Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks - Game Five

NBA Finals: Dallas tops Miami in Game 5 with an outlier, but what of it?


The Dallas Mavericks took a 3-2 series lead on Thursday night with a 112-103 win, but their tremendous offense — the propulsive force that allowed them to pull within a single victory of taking the NBA title — was immediately tagged as an outlier, and saddled with all of the negative stigma that statistical improbabilities tend to attract. Dallas won the game, but only because they hit “tough” (NBA speak for low-percentage) shots. Only because the Mavericks converted that which should not have been converted. Only because they defied who they are, and managed to jump outside the curve for a swim in the unsustainable.

There’s no escaping the basis of that very idea; Dallas’ hot shooting was indeed an outlier. Single games are, after all, a playground for the aberrations of small sample size. The Mavericks made 68.4 percent of their three-point attempts and posted a 65.9 effective field goal percentage, numbers far above the expected values for any team in the entire league. Yet there still seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the mean — the statistical average to which we expect all teams to regress — in basketball. The Mavericks’ mean shooting averages aren’t the most common outcomes for their performance, but simply their most central. They won’t hit those marks in every game, and may not hit them in any game at all. Averages give only the illusion of stability, and though much of basketball is dependent on skill, effort, and execution, we perhaps underestimate the role of randomness (and by extension, variance) in deciding makes and misses, wins and losses.

“You get hot, you get on a roll, and you can have a night like that,” Rick Carlisle said. “They don’t happen very often. Last time we had a shooting night like this was Game 4 against the Lakers. That’s why you just keep working your game, and that’s why you stay persistent, you keep defending, you keep systemically stepping into shots that are there and you’re going to have some breakthrough games.”

Teams that consistently and effectively work for open shots within their offense will always have the upper hand, but all players and teams are subject to the will of the odds. They’ll have hot shooting games and cold ones, and these occurrences are so common and prominent in sports culture that we’ve developed a corresponding vocabulary. Maybe Jason Terry was “in the zone.” Maybe J.J. Barea was “on fire.” Both seem possible or even likely, but the idea is hardly outrageous, especially considering how poorly both have shot in these NBA Finals.

The Mavericks’ amazing shooting in Game 5 merely moved the needle in a positive direction, away from Dallas’ off-setting 4-of-19 (.211) shooting from outside in Game 4. Lost in the declarations of the Mavs’ overachievement was the fact that prior to Game 5, Dallas’ effective field goal percentage in the Finals was actually down significantly from their overall playoff average. Plenty of that has to do with Miami’s impressive defense, but this kind of performance was overdue in bringing Dallas closer to reasonable expectation. The Mavs didn’t really surge forward with their shooting in Game 5, but were merely getting back on track.

“This was our highest scoring game of the series,” Shawn Marion said. “We were bound to get one easy [offensive] game sooner or later. It was just a matter of when it was gonna happen. We should be due for another.”

Maybe the Mavs are. Regardless, did we not expect a degree of oscillation? Was there really an honest expectation that Dallas would be right in line with their shooting averages every single night, without room for error in either direction? Outliers are inescapable. They help to define mean levels of performance, even as they inherently rebuke them. They show the level of success or failure that a team is capable of, if only in extreme circumstances. Yet when we reduce the sample to a single game, those extreme circumstances are more likely to occur than ever. There is no mitigating volume; this is a singular performance by a particular team in a particular game, and yet many act bewildered at the sight of anything out of the ordinary.

Underneath the incredible magnitude of this contest was just a team shooting over its head for the better part of 48 minutes. In a series this competitive, that alone is enough to tilt things in the Mavs’ favor, but it doesn’t make this outlier different from any other. This particular occurrence is granted import through context, but the numbers themselves are the same as they’ve always been: up and down in an endless and inexact flow between two extremes.

Chris Paul drops Rudy Gobert with stepback (and Gobert says why)

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When Chris Paul recognized he got matched up with Rudy Gobert in transition, he slowed it down and set it up for an isolation — then used his step back to drop him to the ground and drain the open midrange. It’s one of the better highlight plays from the Clippers this season (and they have more than a few in Lob City).

Did CP3 push off on Gobert? Of course. Welcome to the NBA, every player who drives pushes off (including Gordon Hayward). It looked like to be Gobert tried to sell the contact and didn’t get the call he wanted.

However, after the game Gobert tweeted it was something else entirely.

Either way the Jazz got the win Wednesday night, 102-91, snapping a 13-game losing streak to the Clippers. The Jazz are .500 on the season with the win (7-7), while the Clippers drop back to below .500 (7-8) with some issues to sort out still.

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Stories to be thankful for this season

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson
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Happy Thanksgiving. In the spirit of the day, our five takeaways have become five storylines we should be thankful for this young NBA season. We at PBT are thankful to you for being here, reading our work, and, of course, we’re thankful for stuffing (the best part of the Thanksgiving meal). 

