Game 3: The Impact Plays

SAN ANTONIO — 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 3 of The Finals, a 113-77 rout that gave the Spurs a 2-1 series lead.

The Spurs put this game away by outscoring the Heat 41-19 over the first 14 1/2 minutes of the second half, but the biggest plays were made at the end of the second quarter, when Miami made a 12-1 run and San Antonio answered to take a six-point lead into the break.

There were no plays in the second half that affected either team’s WP by more than four percent.

3. +8.3 percent – Miller makes his third 3


After a pair of misses on the other end of the floor, the Spurs didn’t get to a trailing Mike Miller in time. LeBron James found Miller, who got a screen from Chris Bosh and drained his third of five 3s, capping the Heat’s 10-0 run and pulling them to within one point (43-42) with 1:07 left in the second quarter.

The 3 changed the Heat’s WP from 29.4 percent to 37.7 percent.

2. +9.1 percent – Parker hits a 3


After Miller’s 3, Tony Parker split a pair of free throws and Dwyane Wade scored on a drive to tie the game at 44. Then Parker drove, kicked the ball out to Manu Ginobili and got the ball back for an off-balance trey from the right corner with 26 seconds left in the half.

The shot increased the Spurs’ WP from 57.7 percent to 66.8 percent.

1. +12.1 percent – Green’s block and Neal’s buzzer-beater


After Parker’s 3, LeBron James tried to drive against a sagging Spurs defense, but Danny Green got his hand on James’ short pull-up with five seconds left. Tim Duncan grabbed the loose ball and sent a quick outlet to Parker, who dribbled once and got the ball ahead to a streaking Gary Neal, who took the pass and stepped into a left wing 3 just before the halftime buzzer sounded.

Before the block, the Spurs’ WP was 66.8 percent. After the 3, it was 78.9 percent.

Plays 1 and 2 combined increased the Spurs’ win probability by 21.1 percent in less than 30 seconds.


  1. Rashun10 says:

    1. Lebron is not the best player in the world. He is big and he is good, but I don’t care many times the media says it. I don’t believes he’s the best player in the US. For all of you who say I’m a hater, I say no I’m a Basketball fan who watches games from the beginning to the end. Lebron is playing like he always plays, but Bosh and Wade are not putting up the same effort whether r/t injuries are whatever. Wade is smaller but when healthy he is fast and furious. Just because Lebron didn’t win a ring with the Cavaliars, he blamed it on the team. Went to the manufactured Heat franchise that likes to hit people in the head, double team and knock down players from behind, flop and get favored calls from the Miami refs. The Spurs are a calmer, mature and well skilled team with a mixture of young and older talents.
    If Rings are a measure of great teams, the Spurs has rings. Duncan-4 MVP-3 Ginobili-3 Parker-3 MVP-1 Splitter-Spanish Championships and MVP’s Bonner-1 Go Spurs

    PS A Thunder Fan -Cheering for the Spurs!

  2. James says:

    I know the spurs are doing a great job but they are getting away with 3 in a key all the time. Its really obvious to. Watch Duncan on that play where green blocks lbj. He never touch bosh and stayed in the paint.

  3. GATP says:

    I commend Danny Green and Gary Neal for leading the Spurs team in stepping up their game. They’re not as popular as some players, but it only goes to show that Miami Heat may have a lot of talent in their team, but Spurs are definitely no push-overs. You deserve the win Spurs.

    To some Heat fans who, for some ridiculous reason, can’t accept a loss, go cry by yourself.

    To other more intelligent Heat fans, I just know it’s going to be an exciting Game 4. It could still go either way.

  4. kanuk says:

    the key plays throughout the game i think is that bosh is not very good and thinks he’s an outside shooter for some reason … ridiculous.

  5. Arnel says:

    Great game for SPURS. like most people say though.., game is not over till it’s over. I am pretty sure MIAMI will bounce back. It will be tough though because their pride got crushed. to LeBron: Do not make promises that you ill get better next game.. just do it man! action speaks louder than words.

  6. Al Steiner says:

    When TP went to the locker what was the winning percentage reduced to? Come on man I know you like numbers but this is a bit crazy isn’t it? If Pat Riley moves to get a hotdog when the Heat are up by 5 how does that affect the WP?

  7. quitplayib says:

    Sure a nice and interesting read but show this to greg popovich and he laugh in your face

  8. Gillsy says:

    It is hard to write off he Heat but with the next two at home for the Spurs the Heat will be hard pressed. Does anyone think that if the Spurs win Leonard’s d on James should win him MVP.

    • Marco29 says:

      All this Heat fans that said that LBJ cannot be stopped!! The series is not over but it seems he has found his cryptonite: Kawhi Leonard!! If he hadn’t scored 9 points in a row at the end of 3rd quarter when Leonard was on the bench, he could have had his lowest finals game (8 points or less) with an awful shooting %. If Spurs win, Leonard will be a true candidate for MVP due to his great defense on LBJ and also to the fact he is averaging a double double (11ppg and 12 rpg) even though his own shooting % is not very high.
      If he keeps up like that, Danny Green could be a serious candidate as well.

  9. Cookiemonster says:

    Just another championship night, .. Adjust some plays again to even up the series,,But imy mind tells me Spiuswill get game 4…

  10. J says:

    i hate this system
    heat in 6!!!

  11. Way 2go Spurs, i know it’s not over yet but great game that was won by the roll players w/ TD, TP, & Manu not playing well. Heck of a way to step up roll players-that’s how u play on both ends whether heat r playing well or not. Keep it up Spurs.
    Now Go Take The Next Game!
    Go Spurs!!!

  12. anon. says:

    maybe the heat should revert back to their flopping ways, that seems to win them more games.

  13. Law064 says:

    Just a blowout plain and simple. Miami kicked the Spurs out the gym Sunday, SA returned the favor. Green and Neal were huge in game 3. 2-1 let’s see if Miami can even the series Thursday. Tony Parker health will be a key factor for game 4. Danny Green is just on fire the heat better not keep letting him get clean looks cause he’s been making them pay.

  14. Look. Maybe this is the end for the Heat fot Im pretty sure that everybody will remember this team. Not because talent or wins but rather because the blow out all over the NBA.

    And nobody trust on them. That is the reason.

    3 Finals in a row for The Heat.



  15. Spurs is great team. Great players.

    Nuthin to say.