A Brief History of the NBA Playoffs

By  //  April 14, 2022

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Basketball has been a huge part of the national sporting scene, and it’s no wonder why the NBA receives such a large TV broadcasting. The high intensity league demonstrates some of the fastest and well-rounded athletic players. 

Since its inception in 1946, the NBA has had a direct impact on many aspects of our society. In fact, it was the first professional sports league to have an official mascot. The global attention shaped pop culture and became a huge part of young people’s identity. 

The NBA is one of the most popular in the world, with over 20 million people watching each year. This is a look into how the iconic NBA playoffs got to where they are today, and what to expect from the future. 

Basketball Association Of America (BAA)

Firstly, the NBA playoffs weren’t always known by that name. Before they became such a huge icon in the modern world, the BAA saw some of the country’s best basketball teams competing against each other. 

During the 1947 and 1948 playoffs, champion teams from the Eastern and Western divisions competed against each other in a best-of-seven format. The very first BAA final saw the Philadelphia Warriors defeat the Chicago Stags. 

The basic format of the 1947 and 1948 playoffs was criticized for combining the Eastern and Western divisions and deciding which tournaments would take place based on chance. 

The same approach was used when selecting finalists, too, which generated a great deal of controversy. This became especially problematic when teams were not always being celebrated by merit, rather that they were randomly assigned opponents. 

Thankfully, the following year saw some structural changes which made the playoffs very similar to the NBA playoffs seen today. The format is largely the same, as the NBA kept the idea of using four teams from each division, as well as keeping two best-of-three rounds before the best-of-seven championship. 

These can be seen in the 1950 NBA playoffs, when the BAA was officially renamed to the National Basketball Association. 

Double Round Robin Format

In 1954, the basic framework which the NBA playoffs followed saw another alteration. The division semifinals began using the double round-robin format, which qualified the best three teams from each and playing in four games each. 

Once there were two teams left, they would then enter the best-of-three division finals, before beginning the best-of-seven finals. 

The main reason why the structure of the playoffs changed during this period was because of the reduction in team numbers. Many NBA teams were either folded or dropped out of the championship during the 1950s. 

Because of this, the playoffs began using six teams rather than eight, which they began with. This allowed the championship to continue operating without having to make major structural changes. 

1971 Conferences

In 1967, the NBA playoffs were able to increase their numbers to eight teams once again. This continued until 1975, when the capacity went up to a total of ten teams within the championship. However, 1971 saw further structural changes to the playoffs. 

Thanks to the increased popularity of the NBA during the end of the 20th century, the divisions were formally changed into conferences. This meant that teams from more areas across the country were able to compete against each other. 

Within the Eastern conference, there were two divisions; Atlantic and Central. The Western conference consisted of the Midwest and Pacific divisions. Four from each conference qualified for the NBA playoffs, and the division winner always held a home court advantage over a second place team. 

NBA Playoff Records

Because the NBA playoffs have been going on for such a long time, it’s no surprise to see that there are a range of records set by high achieving teams. One of the longest winning streaks is still held by the Golden State Warriors for a single postseason. During the 2017 playoffs, they set the record for a huge fifteen wins. 

Another team to have made NBA playoff records are the Chicago Bulls. They are the only team to have never lost in the finals, as they have won all six final games. 

When competing against the number one seeded team, there are only five eighth seeded teams to have come out victorious. These are the Denver Nuggets in 1994, New York Knicks in 1999, Golden State Warriors in 2007, Memphis Grizzlies in 2011, and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012. 

Because the standards continue to climb, it is worth considering how this will affect the latest developments within the NBA. Take a closer look at the latest Odds To Win NBA Championship for more detail and accurate updates. 


The NBA continues to be one of the most popular basketball championships in the world. Thanks to modern brand deals, increased internet access, and even more TV broadcasting, the NBA playoffs are some of the most watched games every year. 

Make sure you are checking out the latest developments to see how they are affecting a team’s chances of winning the playoffs that season. The structure has roughly followed the red robin format for decades, and it has been an effective and functional method of creating fair and high scoring playoffs ever since it was first implemented.