1) Record-setting Golden State revolutionizing the game. The Warriors’ revolution will be televised. And copied by half the league or more. Golden State put together the personnel to take full advantage of the current rules (zone defenses, no hand checking on the perimeter), to take what Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash started to do in Phoenix and win with it. Golden State is at the forefront of the small ball revolution sweeping the league because they can make it work — but nobody can quite copy it because nobody has Stephen Curry or Draymond Green. Those guys are the lynchpins. Curry is the perfect modern point guard, one who can shoot the three comfortably out to nearly 30 feet, but can also recognize the defense and set guys up. Green is his dangerous pick-and-roll partner who makes going small work because their defense doesn’t suffer when they do.

Golden State is kind of like Brazil in international soccer — they’re everybody’s second favorite team to watch because they play such a beautiful and entertaining game. And in the case of Golden State they are winning doing it — they are a record-setting 16-0 to start the season after they won the NBA title. They are the bar to clear in the NBA right now.

2) Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns lead an impressive rookie class. Even Porzingis’ biggest supporters on draft night thought it would be a year or two before he could contribute at the NBA level. Nope, he’s good right now with the potential for greatness. Karl-Anthony Towns had great offensive moves and vision but back at the draft was seen as a defensive project (especially off the ball). Nope, he is an effective rim protector and pick-and-roll defender now who looks like a franchise cornerstone big man (to go with franchise cornerstone wing Andrew Wiggins) in Minnesota. Justise Winslow is already a good NBA defender who can get some points for Miami on offense. Jahlil Okafor is as advertised, a scoring machine when he gets the ball in the post. Emmanuel Mudiay is improving and showing strong NBA potential up in Denver. Stanley Johnson and Frank Kaminsky are already contributing in Detroit and Charlotte, respectively. And the list goes on.

This is a great rookie class that is going to be fun to watch for a long time.

3) Highlights like these. The NBA’s highlight factory is back in full session with plays like these from Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin — and these were just Wednesday night’s plays. It’s like this every night.

4) Paul George is back. This is maybe my favorite story of the young season — I was not sure we’d ever see peak Paul George again after his horrific leg injury playing for Team USA. He is all the way back and more. George has scored at least 25 points in nine straight games, he has developed a much more reliable jump shot, and he can still play lock-down defense. He is back to being an elite player, and with him the Pacers are back to being a good and potentially danger ous playoff team (9-5 so far, with a top five defense). 

5) Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan are defying Father Time. Nowitzki’s jumper seemed to be deserting him in recent seasons, and then this season he has gone and gotten it back — he’s shooting 51 percent from three this season. Teams have to game plan for him again like it’s 2011. Duncan and Manu Ginobili are playing their best ball in years for what felt like it could be the final run for this era of the Spurs — San Antonio has been the second best team in the NBA so far. Duncan is playing great defense and understands what he can still do efficiently on offense. Duncan and Nowitzki could well be All-Stars in the West — and they will have earned it, they deserve it for their play.

LeBron James calls Cavs players’ only meeting after loss to Raptors

LeBron James

Yes, the Cavaliers are 11-4 on the season and on top of the East. Yes, they are outscoring teams by 6.7 points per 100 possessions, which is fourth best in the NBA. They have the third best offense in the league. All that without their starting backcourt (Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert). There are reasons to be optimistic.

But the Cavaliers have a middle-of-the-pack defense and their efforts have been up and down. Wednesday night was one of those down nights, they lost on the road to Toronto, dropping the Cavs to 3-4 outside Quicken Loans Arena. All those losses are to teams in the East.

It was enough for LeBron James and James Jones to call a players-only meeting, reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

Following a 103-99 road loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers held a players-only meeting during which LeBron James and James Jones got on the team for its inconsistent play through the Cavs’ 11-4 start to the season, multiple sources told….

“It’s all mindset,” James said after the game, still visibly frustrated. “It comes from within. I’ve always had it; my upbringing had me like that. It’s either you got it or you don’t.”

When asked whether fatigue was a factor, James said, “No. It’s not an excuse.” When another reporter asked whether injuries were to blame, James repeated, “It’s not an excuse.”

Injuries and fatigue did play a role, this was a team without four regular rotation players and that puts more of a burden on everyone else. Players can’t look at it that way, but injuries are a reality and they are impacting the Cavaliers right now.

But I get it. LeBron is trying to set a tone, one he learned in Miami and is now trying to instill in the Cavaliers. It’s about effort, it’s about attention to detail, it’s about building good habits over the course of a season so they can pay off in the playoffs. The Cavs are winning, they look clearly like the best team in the East once healthy, and yet LeBron rightfully isn’t convinced they could beat Golden State or San Antonio right now. The good news is they don’t have to beat them right now, but they need to beat them eventually. The building blocks for that are laid during the season. He wants that building to start going up.

But getting guys healthy would solve a lot of those problems.