Game 5: 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 5 of The Finals, a 114-104 win for the San Antonio Spurs, which gives them a 3-2 series lead as the series heads back to Miami for Games 6 and 7 (if necessary).

The Heat never led on Sunday, but they got to within three points early in the third quarter and to within one late in the third. Both times, the Spurs answered with a Danny Green 3-pointer, two of Green’s Finals-record 25 threes in the series.

As you might expect, those threes were two of the biggest plays in the game.

3. +7.7 percent – A Green 3 gives the Spurs some breathing room

An 8-0 Miami run, capped by an unconventional 3-point play (+7.6 percent) made it a 75-74 game with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

But on a broken play, Green took a handoff from Boris Diaw, and drained a 3-pointer over both Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade to keep the Heat at bay. That sparked a 12-1 San Antonio run to finish the quarter and the Heat never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

The three changed the Spurs’ WP from 62.1 percent to 69.8 percent.

2. +8.3 percent – James’ steal leads to a Chalmers 3

The Heat were within single digits at the half and James got the third-quarter scoring started with a 3-pointer*. He then poked the ball from behind Green, pushed the ball up the floor, and found Mario Chalmers in the corner. Chalmers had another off night (2-for-10), but made it a one-possession game with a 3.

Before James’ steal, the Heat’s WP was 23.1 percent. The change of possession increased it to 25.7 percent (+2.6) and the three made it 31.4 percent (+5.7).

*James’ shot was originally counted as a two. That’s why the score is off in the video.

1. +9.0 percent – A steal and a record

Chalmers’ 3 was part of an (earlier) 8-0 run for the Heat, cutting the Spurs lead down to three. James then got a hand on Green’s pass, one of three live-ball turnovers in San Antonio’s first five possessions of the third. But Wade dribbled into traffic on the ensuing break and lost the ball. Manu Ginobili picked it up, brought it up the floor, and flipped it back to a trailing Green, who stepped into a three from the top, breaking Ray Allen‘s record of 22 Finals 3-pointers.

Before Wade lost the ball, the Spurs’ WP was 65.4 percent. The change of possession increased it to 68.6 percent (+3.2) and the three made it 74.5 percent (+5.8).


  1. boss says:

    lets go spurs!!! heat go down in 6!! Lets go TD ans TP and DG!! The trophy will stay in texas!!!

  2. fab says:

    lets go heat !!!!! dont cry texas boys !!!! dont dream !! dont hurt youserselfs . the Trophy ll stay in south beach !!

  3. Wade_Legend says:

    Heat in 7!

  4. YEAH.. i will always be a HEAT fan, win or lose.. Let’s GO HEAT! we can win this thing.. let’s bring back the Trophy to SOUTH BEACH! God Bless MIAMI!

  5. gab says:


  6. bunbury says:

    even with the 3-2 lead, I still think the Heat has the advantage. remember the knicks vs rockets in 94 and lakers vs Celtics in 2011.

  7. joe says:

    I hope team building beats team buying.

  8. chris says:

    great team play by the spurs…!

    but in my oppinion the reason for the heat losing this game is quite simple. Anyone counted how many fastbreak layups and dunks they blew? I saw quite a few easy points going away there…

    • bunbury says:

      each team had 50 plays in the game. it goes both ways. you’re like a fan in a boxing match- only sees the punches the opponent receives but NOT the ones your boxer gets.

    • richard says:

      well we could say the same about spurs loosing in game five , how about just face reality spurs played the better game
      better team TEAM meaning one unit Miami is a one man team rely on James there is no consistency in the rest of the team

  9. A says:

    Anyone notice wade, pull green down when he was getting up? around 10 sec. on the video….

  10. mayo says:

    the trophy will move on to TEXAS that all i can say!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. SM says:

    Miami bad defense and bad coaching allowed SA to win game 5.
    Constantly wrong substitution from Eric Spo.
    Haslem and Cole are lost in this series and SPO keep using Haslem as center where Birdman could do much more.
    Anyhow all goes back to the bad defense.
    Miami players hardly even sweat in game 5, Worst defense ever

    • bunbury says:

      I agree with you. the birdman helps the heat a lot more than haslem. hopefully, the birdman will be kept inside his cage for game 6. there wont be a game 7, unless the refs helps them for the 3rd time this series.


    what happened to bird man?

    • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

      Spoelstra doesn’t know what he’s doing when he plays a team with a smarter coach. He benched Birdman & Battier, Haslem can play good D on Duncan, but Spoelstra reduced his playing time & doesn’t even give Joel Anthony a chance, and he started Mike Miller…twice in 2 finals games, after not playing him all season. .. If this the heat lose this series you can guarantee Spoelstra will be fired!

  13. Awesome team win in gm 5 Spurs-yet still need to stop/cut way down the turnovers. I knew Ginobiliiiiiiiiiii would get hot-now he’ll stay hot-making plays is when he’s @ his best. TP & TD can just keep being themselves & everyone else Leonard, Green, Neal & the rest all have the confidence & fortitude to finish the job & win the next gm!

  14. J says:

    i think this system is dumb :I
    come on your wp is 74.5 when ur up7 and pretty much 2 quarters left come on
    heat in 7!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. mjzel says:

    The officiating also some how played a big part especially in the fourth quarter when Miami is having its run when the official called a offensive foul on James who have already established position when Green ran into him. The 3-point shot went in which would trim the deficit to 8 with at least 2 min on the clock. Those kind of calls somehow have a big impact. Basketball fans compared the physicality of the game in Jordan’s time to today. The refs are calling those somehow silly fouls which impacts the game especially down the last 2 min.

  16. Big Al says:

    When the Heat had a Big 3, the Spurs had a Big 3+2 today. How Miami will defend in Game 6 will determine the overall winner. San Antonio couldn’t be any better than they were in Game 5. It’s only by 10 points, so if the defending champions are, well, not defending, then they’re just about to give everything away like they did to Dallas. Yes, I may sound like a broken record, but that nightmare two years ago need not be repeated here. If SA can prevent lots of three-point attempts from Allen, then MIA should also find a similar strategy to shut down Green.