Game 1: The Impact Plays

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MIAMI – The most important play in a game isn’t always the one you remember most. Sometimes, it’s subtle and doesn’t even make the highlight reel. Sometimes, something as simple as a change in possession can be more important than a shot that does or doesn’t go in.

The NBA has a way to use analytics to figure out just which plays had the biggest impact on a close game. It’s a “leverage” model that was developed to evaluate and instruct referees by pointing out which calls or no-calls had the biggest impact on a game’s result.

Here’s the idea: At every point of a game, each team has a certain probability of winning. Putting the quality of each team to the side, when the game tips off, the home team has a 60 percent probability of winning and the road team has a 40 percent probability of winning. After the first basket, those numbers haven’t changed much. But if the home team is up 10 with the ball and five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, their win probability (WP) is obviously a lot greater than 60 percent.

So, by calculating win probability both before and after a play occurs, it can be determined just how important that play was. Score, possession and location are the factors. And obviously, plays in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter (or overtime) in a close game are more important than any others.

Using the league’s data model, we’ve determined the three most important plays of Game 1 of The Finals.

No 3.: +8.7 percent – Kawhi Leonard steals LeBron James’ pass



With the Spurs up 79-78 and the Heat in possession with just over six minutes to go, the Spurs’ win probability is 49.6 percent. But just gaining possession on Leonard’s steal changes it to 58.3 percent. And after Tony Parker puts Norris Cole in the blender and converts the layup, it’s at 65.4 percent. So the whole sequence is an increase of 15.8 percent.

No. 2.: +12.7 percent – Ray Allen gets fouled and hits three free throws



With the Heat down 88-83 with a minute and a half to go, their win probability is 11.2 percent. But Danny Green‘s foul and Allen’s three freebies give them some life and a 23.9 percent WP.

No. 1.: +19.6 percent – Parker’s leaning bank shot



The Spurs are up two with the ball and just 31 seconds left, but the Heat will have a chance to tie or take the lead if they can get a stop and a rebound. San Antonio’s WP is at 78.6 percent, but Parker’s miracle shot is a figurative dagger, increasing their WP to 98.2 percent.

Parker: “It was a crazy play. I thought I lost the ball three or four times. And it didn’t work out like I wanted it to. At the end, I was just trying to get a shot up. It felt good when it left my hand. I was happy it went in.”

LeBron James: “Tony did everything wrong and did everything right in the same possession… That was the longest 24 seconds that I’ve been a part of.”

Tim Duncan: “Obviously, Tony makes an unbelievable play. He does just about everything in the book that he had. He fell to the ground, pump-faked, stepped through, and still got it off the ground. It was just amazing.”

Gregg Popovich: “We were very fortunate.”

46 Comments

  1. Idris Rosales says:

    Let’s go spurs beat miami at game 4

  2. Jonathan says:

    I’m just wondering about parker’s final shot, when i watched the “Through he Lens: Parker’s Shot”, when he lost the ball, didn’t he traveled there? at 00:15 he touched the ball with his 2 hands then he lost it/ stumbles and dribbled it one time before he shoots.

  3. & The Spurs didn’t play @ the top of their game is what’s most scary & still won!
    Go Spurs-Spurs All The Way!!!

  4. nbafan says:

    The biggest difference may just be the coaching, and lets face it Pop is way ahead of Spo.

    Also, Tony Parker is currently the best player on the planet, and I don’t even like watching his game much, but it’s extremely effective for both his own scoring *and* his teams. I don’t think the Heat can contain him, thus Spurs in 5.

  5. HC says:

    “With the Spurs up 79-78 and the Heat in possession with just over six minutes to go, the Spurs’ win probability is 49.6 percent.” How do you calculate the win probability? WP = 78/(79+78) = 49.6? Enlighten me please!!!

    • Michael says:

      It would be quite a complex algorithm, but as the article says, it has to do with the time remaining, whether you’re at home or on the road, and which team has possession. The NBA statisticians have terabytes of data to work out the probabilities at any given point in the game. The closer they are to the end of a game, the more accurate their predictions can be, naturally. Like, if you’re down by 1 point with 0.4 seconds left you probably have about a 0.001% chance of winning. But, if you’re the Lakers and the shot clock is mysteriously started late you still have a chance. (I always thought 0.5 seconds was the accepted minimum amount of time required for a catch and shoot. Less than 0.5 and a lob is the only option.)

