Kyle Lowry's Halfcourt Shot at the Buzzer Nearly Broke Math
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal between the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat was a wild one, and we've got the math to prove it.
The two teams played fairly evenly throughout the first three quarters, but the Heat started pulling away in the fourth. With 6:32 left in the final frame of regulation, Miami got out to a 10-point lead with the score at 79-69, pushing their win probability to a commanding 82.85% with half a quarter to play.
Fast-forward to the last 19 seconds of regulation, and two Josh Richardson free throws extended the Heat's lead to six at 89-83 and their win probability to a near-certain 98.79%. A missed three by Terrence Ross would put the ball back in Miami's hands and their win probability at 99.62% -- as in damn near 100%.
Then, madness ensued.
The Heat committed a turnover, leading to a Terrence Ross three and a subsequent 20-second timeout by Miami. The Heat would then turn the ball over again, fouling Ross in the process. With 4.1 seconds remaining and the score 89-86 Miami, Ross' assignment was simple: make the first of two free throws and miss the second, hoping for an offensive rebound.
Ross took care of his job, but the Raptors failed to grab the rebound and were forced to put Hassan Whiteside on the line with a mere 3.3 seconds left. Whiteside would miss the first free throw and hit the second, leaving the Raptors with the ball, no timeouts to advance it, and the entire length of the court between it and the basket they would need to score on to overcome a three-point deficit.
When the Raptors inbounded the ball, they had only a 3.77% chance of winning the game. That buzzer-beating heave by Kyle Lowry caused a massive 50.34% swing, putting the odds to 54.11% in favor of Toronto heading into overtime.
Had they gone on to win the game, the Raptor's 0.38% win probability would've been a really big deal. It likely would have represented one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history, in fact.
But alas, the Heat dominated overtime, scoring the first eight points and holding the Raptors scoreless for the first 3:45 of the five-minute extra frame. Toronto would make another push and even somehow end up with the ball again down three with 10 seconds left on the clock, but DeMar DeRozan dribbled the ball off his legs following the inbounds play, Dwyane Wade covered the floor for a layup plus the harm, and the Heat came away with the 102-96 win.
Our win probability graph was insane:
And if you're wondering where Lowry's shot is represented on that thing:
Hello, Kyle Lowry pic.twitter.com/07Ug22binW
— numberFire (@numberFire) May 4, 2016
According to our algorithms, the Raptors had a 60.97% chance of winning this series going into Game 1. If Lowry's miracle shot had led to a win, that number would've gone even higher. Instead, with the Heat stealing the first game on the road, we now have them favored at 59.62%.
No matter who wins this series, though, the time Lowry nearly broke math with a halfcourt shot at the buzzer will likely live on as its most interesting footnote.