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There is something about Game 3 when it comes to the finals in major pro sports and if you bet on games you need to take notice of it. 

The discrepancy between teams that win Game 3 in the finals and teams that win the championship is a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon when a team takes a series lead of 2-0. 

In the finals of the three major sports with best-of-seven playoff formats (MLB, NHL & NBA), the team that goes up 2-0 in the finals wins the series 85.8 percent of the time (115-19). But that team only wins Game 3 47 percent of the time (63-71).  

WTF? They win Game 3 less than half the time but they win the series almost nine times out of 10? 


If you’re thinking home court/ice/field has a lot to do with it, you’re right. 

Teams that go up 2-0 when starting the series at home only win Game 3 on the road 41 percent of the time across all sports (43-62) while they win the series 86.7 percent of the time (91-14). 

No sport has an advantage like MLB where the team that wins the first two at home to open the World Series only wins Game 3 37 percent of the time (20-34).  (Numbers via whowins.com.) 

When Teams win the first 2 games at home in the finals
Sport Game 3 win record Series win record
All (MLB, NBA & NHL) 43-62 (41%) 91-14 (86.7%)
MLB 20-34 (37%)  44-10 (81.5%)
NBA 103-146 (41.5%) 234-15 (94%)
NHL 17-21 (44.7%) 35-3 (92.1%)

But why is home such a big advantage? 

I hate to disappoint the purists but it isn’t the crowd noise. The biggest impact is the officiating. 

You won’t find this in the official rule book of any major pro sports league but officials are mentored to give the edge to the home team, usually in the form of the benefit of the doubt. The mentality is often this: If a call could be made in favor of the home team, then it probably should be — especially in pivotal playoff games like a Game 3. 

The reason for this is that home games make the economy spin round in the pros. The better teams perform at home, the more people show up for games, the more locals watch on TV, the more money everybody makes. 

The dream playoff situation from the leagues’ point of view usually would be that every home team wins every game and every series goes to seven games. 

Of course that will never happen but as soon as a team goes up 2-0 at home in a series, it puts the longevity of that series at risk. If a team wins Game 3, however, it guarantees the home fans will at least be satisfied once and it ensures there’s another venue change again for Game 5. 

The refs know the score. They know how their paychecks are generated and they know those checks get bigger if the league makes more money. They fully understand they are just one part of this entertainment machine that players and coaches simply refer to as ‘The Show’. 

Nobody drops a bag of money off at their hotel room before each game with a wink and a nod. Nobody from the league instructs them what to do. Referees are trained, mentored and largely policed by other referees. It’s a peer-to-peer thing but it has a major impact on the games. 

It doesn’t mean the refs are crooked, either. They’re almost always not. It’s just the way the league works because it’s the way the money works. 

Players, coaches and owners know this too. Do you think it was an accident that Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale took his ‘take that for data’ tirade out on officials right after Game 2 before the series returned to Memphis for Game 3? 

If you do, you are naïve. The Grizzlies won the next two games. 

Last year in the NBA Finals, the Warriors won the first two games before returning to Cleveland to lose Game 3. Frustration grew and Draymond Green was ultimately suspended in Game 4. 

In this year’s Stanley Cup final, the Pittsburgh Penguins went up 2-0 in the series before the Nashville Predators tied things up at home. The Predators had the first goal of the series called back on a 50-50 non-offside call that was overturned on replay. Then Nashville went down 3-0 in a hurry thanks in part to a generous five-on-three power play for the Pens. 

That stuff happens on the road. Then back at home the Preds got the benefit – at least I felt – and we’re headed back to Pittsburgh all tied up. 

Oddsmakers know this is how it works too. That’s why they set Cleveland at -2 on the look-ahead line for Game 3 before the NBA Finals even began. They assumed then the Warriors would win the first two games (based on the spreads of Golden State -6.5 and -7) and they would have kept it at -2 if public perception hadn’t swayed things so much. 

The widespread media talk after two games is that Cleveland is about to get swept and the line is now Golden State -3. Just be careful with that one, is all I would advise. 

I’m not betting against the best playoff streak in NBA history but I can’t bring myself to bet on Golden State either, knowing what I know about Game 3s in spots like this. So it’s a pass for me. 

You might think I’m crazy and this is all a bunch of conspiracy talk. But it’s not a theory and it's not something I guessed at. It’s based on multiple conversations I’ve had with officials at the top level in the NHL and other leagues over the years. It’s not even a big secret with them, it’s just an assumed part of the game. For their sake I wish the leagues were more transparent about it.

For the bettor’s sake, it’s just something that’s vital to understand and accept before you put your money down. 

Follow me on Twitter @JonnyOddsShark