- 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 7 of The Finals, a 95-88 victory by the Miami Heat, earning them their third NBA championship.
Appropriately, the final game of this incredible series came down to the final minute. And there were plenty of big plays down the stretch.
3. +10.9 percent – Leonard’s 3 cuts it to two
The Heat were seemingly in control, up five with just over two minutes left. And they had the Spurs stopped with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. But LeBron James gave Kawhi Leonard just enough space on the right wing and Leonard stroked a trey to make it a two-point game.
Before the shot, the Spurs’ WP was just 10.1 percent. After, it was up to 21.0 percent.
2. +11.0 percent – Duncan misses a chance to tie
Down two in the final minute, the Spurs quickly got the ball up the floor and into Tim Duncan in the post. Duncan had a mismatch against Shane Battier and got straight to the rim, but missed a short hook shot that would have tied the game with 50 seconds left. He got his hand on the rebound, but couldn’t control the tip.
With possession, the Spurs’ WP was 29.4 percent. But after the Heat grabbed the second rebound, it was down to 18.4 percent. If Duncan’s shot had gone in, it would have been up to 40.0 percent.
1. +16.4 percent – Chalmers’ steal leads to Battier’s three
With 3 1/2 minutes left and the Spurs down three, Tim Duncan grabbed a huge offensive rebound, but he was trapped on the baseline and Mario Chalmers intercepted his pass out to the perimeter. He got the ball to James, who raced down the floor, drew two defenders under the basket and found Battier in the corner.
Battier drained his sixth and final three of the night to put the Heat up six. Battier’s six threes are a record for a Finals Game 7.
Before the steal, the Heat’s WP was 75.3 percent. The change of possession increased it to 83.0 percent (+7.7) and the three increased it to 91.7 percent (+8.7).