4 Fascinating Win Probability Graphs from a Crazy Night in the NBA
On a night with a 10-game slate, something amazing was bound to happen. One team would make an improbable run or one player would make an unlikely play. And who knows how many triple-doubles could happen in a full night of contests.
Well, just when we thought the NBA couldn't get any more insane, it did.
Not one but four games provided us with win probability graphs full of runs, lead changes and game-altering plays. At that, all four road teams won those games ... in March ... during the heat of the playoff race ... in the best basketball league known to man.
Last night made it clear that we don't have to wait for the Playoffs for amazing to happen. After all, it is the month for madness.
Charlotte Hornets vs. Toronto Raptors
After two quarters Wednesday night, the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors were neck-and-neck, with a halftime score of 50-47 in favor of the visiting Hornets. With an ultra-competitive up-and-down half behind them, the two teams turned their attention to the second half, the Raptors holding a win probability of 56.18% despite the deficit.
As they moved forward, the Raptors pulled to 74-63 lead and a win probability of 89.38% with 46 seconds left in the third frame. Things were tight heading to the finish, but Kemba Walker made sure that Charlotte came out on top. After a rough game to that point, Walker hit two three-pointers in the last two minutes, adding at least 24.9% to his team's win probability on both field goals. He totaled 11 points in the fourth quarter, and the Hornets took the 4-point win.
Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs
The two teams with the two best records in the NBA? Separated by just three games in the Western Conference? Primetime? ESPN? This was the premier game of the night. And that statement held true, but it played out in a way no one -- absolutely no one -- would have expected.
At the tip, the San Antonio Spurs possessed a win probability of 67.89%, but the rest of the game was all about the distinct phases of the Golden State Warriors. During Golden State's "oh, we're playing tonight?" phase, the Spurs' win probability skyrocketed to 96.18% as they jumped out to a 29-7 lead with 3:30 left in the first. In the Dubs' "oh, yeah, we are playing" phase, the Warriors fought back to a 57-54 halftime deficit, at which time San Antonio still had a 73.31% chance to win the game.
The third quarter was marked by the "yeah, we're the Warriors" phase after which the Dubs held a 84-77 lead and a win probability of 66.24%. As for the fourth, it was the "we're the championship favorite" phase as Golden State outscored the Spurs 26-21 and gradually built up to the ideal 100% win probability by game's end.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics
Going into this one, the Boston Celtics had a clear advantage over the Milwaukee Bucks. At home, we placed their win probability at 77.01% at the open. And through one quarter, nothing changed. In a 24-24 tie, the Celtics' chances were at 75.46%. But, after a 31-25 Milwaukee second, the Celtics' win probability decreased to 55.78%.
As you can see from the shakiness of the graph, from that point on, the teams went back and forth. They traded win probability punches throughout the second half and, as usual, things didn't come to a head until the 3-minute mark, when Boston held a slim 54.64% advantage. The teams exchanged two different back-to-back possessions of at least a 10% probability swing both ways,
That was before rookie Malcolm Brogdon became closer Malcolm Brogdon. In the last three minutes, the young Buck made winning play after winning play. He scored six points and handed out two assists in the last three minutes of the game, adding a win probability of 12.9% or more with each play. The most impactful of them all was a tough two-point make over Avery Bradley, which sealed the deal for Milwaukee with just four seconds remaining.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Orlando Magic
Against a lowly Orlando Magic team, it's fitting that the Oklahoma City Thunder went into the night with a win probability of 69.53%. However, Russell Westbrook and company got out to a very slow start. Through one quarter, Westbrook had 7 turnovers to 9 points and the Thunder had just 20 points as a team. They had a two-point lead and a win percentage of 70.95% at the start of the second quarter.
The Magic then won the second, 31-24, and by the end of the quarter had a win probability of 51.78%, signaling a swing of 22.73% in 12 minutes of play. In the third, the Magic increased their odds to 90.63% via a 21-point lead with just over five minutes remaining in the quarter. And in the fourth, the Magic were at 91.83% with 6:10 on the clock.
Due to an explosion from Westbrook, the Thunder went from 14 down to just three down with 14 seconds to go. That's when Westbrook hit a deep three (see below) to add 32.8% to his team's win probability while also catapulting the game into overtime.
Westbrook hits three to tie Orlando pic.twitter.com/9XVvNHirNp
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 30, 2017
From that point on, the Thunder took over and won the game 114-106 with a 12-4 overtime finish.
Per Rotoworld's Mike Gallagher, in the fourth quarter and overtime Westbrook posted usages of 66.7% and 51.8%, respectively. According to NBA.com, he turned that into 26 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the final 17 minutes -- which led to a total of 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists and marked the most points in a triple-double performance in NBA history.
What a night!