Last night could have been different. Last night, had the Rockets a savvier marketing staff and a greater appreciation for their own history, could have been about Ralph Sampson.
Imagine you work for the Rockets, and you're in charge of in-game promotions and entertainment. For the first time in 12 years, you're hosting a second-round playoff game, against no less an opponent than the Los Angeles Lakers, Hegemon of the West. For the first time in 23 years, you have home-court advantage in a playoff series against the Lakers. Back then, of course - the last time you had the Lakers in such a precarious spot - Ralph Sampson hit the most famous shot in franchise history and matriculated the Rockets into the NBA Finals.
If you believe even a little in karma or the power of historical forces - or even if you don't but are amenable to some Pascallian Gambitry - don't you have to bring Sampson back for a cameo appearance at the Toyota Center last night? Fly him in from Atlanta, show The Shot a few times on the Jumbotron, have him address the crowd before the game, use the t-shirt cannons to fire some Sampson throwback gear to the true believers.... didn't this occur to anyone?
Convinced as I am that this would have been worth at least a few points to the home team, the Lakers fan in me is relieved that Sampson's Ghost wasn't there to haunt us last night. But those of us who came of age watching basketball in the Reagan era will never forget what Sampson was like at Virginia and the seemingly boundless potential he had on entering the NBA, and that part of me regrets that he didn't get his moment in the spotlight.
OK, enough with the Wonder Years-style reminiscence. Please do join me for the Game Three numbers breakdown, apres le jumpe....
There were 91 possessions for each team last night, continuing the low-90s pace trend we've seen all season long between the Lakers and the Rockets, as well as the Lakers' trend of playoff games that are slower than the team's regular-season pace but faster than 80-something median pace for the 2009 playoffs as a whole. (Any game involving Cleveland or Atlanta has tended to be especially brutal on those who enjoy seeing NBA players run from time to time. Oh hey, look who's playing tonight! Anyone for a movie?)
Behold, the tempo-adjusted, team-level numbers from Game Three:
- Turnover rate: Lakers - 7%, Rockets - 19%.
- FTA/FGA: Lakers - 0.40, Rockets - 0.30.
- Effective field goal percentage: Lakers - 51%, Rockets - 45%.
- True shooting percentage: Lakers - 56%, Rockets - 49%.
- Offensive rebounding rate: Lakers - 24%, Rockets - 39%.
- Defensive rebounding rate: Lakers - 61%, Rockets - 76%.
- Points per possession: Lakers - 1.19, Rockets - 1.03.
Take a moment to savor the bottom-line number for the Lakers' offense. Their game total of 108 points doesn't announce itself as an offensive masterpiece, but that's why tempo-free numbers are so useful. Almost 1.20 points per possession? Against the Rockets, an elite defensive team? In the Rockets' building? As an ex-girlfriend of mine used to say way too frequently: holy cats.
This is the sort of thing you can expect from the Lakers when they're turning the ball over less than a tenth of the time. It also helps that for only the third time in the playoffs, they did a better job than their opponents of getting to the line. Yeah, some of that came at the end of the fourth, when Houston was fouling intentionally to extend the game, but whatever. Those points count too.
You don't need any advanced stathead analysis, or even an ability to count numbers on your bodily digits, to know that the Rockets offense is turning the ball over way, way too much. A full fifth of their possessions are ending without a player actually sending the ball airborne in a parabolic arc toward the basket. This would be troublesome against, say, the Indiana Pacers. Against L.A., you can simply forget that "winning" thing you've heard so much about.
Some player-level stat bombs to get you through the night:
- Pau Gasol: only three defensive rebounds in 36 minutes? Not enough, dude, especially when the opponent is collecting 39% of its missed shots. The Rockets' massive offensive rebounding rate is the only thing that kept Game Three from becoming a truly vicious beatdown.
As Josh observed earlier today, Ron Artest's offensive game fell back to standard Artestian levels. Last night he averaged one point per shooting possession after averages of 1.40 and 1.47 in Games One and Two. Meanwhile, his role in the Rockets offense is expanding: he averaged one shooting possession for every 1.48 minutes played last night, after averaging one every 2.67 and 2.00 minutes played at Staples. Both of these trends - lower efficiency and higher usage - are moving in the Lakers' favor.
- Trevor Ariza's shooting possessions by game so far in this series? Nine, nine and nine. It's good to see a man happy in his role.
- Once again I'm going to use this space to criticize Rick Adelman's personnel choices. Go back to the beginning of the fourth quarter last night. The Rockets entered the quarter down by 12 and coming off a horrendous third in which they scored only 14 points. Offense was badly needed just to keep the Laker lead from expanding, to say nothing of mounting a comeback. So who among the Rockets gets his number called? Yao, presumably? Or if not him, then Artest? Scola? Shockingly, none of the above: the first 10 Rockets possessions were routed through a combination of Carl Landry, Von Wafer and Kyle Lowry. For almost six crucial minutes in which a comeback was still possible, Adelman looked exclusively to secondary scoring options. Ahem. Coaching advantage: Phil Jackson.
Finally, here are the updated composite numbers for the series so far:
- Average possessions per game: 93.
- Turnover rate: Lakers - 11%, Rockets - 20%.
- FTA/FGA: Lakers - 0.30, Rockets - 0.36.
- Effective field goal percentage: Lakers - 50%, Rockets - 49%.
- True shooting percentage: Lakers - 54%, Rockets - 55%.
- Offensive rebounding rate: Lakers - 30%, Rockets - 32%.
- Defensive rebounding rate: Lakers - 68%, Rockets - 70%.
- Points per possession: Lakers - 1.12, Rockets - 1.05.