Was 2022 the Worst NBA First Round Ever?

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets

The first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs has finally come to a merciful end with exactly nothing of interest happening at any point.

That is to say, there were zero upsets—all of the top four seeds advanced in each conference—and none of the series went seven games. Indeed, only four series went even six games, with three ending on the favorite’s home floor in Game 5 and one, the Celtics-Nets dumpster fire, ending with a pretty little implosion of what was supposed to be a superteam and title contender but instead had Kyrie Irving on it, which only ends well when LeBron James turns into 1980 Magic Johnson when the Cavaliers get down 3-1 in the Finals.

Has this ever happened before? Could this be the least interesting playoff opening round in NBA history?

Well…let’s take a look back, shall we?

A Lack of Game 7s

Since the first round went from best-of-five to best-of-seven in 2003, there have been years filled with short series. After all, the 2004 playoffs featured three first-round sweeps and four series that ended with Game 5. But even 2004 gave us one seven-game series, as the 4 seed Miami Heat needed seven games to bump off the 5 seed New Orleans Hornets, who were both still named the Hornets and still stuck in the Eastern Conference after moving from Charlotte for the 2002-03 season. The realignment would come with the introduction of the Charlotte Bobcats the next year; the name change came later, as the Hornets became the Pelicans in 2013 and the Bobcats re-introduced the old Charlotte Hornets name and colors in 2014.

Point is, at least there was a Game 7.

The only years lacking a Game 7 in the first round were 2011, when four series went six games but none of those Game 6 contests featured the team facing elimination rising to the challenge, and this year.

So that narrows it down. If we’re taking “lack of a Game 7” and “no upsets” as our criteria for Worst. Playoffs. Ever., then we’re already down to our two finalists.

So let’s look back at 2011 and see if…

Everything Goes Chalk

This year, the Heat, Celtics, Bucks, and Sixers, seeded one through four respectively in the East, all won their opening series. Sure, the Toronto Raptors made a series of it by winning Games 4 and 5 and making everyone freak out about what a terrible coach Doc Rivers is in the playoffs, but the Sixers got it together and won Game 6 to finally close out that series and spare Doc the indignity of a nice little traffic spike on that article I wrote about how much he sucks (thanks, Google!)

Over in the West, the Pelicans made it interesting for five minutes when they won Game 2 in Phoenix, but they surrendered Game 3, something the underdog should NEVER do in a seven-game series (I’ve written about that too—Part 1 is here and you can also read Part 2), won Game 4 at home, only to choke the series away for good when they lost Game 6 at home.

Likewise, the Timberwolves made life a bit too much fun for the Grizzlies in their series, but once again, the Wolves yakked away Game 3 and finally lost on their own floor in Game 6.

And Utah? Won Game 1 in Dallas, lost Game 3 at home, lost the series in 6. You cannot lose Game 3 at home if you’re the underdog and want to have any chance at all of winning the series. They might as well have just spared us the remaining three games and called the series over right then and there.

The net result of all this, plus the Warriors, who didn’t need to take home court back but won Game 3 anyway just to make it 4-for-4 on the favorites winning Game 3 on the road, winning in five games, is that the entire first round had zero playoff upsets.

In 2011?

Well, the Atlanta Hawks made sure that at least there was an upset in the mix, as they won Game 1 on the road against the Orlando Magic then enjoyed the ride as every home game went to the team the fans were there to root for and the Magic ran out of chances to take back home court advantage. Game 6 was a squeaker—indeed, three games, all Hawks wins, were decided by four points or fewer—but horseshoes and hand grenades and all that.

The rest of the East first round was a laugher, as the 1 seed Bulls clobbered the 8 seed Pacers in 5, the 2 seed Heat processed the 7 seed Sixers in 5, and there was nothing gentlemanly about the 3 seed Celtics’ dismantling of the Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks in just four games.

Over in the West, there was a far bigger upset. The 1 seed San Antonio Spurs barfed on themselves in Game 1, then lost the series the same way Orlando lost their series in the East. The only difference is that only one of those games—Game 1, a 101-98 win for the Grizz—was decided by a single possession.

Other than that, the 2 seed defending champion Lakers lost Game 1 at home to the 7 seed Hornets but—see a theme developing?—took back home court in Game 3 and ultimately won the series in 6, the 3 seed and eventual champion Mavericks played a hold-serve series until winning Game 6 in Portland, and the 4 seed Oklahoma City Thunder took the Denver Nuggets out behind the woodshed, beating them in Game 3 to go up 3-0 in the series then closing things out at home in Game 5.

A pair of series upsets on the dog’s home floor in Game 6 is a more-than-adequate counter-point to those series going seven games and ultimately ending with the favorite winning at home, so at least 2011 offered some interesting storylines.

2022 couldn’t even get that right.

In all four series that went six games, the dog was facing elimination. Sure, we’d have gotten a Game 7 if any of the four teams could’ve won at home, but a Game 6 is only truly exciting if we’re watching the road team, the favorite in the series, facing elimination and needing to win on the road to get a winner-take-all game in front of their own fans. That’s the stuff that dreams are made of (double especially if the favorite is trying to erase a 3-1 series lead on the part of the dog), and we got no dreams this year.

At least since the playoffs went to a best-of-seven first round, comparing apples to apples, 2022 just barfed out the worst first round of the playoffs in NBA history.

If there is any kind of silver lining here, it is this:

At least the conference semis look to be awesome. Chris Paul and the Suns against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. The up-and-coming Grizzlies against the re-armed Warriors, who still have the core of that team that went to five straight Finals. The Heat continuing their quest to get back to the Finals after a year away, with Jimmy Butler still reviled in Philadelphia for how his time with the Sixers ended.

And the defending champions playing on the road in Game 1 against an enigmatic Celtics team that has for six years now been just good enough not to be good enough, reaching three (and trying for a fourth) Eastern Conference Finals without getting over the hump and into the championship round.

So what if the first round sucked. The playoffs just got real.