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.

James Harden’s 27 help Rockets sail past Pelicans 114-91

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 27 points in three quarters and the Houston Rockets routed the New Orleans Pelicans 114-91 on Saturday night for their eighth straight victory.

The NBA-leading Rockets improved to 59-14 to overtake the 1993-94 championship team for the most wins in franchise history.

Houston never trailed and already had a huge lead to start the fourth before scoring seven straight points early in the period to make it 92-63 with 10 minutes remaining. Clint Capela had four points and a steal to lead Houston in that stretch. Capela finished with 18 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and tied a career high with six blocks.

The Pelicans, who were playing their fifth game in seven days, finally ran out of gas, and looked worn out from the start. Entering Saturday’s game they had played on three consecutive nights from Tuesday-Thursday because of a rescheduled game and won all of them to extend their winning streak to four in a row.

Anthony Davis, who also sat out the fourth quarter with the game out of reach, led New Orleans with 25 points and had eight rebounds and four blocks.

Eric Gordon added 19 points for the Rockets on a night Chris Paul missed his second straight game because of a sore left hamstring.

Houston led by 27 entering the third quarter after a first half where Harden scored 18. The Pelicans opened the second half with an 11-2 run, with six points from Davis, to get within 66-48 with about eight minutes left.

There was a scuffle soon after that when Gordon and E'Twaun Moore got tangled up and Moore gave Gordon a two-handed shove in the back. The two players lunged at each other and had to be separated, but order was quickly restored and Moore was given a personal foul and a technical foul.

Gordon made the free throw on the technical and Harden added a basket soon after that, but it didn’t end Houston’s struggles in the quarter.

Harden had three turnovers over the next two minutes and another possession ended because the shot clock ran out. New Orleans scored four more points in that stretch to cut the lead to 69-52.

A 3-pointer by Ryan Anderson ended a more than three-minute scoring drought for Houston after that but New Orleans scored the next six points to whittle the deficit to 72-58 with about three minutes left in the quarter.

The Rockets got going near the end of the quarter and 3-pointers by Joe Johnson and Gerald Green left them up 83-61 entering the fourth quarter.

Houston was up 64-37 at halftime.


Ben Simmons with 10th triple-double of season: 15 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds

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Most impressive part of this one? Ben Simmons racked up this triple-double in three quarters.

The Sixers impressive rookie put together his 10th triple-double of the season — 15 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds — Saturday to help lead Philadelphia past Minnesota, 120-108 (the Sixers sixth straight win). Simmons was attacking all night, not taking a single shot outside the paint and shooting 5-of-9. On those drives, he was able to make some dishes for assists, too.

Simmons has averaged a triple-double over the last seven games, and he has the second most triple-doubles ever by a rookie (Oscar Robertson more than doubled Simmons output).

I don’t know if Simmons or Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is going to win Rookie of the Year (both are deserving), but nights like this and numbers like this certainly help Simmons’ case.

Kevin Durant on Warriors injuries: “There’s nothing to worry about”


Stephen Curry is out for the rest of the regular season and likely will miss at least the start of the playoffs with a sprained MCL in his left knee. His starting backcourt mate Klay Thompson is out for at least another week, maybe more, with a fractured thumb. Kevin Durant should return this week from his fractured ribs. Draymond Green missed time with a hip contusion but will return to the lineup this week.

The injuries have piled up on the Warriors, and while only Curry’s is expected to bleed over into the postseason, the question remains, should Warriors fans be worried?

Kevin Durant took a page from the Aaron Rodgers “relax” book and told Warriors fans to chill, speaking to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

“S— ain’t perfect when you’re living life,” Durant said. “There’s going to be ebbs and flows. I know since this whole Warriors [dynasty] started, it’s been pretty nice. There’s nothing to worry about. We’re all living life good. We’re playing in the NBA. We got a couple ankle tweaks, we got a few rib injuries, a couple of guys got kicked in the groin, a little fractured thumb. Nobody is dealing with anything life-threatening…

“Steph is going to work his tail off to get back no matter what it is, and we’re all going to support him and we’re going to be there for him. We’re going to hold this s— down.”

Durant is right. First, in the grand scheme of world problems, Curry’s knee is not a big one. Secondly, the Warriors have had a fairly fortunate and magical run the past few years, and by the start of the playoffs the Warriors should have most of the team healthy and rested.

The Warriors likely can get through the first two rounds without Curry, so long as Durant, Green, Thompson, as well as Iguodala and Livingston are healthy. A potential second-round matchup with Portland would be a challenge, but the Warriors would still deserve favorite status in that one.

Against Houston in a potential Western Conference Finals matchup, Golden State will need a healthy. Curry should be back by then, but with the Warriors injury luck lately it’s something to watch.

Stephen Curry out at least three weeks with Grade 2 MCL sprain


The Warriors will have to go the rest of the season and probably the start the playoffs without the guy their offense is built around.

Stephen Curry will be out at least three weeks after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain Friday night when JaVale McGee accidentally fell into his knee, the team announced Saturday. It’s about as good of news as could have been hoped for, considering the injury and the timing, that said the team will “re-evaluate” Curry in three weeks, and Grade 2 MCL’s often take a month or more to fully heal.

The playoffs begin in exactly three weeks. Curry could be back around the start of those games or, more likely, will miss part of the postseason depending upon how his recovery goes. The Warriors are essentially locked in as the two seed right now, but in a jumbled West it’s unclear who they will play in the first round and what matchup challenges that presents. The Warriors should be much healthier by then, they will get Draymond Green back from his hip injury on Sunday vs. the Jazz. Kevin Durant is expected later next week. Klay Thompson will be a little after that, but before the playoffs.

Curry, however, is the fuel that turns the Warriors offense into something elite. Curry is averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three this season. The Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season when Curry is on the court.