Celtics At An Extra Disadvantage In Game Six, Scientific Study Says

The Boston Celtics trail the Golden State Warriors three games to two in the NBA Finals as they enter the sixth game of the series at home on Thursday evening. But that home court advantage may not be so helpful, according to new research published just hours before tip-off at TD Garden.

Researchers based in Australia studied the impact of jet lag on performance in the NBA and the results are not good for the Celts.

“NBA teams are often exposed to jet lag due to frequent travel across multiple time zones with some teams being disproportionately affected based on their geographical location,” explains Dr. Elise Facer-Childs from the Monash University Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health in Melbourne. “Travelling eastward could be of particular concern to teams located on the east coast who have to travel back to play home games without adequate recovery time.”

Facer-Childs led a team of researchers who authored a study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

They looked at data from over 11,000 NBA regular season games played between 2011 and 2021 and found home teams travelling eastward had a six percent less chance of winning compared to home teams who did not travel and also had fewer rebounds and lower goal percentage.

Longer distances traveled from west to east also seem to increase the magnitude of the effect.

“Eastward travel—where the destination time is later than the origin time—requires the athlete to shorten their day (known as a phase advance),” says Dr Facer-Childs. “During phase advance, athletes often struggle to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime, leading to sleep loss and, consequently, potential impaired physiological performance and motivation the next day.”

The key caveat to this data is that the negative effects diminish when teams are given an adequate recovery window.

“Allowing time for the circadian system to realign naturally to the destination’s light-dark cycle could, therefore, mitigate the observed eastward travel disadvantage.”

Indeed, the Celtics won game three of the Finals series at home with two days of rest after losing to the Warriors on the road in San Francisco. The study finds this amount of rest still puts the eastward-travelling home team at a disadvantage, but not as much as with less time to recover.

The research will be put to the test again in game six as the Celtics return home three days after dropping game five in San Francisco.

“Team management can mitigate jet lag effects by maintaining a structured schedule (e.g., transportation, meal timings, athlete treatment sessions, and trainings) while on the road,” said first author Josh Leota.

Leota also notes that the study only looked at regular season competition.

“It is plausible that the increased stakes of the post season likely have already led teams that are returning home to forgo social commitments in favor of game preparation and circadian resynchronization.”

Handicappers clearly have not yet read the new research. The Celtics are widely favored to win on Thursday, forcing a seventh game Sunday in San Francisco.

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