The Boston Celtics are three games to two behind the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals as they enter the sixth game of the series at home Thursday night. But that home field advantage may not be that helpful, according to a new study published just hours before the tip at TD Garden.
Australia-based researchers looked at the impact of jet lag on performance in the NBA, and the results are not good for the Celts.
“NBA teams are often subject to jet lag as they frequently travel across multiple time zones, with some teams being disproportionately affected due to their geographic location,” said Dr. Elise Facer-Childs of the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University in Melbourne. “Eastbound travel could be of particular importance for East Coast teams who need to travel back to home games without adequate recovery time.”
Facer-Childs led a research team that authored a study published in the journal Boundaries in Physiology.
They examined data from over 11,000 NBA regular season games played between 2011 and 2021 and found that home teams that traveled east had a six percent lower odds of winning than home teams that did not travel and also had fewer rebounds and a had a lower goal percentage.
Longer distances traveled from west to east also appear to increase the magnitude of the effect.
“Eastbound journeys – where the finish time is after the start time – require the athlete to shorten their day (known as phase progression),” says Dr. Facer Children. “During phase advance, athletes often have difficulty falling asleep at an earlier bedtime, resulting in sleep loss and, consequently, potential impairment in next-day physiological performance and motivation.”
The main caveat with this data is that if teams are given a reasonable recovery window, the negative impact will subside.
“Giving time for the circadian system to naturally adjust to the travel destination’s light-dark cycle could mitigate the observed disadvantage of eastbound travel.”
In fact, the Celtics won the third game of the Finals series at home by two days after losing away to the Warriors in San Francisco. The study finds that this amount of rest still puts the home team eastbound at a disadvantage, but not as much as having less time to recover.
The research will be tested again in game six when the Celtics return home in San Francisco three days after the fifth game was abandoned.
“Team management can mitigate jet lag by following a structured schedule along the way (e.g., transportation, meal times, athlete treatment sessions, and training),” said first author Josh Leota.
Leota also notes that the study only looked at regular-season competition.
“It’s plausible that the increased stakes of the postseason have likely already prompted returning-home teams to forego social commitments in favor of game prep and circadian resync.”
Disabled people have clearly not yet read the new study. The Celtics are widely viewed as favorites to win Thursday, forcing a seventh game Sunday in San Francisco.