THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Too much of the action got swept away

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 14, 2010

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Since last Monday night, all NBA eyes have been on the Cavaliers and Celtics.

That’s nice for them, but it’s not so nice for the NBA, or for people in Orlando, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, or San Antonio.

The Cavs and Celtics squared off last evening in TD Garden for a Game 6, which, given the fasten-your-seatbelt nature of this rather bizarre series (each team winning a massive blowout on the road, among other things), is more like the natural order of things. Six is normal. Six is good. Six is right and proper. Seven, of course, is even better. Who among us does not relish a seventh game of anything? (Well, the 2010 Bruins, of course. But that’s a special case.)

But four? Oy. Four is good for the ego of the players, coach, and perhaps even the owner(s). Oh, and, of course, it’s good for the psyche of the fans whose team has pulled off the sweep.

Now here’s something I’ve been wondering about for a long time. I would like to get a baseball, basketball, or hockey owner aside, ply him with liquor, and say, “I promise you this is just between you and me. Do you really root for a sweep?’’

I’d say, “Doesn’t the pragmatic part of you hope for as many home dates as possible? Isn’t winning in seven the real bonanza, or six if you don’t have the home court?’’

Wouldn’t you love to get the honest-to-God, lie-detector level answer?

But we never will. The John Henrys, the Wyc Grousbecks, and the Jeremy Jacobses of the world would never fess up to such an eminently reasonable thought, even if it’s one we could all readily understand.

They’re businessmen, and they appreciate money. A home playoff gate means upward of a million dollars (at least, that’s what I’ve always heard). Excellence comes at a cost.

That’s just the beginning. Each home playoff game represents another payday for a large number of people. Think of all the ticket takers, vendors, ushers, and assorted other personnel who get paid by the game. The additional income that is a byproduct of a prolonged series is extremely important to them.

Wait, there’s more. What about the bars and restaurants in each town? Then you have hotels, rental car agencies, taxis, and probably 50 more ancillary things I haven’t thought of. Playoff nights and afternoons are very important to many people in our economy.

Take, for example, The Fours, the landmark spot on Canal Street, across from the Garden.

“Each of these games is worth at least $20,000 for us,’’ says manager Jim Taggart. “That’s a big deal for our waiters, waitresses, bartenders, and barbacks. I have a friend who manages The Boardwalk, right near the arena in Dallas. Mark Cuban is practically apologizing to him.’’

The Mavericks? Remember them? They won 55 games during the regular season to earn the second seed in the West before meekly submitting themselves to a six-game first-round trouncing at the hands of archrival San Antonio. You think everyone concerned, starting with the volatile Mr. Cuban, wasn’t expecting a long playoff run, with many lucrative nights and days of playoff basketball in front of them? If you recall, the Mavs were a very chic pick to win it all.

Bet you can get seated right away at The Boardwalk tonight.

OK, we figured, the second round should be good. San Antonio looked as if it was going to be a very tough out. Then Phoenix wiped the Spurs out in four. The Jazz were predictably gritty as they disposed of Denver. Despite being down two starters, there was hope they’d give the Lakers a go. Ah, no. The Lakers were just too tall and too talented. Game 3 (LA, 111-110) was a high-class NBA game that came down the Utah missing both a last shot and a tip, but Game 4 was an anticlimax and that, too, resulted in a sweep.

By far the worst development was in the East. Atlanta had won 50 during the regular season, although there was a strong feeling among many that it should have won more. This is the third year for the core group of Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Mike Bibby, and they were bolstered by Sixth Man Award winner Jamal Crawford. There’s no ambiguity here. This should be their time.

They struggled against Milwaukee in the first round, but got it done with a 95-74 home-court victory in Game 7. They figured to have a real chance to get that proverbial “steal’’ in Game 1 of their series with Orlando, since the Magic had been waiting patiently for eight days after annihilating Charlotte in, yes, a sweep.

The score: Orlando 114, Atlanta 71.

That was the beginning of a historic beatdown. Orlando won Games 2, 3, and 4 by 14, 30, and 14. It was the worst four-game thumping in NBA history. When a team such as Atlanta is humiliated to that extent, the issue is not talent. It is character. The front-running Hawks apparently have none.

Beyond the economics, these sweeps have dire ramifications in terms of general interest in the league itself. The TV sets that should have been tuned to a Phoenix-San Antonio Game 6 last night or a Game 7 on Sunday, or to Orlando-Atlanta and/or Los Angeles-Utah Game 6’s tonight and then Game 7’s on Sunday and Monday will be tuned to non-NBA programming.

As an aside, all TV folk will tell you their interest always lies in having at least a Game 6 to televise, in any series, at any time.

Then consider the national NBA buzz, or lack of same. The only consolation available is the LeBron factor that makes Cleveland’s entire postseason a mini-series.

So the fact that the Cavs and LeBron weren’t swept is the NBA’s only recent good news. All the rest was bad.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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