Thanks to Their Game 1 Victory, the Thunder Are Now Favorites to Win the Western Conference
We all know that, when an underdog wins, probability loses.
That's what we got in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Our algorithm gave the Oklahoma City Thunder roughly a 25% chance to top the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena -- where they went 39-2 during the regular season -- and they did just that.
But between the tip and the final buzzer, Thunder's odds to steal Game 1 went much, much lower than 25%.
Livin' on the Edge
According to numberFire Live, the Thunder staved off four different stretches when they had less than a 10% chance to defeat the Warriors.
And they weren't all in the first quarter or any undramatic nonsense like that.
The first stretch came in the early second quarter after some dunks by the Warriors. Shaun Livingston's slam cut the Thunder's chances to 13.62%.
Two minutes later, the Thunder climbed back to a 15.41% chance after a Durant free throw cut it to 37-32, but the Warriors stormed back. The Thunder never again broke a 16% chance during the first half.
This didn't help matters.
Stephen Curry's nasty buzzer-beating three gave the Warriors a 60-47 lead at halftime and a 92.79% chance to hold onto Game 1.
The Thunder lived below the 11% mark for another five minutes into the third quarter until a Russell Westbrook three-pointer closed the gap to 68-61 with 7:03 left in the third quarter. They even got past the 20% mark -- still shy of their initial odds -- about two minutes later and with just a four-point deficit.
But you know the drill -- the Warriors opened it back up to 12 points before the end of the third, again giving the Thunder less than a 10% chance to win.
By the third quarter's end, though, the Thunder brought it to within three points and owned a 24.35% chance to win it at the third-quarter buzzer.
That Fourth Quarter
In case you weren't aware, the Thunder played the Warriors three times in the regular season and either led or were tied with them at some point in each fourth quarter (leading to some pretty cringeworthy win probability graphs because they lost every game).
In those collapses, the Thunder were outscored 107-83 in the three combined final frames.
Sure enough, a mere 15 seconds into the fourth quarter, Durant nailed a three-pointer and tied the game at 88, earning better than a 30% chance to win for the first time all game.
Rather than relinquish that lead like they did during the regular season, they added to it.
A tough three-pointer from Dion Waiters added an 8.95% chance to the Thunder's odds, bumping it up to 47.60% after their 93-89 lead with 9:54 left in the fourth.
The two teams hovered around the 50% mark until Steven Adams wrangled a defensive rebound with 5:01 and a 99-93 lead jumped the Thunder's odds to 70.41%.
Naturally, the Thunder's fourth-quarter woes (they ranked 20th in fourth-quarter Net Rating this regular season) came back to haunt them, and with 1:40 to go, they led 101-100 with just a 55.50% chance to hold off the defending champions.
Golden State, surprisingly, couldn't take advantage and scored just four points in the final 2:17 of the game. Although Durant struggled mightily down the stretch, he iced the game when the time came.
How It Changed the NBA Playoffs
Entering Game 1, the Thunder owned a 31.57% chance to win the Western Conference Finals. By contrast, the Warriors owned a 50.9% chance to win the NBA Finals, according to our algorithm.
Game 1 really shook things up.
The Thunder are now 51.74% favorites to defeat the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and have a 28.14% chance to win the NBA Finals.
Golden State, though, is still the most likely squad to be hoisting the hardware at season's end with a 35.15% chance to win it all. (They're just so much better than the competition that, if they get there, they should win it all.)
Sounds like Cleveland and Toronto should be rooting extra hard for the Thunder to pull this off.