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How Can Each of the NBA's Game 6 Underdogs Win?

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Why give Josh Smith and his poor offensive efficiency the ball when Al Horford has been tearing it up inside?

We got upsets upon upsets upon upsets. We could tell you that the Knicks, Pacers, and Thunder will be expected to win, but for two games a piece in each of those series, the product on the court hasn't turned out the way the odds thought it would.

The Knicks' shooting fell apart in Game 4 and 5. The Thunder couldn't stop the Rockets offense to save their lives the past two games. And the Pacers forgot what a bucket actually looked like while visiting Georgia (a place they're back in tonight).

But the unpredictability is what makes NBA playoff basketball so much fun. When looking at the stats today, I decided to take a different approach: how can each of the four teams down 3-2 come back to pull of the series? Each team has stolen games through one or two of the key Four Factors that they'll need to continue tonight.

For specific game predictions, including betting lines and comparable games, check out our numberFire Premium Section. But for the stats we're watching for and the series odds moving forward, check out below.

Game 6: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics

Most Likely Result: New York Knicks in 6

4 Games5 Games6 Games7 GamesTotal Win Odds
New York0.00%0.00%51.12%33.03%84.15%
Boston0.00%0.00%0.00%15.85%15.85%

How can the Celtics win?: Hound Carmelo Anthony

Want to mentally picture Carmelo Anthony's shot chart from Games 4 and 5? Just imagine the cherry vat at the Kool Aid factory: a sea of red everywhere. Melo has gone 18 for 59 over his past two games combined, an atrocious .305 field goal percentage. Even worse is his Yes-That's-Possible 0 for 12 combined three-point shooting from those two games.

I think it goes without saying, but those two games are a teeny-tiny bit out of the ordinary. Anthony managed a .502 effective field goal percentage (eFG%) during the regular season, his highest personal mark since the '07-08 season. While Boston may have been No. 6 in the NBA during the regular season with a .482 defensive eFG% allowed, even one game of Melo shooting that poorly has less than a ten percent chance of occurring.

If Melo shoots that poorly, it stands to reason the rest of the Knicks team is following him right down the gutter. Anthony led the NBA with a 35.6 percent usage rate during the regular season, and during the playoffs, he has upped that even further to a 39.6 percent rate. In Game 4's loss, Melo's usage rate was an astonishing 50.9 percent - over half of the team's plays while he was on the floor (45 minutes) were finished by Melo.

But, all things being equal, that bad shooting has a very small chance of occurring once again. In Games 4 and 5, the Knicks still managed to win the turnover percentage and offensive rebounding percentage battles, meaning Boston has little other recourse than to try and force bad shots. That is their forte, after all, and it's what has gotten them two wins thus far.

Game 6: Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks

Most Likely Result: Indiana Pacers in 6

4 Games5 Games6 Games7 GamesTotal Win Odds
Indiana0.00%0.00%46.96%34.37%81.33%
Atlanta0.00%0.00%0.00%18.67%18.67%

How can the Hawks win?: Feed Al Horford

Where has Al Horford gone? You tell me, because it makes no sense why the Hawks have limited his role.

During the regular season, Horford only averaged a usage rate of 21.8 percent, but perhaps the Hawks should have gone to him more. His 110 offensive rating sat as the second-highest mark on the team (behind Kyle Korver's outrageous 119 ORtg and .618 eFG%), and he was infinitely more efficient than Josh Smith's pitiful 97 offensive rating and .491 eFG%.

The good that can come from feeding Horford seemed to be proven in Games 3 and 4. In Game 3, Horford finished with a 26.1 percent usage rate, second among Atlanta's main rotation behind Jeff Teague's 26.7 percent rate. He ended with a team-high 26 points and a 119 offensive rating. In Game 4, Horford finished with an even higher 30.0 percent usage rate. Cue the obligatory 108 offensive rating and 18 key points.

So in the other three games, the Hawks realized this, right? Not exactly. Horford's usage rate never reached above 25.1 percent in any of Atlanta's three losses, and in crucial Game 5, he finished with only a 22.4 percent usage rate despite having a higher ORtg than either Teague (25.4 percent rate) or Smith (38.4 percent rate). If the Hawks want to have a higher offensive efficiency, they know what they have to do.

Game 6: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets

Most Likely Result: Oklahoma City Thunder in 6

4 Games5 Games6 Games7 GamesTotal Win Odds
Oklahoma City0.00%0.00%52.83%32.90%85.73%
Houston0.00%0.00%0.00%14.27%14.27%

How can the Rockets win?: Hit The Threes They're Going To Take

I was about to say "Make Omer Asik practice free throws until his limbs fall off", but you know. Honestly, there's no other answer that I could possibly put here other than three-point percentage and still do the stats justice.

For Houston, it's all about increasing the variance. Three-pointers can either be an extreme help or a burden depending on whether you're hitting them, but for an outmatched team (which, let's get real, OKC has more talent than Houston even without Westbrook), it can be the great equalizer.

All you need is a game a tiny bit above average. The Rockets averaged a .366 3P% during the regular season, so it makes sense that their goal should be somewhere about a standard deviation away, around the .400 mark. They would hit that mark roughly 20 percent of the time, but it still would provide them with better odds than playing OKC straight up.

And wouldn't you know it, hitting that mark has resulted in good tidings for Houston so far this series. The two games where they shot at least .400 3P%? Won 'em both. The three games where they shot .324 3P% or under. All losses.

Game 6: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies

Most Likely Result: Memphis Grizzlies in 6

4 Games5 Games6 Games7 GamesTotal Win Odds
Los Angeles0.00%0.00%0.00%28.12%28.12%
Memphis0.00%0.00%54.62%17.26%71.88%

How can the Clippers win?: Force Some Turnovers

I've talked about rebounding ad nauseum in this series within my daily primers, so it's worth looking at another aspect of the game the Clippers can take advantage of: grabbing some loose balls and forcing some turnovers.

Remember that whole deal during the regular season where the Clippers finished first in the NBA in defensive turnover percentage at 15.4 percent of opponent possessions? How about when Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe finished second and third, respectively, in the NBA in individual steal percentage? You wouldn't know it by looking at the playoff box scores.

The Grizzlies haven't turned the ball over more than 12.7 percent of possessions in a single game all series. On the regular season, they averaged an eighth-best 13.3 percent turnover rate - this isn't a bad time to hold onto the ball. The Clippers have committed a higher turnover percentage in all but one game so far this series, strangely enough their Game 4 loss.

As you might expect, worse than expected defense from the guards is playing a major role. In the past two games, Paul and Bledsoe have combined for exactly five steals. Teammate Lamar Odom almost has that many himself with four in just over 33 minutes played.

Turnover percentage hasn't been a major plus in the Clippers' column all series, but it can be. With rebounding percentage now firmly in Memphis' corner and effective field goal percentage waffling back and forth, it may be one of the few clear-cut avenues they have left.

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In This Article

Chris Paul
PG, Los Angeles Clippers

James Harden
GF, Houston Rockets

Eric Bledsoe
G, Phoenix Suns

Carmelo Anthony
F, New York Knicks

Al Horford
FC, Atlanta Hawks

Josh Smith
F, Detroit Pistons

Jeff Teague
PG, Atlanta Hawks

J.R. Smith
GF, New York Knicks

Patrick Beverley
G, Houston Rockets

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