Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Playoffs Aren't What You Thought They Were

The general consensus has been the first round of NBA playoff games were exceptionally exciting but many also noticed an inordinate amount of sloppy play, specifically a "failure to execute down the stretch." Normally teams that hold leads are considered to be on the cusp of greatness, "defense wins championships." Regrettably an 82 game regular season provides little urgency and few opportunities to play clutch basketball (players/coaches say "it's only one game" after a loss). 

No doubt by now you've seen the record breaking first round stats:
  • 8 Overtime Games
  • 5 Games 7's
  • 23 games decided by 5 points of less

A little introspection reveals these games have not been played at a high level.  

Of the 8 overtime games, 6 were the result of double digit leads lost --- better known as choke jobs. 

The most glaring example was game 5 of Memphis v Oklahoma City in which Memphis held a 20 point lead in the third quarter but finished with a 1 point victory. Only in game 2 did both teams play at a high level throughout. Below is a simple chart of games 2-5 that went in overtime, indicating the largest point lead at any given time, points choked away down the stretch and the final point difference. Memphis choked points away in games 2, 3 & 5 while Oklahoma City only choked points away in game 4.

                 game 2          game 3             game 4            game 5

Fortunately they only choked points away and did not choke the game away. That job was left to Houston as they battled Portland. 

                      game 1                   game 3                    game 4

In game 1, a 13 point lead was held by Houston but eventually lost by 2. In game 4 they lost by 3 points failing to hold a lead of 11. In game 3 Houston choked away only 7 of their 12 point lead and won by 5. The Houston Rockets looked like a three quarter team if there ever was one.

The one overtime game in the Eastern Conference was game 2 of Washington v Chicago. Washington ultimately choked away 15 of their 17 point lead in that game to win by 2.

Diuretic defense was not limited to overtime games, of the 23 games that were decided by 5 points or less:
  • All 23 games had a team with a 9 point lead at some point
  • 13 games had teams with a lead of 13 points or more
  • 6 games had teams with a lead of 17 points or more
  • 17 games saw teams choke away double digit leads
  • 8 games saw the team with the largest lead lose
In game 5 of Toronto v Brooklyn, Toronto choked away 24 of their 26 point lead in defeating Brooklyn and eventually lost the series consistently failing to defend in the second half. 

In averaging out those 23 games, teams built an average lead of 14 points and then choked away 12 points. Not the type of record breaking basketball one would think.

The first round saw streaky shooting and optional defense. Teams build a lead and collapsed under the pressure of maintaining it. These factors lead to closely contested outcomes but created drama as compelling as any high school or college game.