Wednesday, June 11, 2014

NBA Finals Numbers, While Not Lying, Are Stuttering


Numbers may not intentionally misrepresent…but they do discombobulate more than clarify on occasion. (Ever hear of vector geometry?)

Take the first two games of this year’s NBA Finals, for example. On both occasions, the losers compiled more offensive rebounds and fewer turnovers than did the winners. Counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

The same little oddity occurred in Games 5 & 7 of last season’s championship series between the same two teams. (In the iconic Game 6, the teams were even on the offensive glass while the winning Heat committed more turnovers than they forced.)

In terms of raw numbers, the San Antonio Spurs have been virtually indistinguishable from their opposition in some key areas during the past two regular seasons. In those 164 games, the Spurs and their opponents are separated by just 16 total rebounds, 28 turnovers and 37 free throw attempts – less than 0.25 of each per game. On top of that, they surrender almost two more offensive rebounds per game than they retrieve.

How were they able to outscore the other guys by 1,164 points and win 120 of those games?

Well, over 300 of those points come from an edge in successful three-point shots. In all, the Spurs managed to make over 400 more field goals while attempting over 400 fewer.

San Antonio’s familiar Finals foe, during the same stretch, also converted over 400 more field goals than its opposition – and accomplished this feat on nearly 500 fewer shots. But that exceptional field-goal shooting and an identical win total end the list of numerical similarities between the two teams over the past two seasons.

The Heat are a heady and athletic team built to run rather than rebound…indeed they are among the poorest rebounding teams ever to win a championship. Their opponents have chased down over 500 more offensive rebounds, in excess of three per game.

The Heat have taken and made about 60 more treys than the other guys and gain about a point per game at the foul line. The generator of their near 1,000 point scoring differential is to be found in the turnover column, where the Heat have induced almost 300 more turnover than they’ve committed. They force a turnover on a league-best 17 percent of opponent possessions, while squandering opportunities at a 15 percent rate.

Yet, their last three Finals victories were accomplished without their most identifiable trait.

Traditional wisdom has always preached that defense wins championships. But these back-to-back Heat-Spurs Finals have featured the top two shooting teams in the league.

Little wonder that our numbers, while violating no Commandments, just don’t add up.