- Series hub: Heat vs. Spurs
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.
- Previously: The plays that got them here
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.”