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Lakers-Magic Game 3: Tempo-Free Boxscore Breakdown


Reversion to the mean is a powerful force. In principle, it holds that over time, the outcomes of uncertain events will reflect their underlying probabilities. Take the most basic example of such an event: a coin flip. If you flip a quarter, say, eight times, it may very well turn up heads six times. Keep flipping, though, and as the iterations pile up, the ratio of heads to tails will eventually settle at 50-50. That early run on heads will be offset by a tails comeback at some point, guaranteed.

This is also the principle on which Las Vegas was founded, and on which the non-gentleman's club portion of its economy operates. The underlying probabilities of casino games always favor the house. This doesn't mean that you can't win some nice cheddar in the short term - you could get a run of hot cards at the blackjack table or a friendly bounce of the roulette ball - but if you keep putting your winnings on the line, the house edge will eventually win out. Like a giant magnet, it will pull the average outcome over time to the loss that's hard-wired into the game.

Game Three of the NBA Finals left me pondering reversion to the mean for a couple of reasons. The first is Kobe Bryant and his free-throw shooting. As you've no doubt heard or read 17 times already, Kobe missed five of his 10 free-throw attempts last night, a statistic of obvious significance in a game decided by only four points. In one sense, you can assign partial blame for the loss to his misses, and I suppose you'd be right as a purely technical matter.

Really, though, when it comes to Kobe's free-throw shooting, we were overdue for a correction. Coming into Game Three, Kobe was hitting 92% of his freebies in the playoffs, significantly in excess of his 84% career rate. We know that he didn't wake up in April and suddenly become a 90+% free-throw shooter. No, the Lakers had simply been enjoying the equivalent of some nice cards from an especially generous blackjack dealer. It's nothing to apologize for, and it's not "luck" per se - that's where I draw the line on this Vegas metaphor - but it's definitely been an outlier run for Kobe, and it was bound to correct itself sooner or later. Nobody should agonize over a few shots bouncing out, as that's the ineluctable nature of probabilities.

The second reason I'm thinking about reversion to the mean today should be of further comfort to Lakers fans. In Game Three, Rafer Alston posted a 73% True Shooting mark on 14 shooting possessions (SPs), and Mickael Pietrus posted a 71% True Shooting mark on 13 SPs. Anyone want to give odds on this happening again? The Magic needed every bit of these outlier performances to hold off the Lakers, and if that's what it's going to take for them to win games in this series, then the odds are most certainly in L.A.'s favor. Put another way: Orlando is the guy putting chips down on the roulette grid and praying for an unlikely bounce of the ball, while the Lakers are the smug croupier just waiting to rake everything in.

So when you look at the Game Three numbers after the jump, be of good OK cheer. Yes, it was a loss, but Orlando's current business model is unsustainable.

Contrary to what Magic Johnson told you at halftime, Game Three was not played at any faster a pace than Games One and Two. Only 86 possessions, in fact - the same as Game One and fewer than in Game Two even after adjusting for the overtime period. WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TEACH THE MEDIA ABOUT POSSESSION COUNTS. I'm available for seminars at very affordable rates.

(I'm also available for bachelorette parties.)

  TO Rate    FTA/FGA      FT%        EFG%        TS%     Off Reb% Def Reb%    PPP   
Los Angeles   15% 0.33 62 56 58 38 76 1.21
Orlando 15% 0.47 77 66 70 24 62 1.26


I argued above that Orlando's offensive performance in Game Three is not exactly repeatable, but that doesn't mean the Lakers are blameless in allowing it to happen. Interestingly, the Magic's scoring outburst didn't result from the three-point barrage we keep expecting from them. In fact, only 22% of their field-goal attempts were threes, way down from their regular season rate of 33%, and they made only five of the 14 long-balls they tried. The damage was done inside, in the form of 70% shooting on two-point attempts.

The Lakers reverted to some bad habits in their pick-and-roll defense, allowing too many open driving lanes for Alston and Pietrus and deep post position for Dwight Howard. Dwight was much improved in coming to meet the post entry pass. This kept Laker defenders from swooping around him to bat it away for a turnover. And with eight straight games of at least 60% free-throw shooting, it appears he won't be a fatal liability for the Magic in that regard.

The disparity in the two teams' ability to get to the free-throw line is more dramatic than the raw numbers indicate. Just looking at total free throw attempts - 26 for the Lakers and 30 for the Magic - it doesn't seem like much, but when you adjust for all the extra looks the Lakers got from offensive rebounds, it's apparent that they were earning freebies at a much lower clip. The Lakers earned three FTAs per 10 shooting possessions, the Magic about four for every 10 SPs.

Once again, Orlando rebounded 24% of its own misses. In Games One and Two, that number was 23% and 24%, respectively. For the first three rounds of the playoffs, it was 24%. For the regular season, it was 24%. Frankly it's starting to creep me out.

Moving on to some player-specific bullet pointage:

  • The Laker point guard situayshe has stabilized kinda nicely, has it not? Derek Fisher had nine points on nine SPs, and Jordan Farmar had 11-on-7. Fish has not gone under a point per SP this series. Of course, his D on Alston was hideous.
  • Orlando is giving Trevor Ariza a ton of clean looks. In Game Three he accounted for about 16% of the Lakers SPs, which to be honest is more than is recommended on his warning label. In the third quarter, when the Lakers posted an anorexic PPP of 0.91, he took almost a third of the available shots. He wasn't terrible (47% True Shooting), but he also wasn't good enough to make the Magic rethink this strategy.
  • Orlando cannot stop Pau Gasol, who scored 23 points on 14 SPs. They just can't. They have nobody capable of handling his range and post moves. He accounted for the same portion of the Lakers' shooting possessions as did Ariza - about 16% - which is not enough. Move the offense through him if you want to end this series quickly.
  • Sasha Vujacic: only three minutes played! Do I see a DNP-CD in his future? Hmm?? Look.... we pick on Sasha a lot around here, but in all seriousness, he's a broken player at this point. The form on his shot is horrible, and on D he does nothing but gamble for steals and commit fouls. In the offseason, the Laker coaching staff needs to take his game apart and start over with him.
  • Have we seen the last of J.J. Redick? He went from 29 minutes played in Game Two to the dreaded DNP last night. And after Coach K went through the trouble of coming to the game! I kinda feel bad for the kid.*
  • Take those 23 Orlando assists with a grain or three of salt. The hometown scorer was applying a pretty loose standard when the Magic had the ball. It was really more like 18 or 19.

(* = Heh heh... author does not actually feel bad for the kid.)

The three games' worth of numbers are mashed together in the table below. Keep your head on a swivel and your swag tight, y'all.

Poss/48 Mins   TO%   FTA/FGA   FT%   EFG%   TS%   Off Reb% Def Reb%   PPP  
Orlando 88 15 0.39 74 49 54 24 72 1.03
Los Angeles    88 13 0.29 76 51 55 28 76 1.12

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