Lakers-Magic: A Statistical Series Retrospective

The Ring

The Lakers' series victory over the Orlando Magic was most striking in its thoroughness. Which is to say - from a stathead point of view, whatever the superiority that the Lakers demonstrated over 455 possessions may have lacked in historic, shock-and-awe magnitude, it more than made up for in impressive breadth. Across nearly every performance metric that determines which team wins a basketball game, the Lakers were meaningfully superior, even if they weren't dominant in any one of them.

It's almost impossible to point to any single thing and say that for the series the Magic were better at it than the Lakers, or even the Lakers' equal. The cumulative effect of this across-the-board L.A. supremacy is that on average, the Lakers outscored Orlando by 0.11 points per possession. Given that the Lakers did not, as it turns out, have home court advantage in the series - a majority of the games were played at Amway - this is a resounding margin, unequivocal evidence that despite two overtime games out of five, the contest wasn't really all that close. A lot of light shines through the gap between these teams.

Standard protocol around here is to save the aggregate series numbers for the very end, but we're going to change that up today. (Try not to fall out of your chairs in astonishment.) After the jump, I present a special expanded version of the final series stats to see exactly how our boys got them rings. And don't worry.... the Game Five numbers are in there too. Come on - you know I wouldn't do you like that!

As noted up top, there were 455 possessions per team in the series, or 87 possessions per team per 48 minutes of play. In the table below summarizing the series results, "2PT%" means accuracy on two-point shots, "3PT%" means accuracy on three-point shots, and "3PT Bias" means the percentage of a team's total field-goal attempts that were from three-point range.

 

TO% FTA/FGA FT% 2PT% 3PT% 3PT Bias EFG% TS% Off Reb% Def Reb% PPP
Orlando 16 0.37 69 47 33 31 48 52 25 72 1.00
Los Angeles    12 0.29 76 48 37 21 50 54 28 75 1.11

 

The Magic did exactly one thing better than the Lakers: get to the free-throw line. Unfortunately for them, terrible free throw shooting - 2.4% below their regular season accuracy, which was the league's worst - means they squandered even that meager advantage. In every other category the Lakers were better, significantly so in turnovers, free-throw shooting and three-point accuracy. Orlando's performance on the defensive boards was OK - not amazing, but OK - but even that 72% number is a tad misleading, as it's skewed by an outliery 90% defensive rebounding rate in Game Two, which the Magic lost anyway.

Coming into the series, we knew that the Magic were a turnover-prone team with a spread-the-floor offensive scheme not conducive to rebounding their own misses. This meant that the Lakers were likely to have an advantage in the sheer number of shots taken, which indeed was the case. Over the five games, L.A. had 464 shooting possessions (meaning field goal attempts plus trips to the line other than for technicals and "and ones") to Orlando's 439, or a difference of five "looks at the basket" per game. To overcome this handicap, the Magic needed to use their shooting possessions more efficiently (which is what True Shooting percentage measures) than the Lakers used theirs.

This Orlando failed to do. In particular, they never put together that withering, cruise missile three-point barrage we kept fearing would come. In each game of the series Orlando's three-point accuracy fell between 30% and 36% - very manageable figures for the Laker D.

In fact, the Lakers' defensive performance for the series was something close to a masterpiece. Consider: in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Orlando's opponents held the Magic to less than a point per possession in only three out of 19 games. The Lakers did it in four out of five. During the regular season, the Magic averaged 1.07 points per possession, and they managed to crank that higher in the Eastern Conference playoffs, hanging a PPP of 1.09 over three rounds (including 1.14 against Cleveland). But with - and this bears repeating - three of five games in their own gym, the Magic could barely average a point per possession for the series against the Laker D. A truly stifling effort.

Game Five, which had 88 possessions per team, was basically this same narrative writ small.

 

    TO%     FTA/FGA     FT%        EFG%        TS%     Off Reb% Def Reb%     PPP    
Los Angeles    14 0.35 75 49 54 34 74 1.13
Orlando 15 0.20 63 46 48 26 66 0.98

 

As usual, the Magic offense did itself in with poor free-throw shooting, a lack of offensive rebounds and too many turnovers. Making matters worse is that they got to the line less frequently than in any other game in the series. It was a pretty brutal night for them.

Hey, I have a little thought experiment for you guys. Imagine, if you will, an NBA team for whom Rafer Alston is the primary offensive option. Ludicrous, I know, but try to picture it. How many regular season games would such a team win? Five, maybe? Fewer than five? Here's why I ask:

 

Player Game 5 Shooting Possessions
Rashard Lewis      21
Rafer Alston 16
Courtney Lee 12

 

I know what you're thinking right now. You're thinking, Holy crap, Rafer took the second-most shots of any Magic player... but at least Rashard Lewis was the primary option, which isn't too ridiculous. Before you go jumping to that conclusion, check out how that same table looked at the end of the third quarter:

Player         Game 5 SPs (Q1-Q3)          
Rafer Alston      15
Rashard Lewis     14
Courtney Lee 11

 

By the end of the third, the Magic were down by 15 points and averaging a sickly 0.88 points per possession. Wanna know why? Because they were funneling shots to Rafer freaking Alston. He should be, like, the fifth option on that team, at best. That he spent 75% of an elimination game taking more shots than any of his teammates is simply profane.

Notice who's missing from these two tables above? Yep - Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu. All offseason those two will be peeking under the bed and in the closet at night for Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza. And where was Mickael Pietrus through all of this? Only 17 minutes played? He'd been by far the Magic's most efficient backcourt scorer and had done a perfectly credible job defending Kobe.... so Van Gundy buries him in favor of Courtney? Highly curious move, SVG. Not that I'm complaining.

As for the Lakers, you know the story. The core fivesome of Kobe, Pau, Ariza, Fish and Lamar was magnificent - each of them had a net plus/minus of at least +12. The secondary players weren't great but held the line while the stars rested. I'm in such a good mood over this team, I'm not even going to get into Sasha's shooting numbers. He's a champion too, after all.

Everything is right in Lakerdom today, my friends. I hope you're enjoying it as much as I am.

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