Outliers of Game 1

After blessing SLAMonline with the nERD Power Rankings throughout the season, our guys at numberFire are back to help us look at the postseason in an analytics-based way. So what do the algorithmic models say about the numbers in Game 1? NumberFire’s Chief Editor is here with the answer.—Ed.

by Zach Warren / @ZachWWarren

One game in, and already we have a new favorite. The Miami Heat were our preferred team heading into Game 1 with a 68.43 percent chance of taking down the Spurs. But now, with one wave of Tim Duncan‘s magical Fountain of Youth-healed hand, the Spurs now hold 51.51 percent odds of winning the series. For the extremely optimistic among us, they also hold an 8.9 percent chance of sweeping the entire thing.

Even if the Spurs do keep winning, though, I wouldn’t expect a repeat of Game 1. Did you notice how the Heat didn’t exactly make many shots, especially down the stretch? (Yeah, you probably did.) Did you notice that the Spurs had the turnover percentage like the Harlem Globetrotters? (Maybe not.) How about how the Heat dominated rebounding, especially on the defensive end, but still lost? (That one was lost in the shuffle.)

Game 1 was full of outlier stats from both teams, and we’re here to break down just how likely they are to happen again.

Note: These stats come from our season-long projections of each team as they would perform against a League-average NBA team. Obviously, neither the Spurs nor Heat are League average, but these numbers only serve to give an indication of how extraordinary the Game 1 numbers were given how these teams performed all season long.

The Outliers of Game 1

1. San Antonio’s 4.2 percent turnover percentage
Odds of 4.2 TOV% or less: 0.6 percent

During the regular season, San Antonio’s single-best game at not turning the ball over came against the Brooklyn Nets on February 10. In that one, the Spurs only turned the ball over five times en route to a dominating 111-86 victory, a 5.8 percent turnover rate based on the game’s 80.3 possessions pace. It would be the only time all season where the Spurs would have less than seven turnovers in a game until Thursday night.

But oh, what a success Thursday night was. San Antonio’s four turnovers and 4.2 percent turnover rate were easily their best marks all season, and it came at just the right time. Despite holding a 13.0 percent turnover rate during the regular season, Tony Parker didn’t turn the ball over once. Neither did Danny Green and his 16.6 percent regular season turnover rate. And while Duncan may have led the team with a whopping two turnovers, his 8.8 percent turnover rate still destroyed his 11.0 percent season average.

Here’s the rub: Miami’s usually pretty darn good at forcing opposing turnovers. The Heat’s 14.8 percent defensive turnover rate during the regular season was the fifth-best in the NBA, and their 15.6 percent playoff rate was even better. Especially considering both San Antonio’s weakness turning the ball over and Miami’s strength forcing turnovers, I’ll be absolutely shocked if we see a San Antonio turnover rate anywhere near that low again.

2. Miami’s .487 effective field goal percentage
Odds of .487 eFG% or less: 22.5 percent

Hey, hey, did you hear? Miami had a poor shooting night! And the Big Three combined to score less than the Monstars in the fourth quarter! And LeBron doesn’t actually have teammates; he even has to draw his own plays in the huddle!

Despite the hyperbole all over the place this morning, it really wasn’t that bad. Dwyane Wade finished not too far below average at a .467 eFG%. Chris Bosh, despite his idiotic insistence on shooting from long range, still finished at a not-great-but-not-terrible .375 eFG%. And LeBron, typically the biggest indicator of Miami’s night since he takes the most shots, was only one field goal below .500. There’s no reason to be Chicken Little if you’re a Heat fan.

The Spurs did hold the fifth-best defensive eFG% in the NBA at .480 this year, but the Heat held the best single-season eFG% so far this century at .552 eFG%. And even if they’re running at below optimum efficiency so far these playoffs, our odds still see a less than average chance that they’ll shoot that poorly again moving forward.

(Stats note: Effective field goal percentage weights threes differently from twos because threes are more efficient at giving you points. That’s why we like it more. The more you know.)

3. Miami’s 86.0 percent defensive rebound percentage
Odds of 86.0 DRB% or more: 7.6 percent

Let’s get one thing straight: We’re stats analysts here. And we’d be kidding ourselves if we said it was all rainbows and butterflies in the Miami camp and nothing bad will ever happen again. This is the hard, cruel world, and numbers like 16 LeBron defensive rebounds just don’t grow on trees.

The Spurs as a team may be exceptionally poor at offensive rebounding—their 20.5 percent offensive rebound rate did finish next-to-last in the NBA, after all. Miami’s defensive rebounding, though, is usually equally poor. The Heat collected defensive boards on only 73.0 percent of available opportunities this season, good for only 24th in the NBA. For his credit, LeBron only collected 20.8 percent of available defensive rebounds when he was on the floor.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that LeBron collecting 43.0 percent of available defensive rebounds isn’t very likely to happen again given those statistics. Although Wade and his 12.3 percent regular season rate may pick up the slack somewhat (Wade had exactly zero defensive boards in Game 1), we’re just not likely to see Miami rebound that well again. All numbers regress towards the mean eventually.

NumberFire is a sports analytics platform that uses algorithmic modeling to better understand sports. Follow Nik Bonaddio at @numberfire, Keith Goldner at @drivebyfootball, and Zach Warren at @ZachWWarren. Check out numberFire on Facebook.