- Series Hub: Spurs-Heat
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.