When the playoffs began with the Brooklyn-Toronto game last Saturday, the notion of playoff experience was at the forefront of the discussion. You couldn't escape it. Here you had the Atlantic Division champion and third-seeded Toronto Raptors taking on the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets.
By virtue of record and seed, the Raptors should have been a solid favorite, even if most felt that on paper it was an evenly matched series. In our playoff forecast, the Nets emerged as the only lower-seeded team to escape the first round. The Nets have veterans up and down the roster, including former Celtics stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, two certain Hall of Famers who have been at the forefront of the postseason narrative for the last seven years. By contrast, the Raptors have little high-level playoff experience on their roster. In most previews selecting Brooklyn, the experience gap was cited as a primary reason.
It didn't matter what perspective you come from: The perception was that playoff experience is a major factor in determining a series winner. When Amin Elhassan and I collaborated on our preview -- he from the scouting angle, me through the prism of analytics -- we both picked Brooklyn and declared that playoff experience would be the deciding factor. Then Game 1 started, and the experience angle was brought up so often during the telecast that the whole notion began to be widely mocked in social media. It was quite amusing. Then, lo and behold, Pierce and Garnett were major factors late in a close game as the Nets stole Game 1 in Toronto.
So is playoff experience really that important? We like to say that, and it makes perfect sense. But this is the kind of thing that really isn't that hard to check, so that's what I decided to do.