  6. Mario says:

    I am a heat fan win or lose, respect to the spurs and all their real fans not the Celtics, Thunders, Lakers and Pacers fans that just want to see the heat lose don’t hate so much. great 4th quarter and tony Parker that’s how he is one of the greatest point guard ever. All I want to see if next year those sore looser would still spurs fans, I’m sure last year were Thunder’s fans and in 2011 maverick’s fan, please get a team if you really like sports and supported if they win or lose don’t change teams every year .

    • James Downing says:

      That man toney parker was really the difference maker…. and LeBron didn’t even have 20 points… so we all ser the problem LeBron needs to shoot more for them to win.

      But idc cuz imma a cp3 fan lol

  7. The one thing I’m surprised no one is discussing, the opening ceremonies of the game. Did you notice, that when they were announcing the players for Miami, there was no enthusiasm from the players. The camera literally had to pan and find each player. LBJ just stood there, no one high-fived him or patted him, Wade was sitting in a chair, never stood up when he was announced. This immediately showed their lack of “team.” It was like everyone was in their own world, probably too confident they’d win.

    When the Spurs were introduced, everyone was encouraging everyone and this wasn’t their home court! Attitude was evident from the Heat, as was low team morale. As they say in the Army, if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. The Heat had their minds elsewhere, or at least not in TEAM, more like in I.

  8. akismet-a97fddf274d617a7e46a1bc7c08f1169 says:

    The one thing I’m surprised no one is discussing, the opening ceremonies of the game. Did you notice, that when they were announcing the players for Miami, there was no enthusiasm from the players. The camera literally had to pan and find each player. LBJ just stood there, no one high-fived him or patted him, Wade was sitting in a chair, never stood up when he was announced. This immediately showed their lack of “team.” It was like everyone was in their own world, probably too confident they’d win. When the Spurs were introduced, everyone was encouraging everyone and this wasn’t their home court! Attitude was evident from the Heat, as was low team morale. As they say in the Army, if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. The Heat had their minds elsewhere, or at least not in TEAM, more like in I.

  9. AKA says:

    Typical haters, spurs win 1 game and act like they won the championship lmfao. Don’t worry we know you all will disappear on Sunday and when heat win the championship.

    • claudio says:

      It was game 1 and they were excited about winning, who wouldn’t? Don’t be such a sore loser let’s see what happens, I’m a big spurs fan but I dont’ hate the heat, try to be more mature, San Antonio has always been down to earth humble not like other teams with big shots with big names and that is always a very good policy. People like champions with huge talent and small egos.

  10. Sue says:

    Isn’t it amazing that nobody in the NBA takes the Spurs seriously, and yet we have the best record in the playoffs and just won a game against the defending champions where we didn’t even play our best. What does it take to get people to realize their achievements?

  11. evilclown_hisuka@yahoo.com says:

    spurs team play vs miami heat lebron 1 man team? the result is very clear, spurs will be the nba 2013 champion, no ppoint of arguing.

  12. Tom says:

    The Spurs play consummate team ball. Team ball will always beat the one superstar.

  13. Eat it up! says:

    It is going to be a lot of fun watching the Heat fans squirm as the Heat get handled by a team that didn’t have to get bargain super stars to get here.

  14. prnady says:

    the problem is no one can handle tony parker…

  15. Reggie love the spurs says:

    Last night was a great game among to great teams. The Spurs earned their respect last night. The entire basketball community witness the heat losing game one of the finals. The spurs played an ok game. Didn’t shot the ball well but won any way. The Spurs will play better in the second game and I think Miami will too. The Heat has their hands full trying to counter all of the weapons on the Spurs team. Its never one person which wins a game but a team. These finals will be determine by which team can play there best basketball. So don’t blame anyone. Enjoy, you are watching a player who has 2 MVP’s, rookie of the year, 4 NBA championships and on the verge of getting his 5th. His name is Tim Duncan. He’ll be gone soon and at least you witness his complete game. Good luck Heat.

  16. miketortak says:

    Hi This should be Starting Line up of Miami to win the Series

    PG Lebron James,
    SG Dwayne Wade
    SF Chrish Bosh
    PF Adonis Haslem
    C BIRDMAN

    With this they can match the Size of Spurs and they can take advantage of the size of Lebron.

