Bullets (not the present day Washington Wizards franchise) defeated the Philadelphia Warriors four games to two. The 1949 and 1950 finals also went six games.

The last six game NBA Finals occurred in 2008, when the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2003, my Nets managed to win two games against the San Antonio Spurs in the finals, but we lost the series in six games.

Seven Game Series

Almost nothing in sports beats the sheer drama of a Game Seven. Especially when it occurs for a championship. Game Sevens in the NBA Finals occur about 26.6% of the time (17 out of 64). That is the second highest occurrence rate behind six games.

The first NBA Finals that went seven games occurred in 1951 when the Rochester Royals defeated the New York Knicks. The last NBA Finals to go to a Game Seven occurred last year in 2010 when the Lakers defeated the Celtics. In Game Seven, Kobe Bryant made just six out of 24 shots from the field, but he grabbed 15 rebounds to go along with Pau Gasol's(notes) 18, and the Lakers won the game by out-rebounding the Celtics.

I think the 2011 NBA Finals has a decent chance to go seven games. Dirk Nowitzki is just a nightmare to defend. He's 7' tall, makes 38.5% of his three-point shots in the playoffs in his career and if you foul him, he's deadly from the free throw line (88.8%). On the other hand, when it's crunch time in a game the Heat have three great scorers to rely on, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That's a deadly trio.

Should be a great series.

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Updated Tuesday, May 31, 2011