  17. NTC says:

    Miami going to win in 6 or 7! by the way Don what does GSG! stand for

    • Josh says:

      It Means GO Spurs GO!!!!

    • miketortak says:

      Hi This should be Starting Line up of Miami to win the Series

      PG Lebron James,
      SG Dwayne Wade
      SF Chrish Bosh
      PF Adonis Haslem
      C BIRDMAN

      With this they can match the Size of Spurs and they can take advantage of the size of Lebron.

      • Michael says:

        Then I suppose you’ll have Cole, Chalmers, Allen, Miller and Battier as the ultimate small-ball second unit?! Spurs have the best bench in basketball; they would thoroughly outplay that group. Birdman needs to come off the bench to provide a spark on offence as much as defence.

  18. Don says:

    No., bosh should stay shooting 3 the entire series because he hit the game winner during their regular season match-up.. hahahahaha… GSG!

  19. W/E says:

    Chris SOFT should probably be benched, the birdman should play alot more minutes the guy does alot more work inside the paint, Bosh doesnt like the contact and he takes three pointers now lol.

  20. Heat Fan says:

    Honestly I am a Heat Fan but got to say , the Spurs showed why the are such a great team. Big props to them! They executed extremly well and make big time plays. Cbosh can make 3 pointers from time to time, but that is not his game. One reason Heat lost. There is no way they are going to win with this type of plays. Also, the defense intesity was lacking in the second half. The first half defense was killing and very disruptive. Either way I want miami to win, but non the less will be a really though and interesting series!

  21. Big Al says:

    Flopu Ginobili should also be fined $5,000 for lying down by himself anticipating a Wade charge, even if the refs didn’t buy it.

    • Michael says:

      Wade did bump Ginobili right in the chest, but not enough for the refs to call a charge. Good no-call, I say. It’s different to the way Miami players flop; sometimes it looks like they’ve been smashed in the face with a Louisville Slugger, such is the violence of the neck-snapping whiplash. And DJ Augustin can knock LeBron off his feet…

  22. roger says:

    Heat fans stop blaming Bosh

    That’s been the Heats system all year long and if he would have hit those shots yall would be singing his praises

    BLAME Your COACH. … there is no way a 2nd string Bulls team should take you to 6 games…. No reason LBJ shouldn’t be in the post about 12 times per game

    No reason for Bosh to avg that many 3s per game

    • Jake says:

      They didn’t take them to 6 games. Miami won in 5.

      • Jon says:

        They still should have swept them. Come on a 2nd string bulls team. Just think if they would’ve had their starters. That would’ve been a 7 game series and I think Chicago would’ve taken it.

  23. Mehr says:

    Miami Heat must watch the video from other series Spurs had in western conference.
    Spurs does not play great like Miami does but they take the game away from you somehow that you don’t know why you lost.
    Miami needs to play hard and take advantage of every position and try to lead the whole game with double digits.

  24. SM says:

    Miami needs to wake-up This is NBA final. Play harder. 4th quarter was a disaster, playing careless and so soft.
    Bosh, Wade and LBJ must penetrate more like Indiana game 7

  25. kwas says:

    Bosh is the reason the heat lost. he is not playing his role as a center. He is always on the 3pt line shooting and missing threes instead of playing his natural center position

  26. Great 1st game Spurs-Go Spurs-Spurs are the better team!!!
    Spurs All The Way!!!

  27. Big Al says:

    I expected the Spurs to win at least one game, but not this one, all thanks to Chris Bosh. Even the other Chris, Birdman, is braver and more effective inside. You are the starter, so man up and start playing like one. Let’s not blame the loss on wrong calls and Parker’s wacky shot; Miami should have easily taken this.

  28. J says:

    i hate advanced stats come on how does being down 2 give u a 20% chance at winning your only down by 2 and there is still 1:28 keft in the 4th

    heat in 6!!

  29. sammmmmy says:

    like pop said very fortunate, good shot tony!

    • Don't Be Silly!! says:

      Fortunate?! No, the Heat were fortunate last round…And now…they’ve encountered a behemoth…7 straight wins, 3 of those on the road…Scary thing is, the Spurs played bad last night…Miami is cooked!!

  30. Treksor says:

    1 Down! 3 to go!… :D

    FIRST COMMENT!! :)