Examining the Spurs' Game 3 Offensive Explosion
When I said that Game 3 is a must-win for the Spurs, they obviously listened. How else can you explain last night's blowout?
You know, besides "The one where Mario Chalmers decides scoring is optional" or "The one where Mike Miller almost leads Miami in points" or "The one where the Heat minus LeBron and Bosh only collected 15 total rebounds as a team". There is a plethora of rejected Friends titles just waiting to be picked up and stuck on as a label.
In fact, I can almost guarantee that they won't exist again. The Spurs, who now hold a 58.61 percent chance at winning the series, played way better than expected last night. I had Chief Analyst Keith Goldner run the numbers for how expected some of last night's stats would be against the league-average NBA team, and the results are eye-popping.
The Unlikely Hot Shooting
San Antonio Shoots .500 3P% or Better: 24.0%
San Antonio's never been a bad three-point shooting team. In fact, their .376 3P% from the regular season ranked fourth in the NBA, behind three pretty solid shooting teams in Golden State, Miami, and Oklahoma City. Would you want Manu Ginobili spotting up with an open three on the wing if you were an opposing player? That's what I thought.
But that? All of San Antonio's beyond-the-arc shooters started the game while NBA Jam-style On Fire and simply didn't stop. The Spurs made 16 of their 32 shots from deep, an exactly 50 percent average. During the regular season, they shot .500 or better from deep in only 14 of their 82 games, or only 17 percent of the time. And none of those successes were against the Miami Heat; the Spurs shot .333 and .292 from long-range in two regular season games against the boys from near South Beach.
Given San Antonio's season-long shooting, we would expect them to shoot .500 or better 24 percent of the time against a league-average opponent, or just about one in four tries. Given Miami's .350 3P% allowed during the regular season, only .009 off the NBA average, that projection would not change much even after adjusting for opponents. That makes not only last night, but also San Antonio's Game 2 .500 3P% a couple of outliers, but not egregiously unrealistic ones.
It's not too surprising that San Antonio got hot from deep twice in this series, even if it's a little more unlikely that it would happen in back-to-back games. Just because it happened, though, don't believe that it can't happen again in Game 4. Remember, each game's projections come independent of what happened before. San Antonio goes into Game 4 with a 24 percent chance of shooting .500 or better, just like they did in Game 3 (and beat the odds), just like they did in Game 2 (and beat the odds).
Gary Neal Scores 24 Points or More: 3.0%
I saw a lot of "You should have expected this, Gary Neal's a scorer!" on Twitter. But really, should I have?
Neal had an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of .487 during the regular season, good for second-to-last (Stephen Jackson) on the Spurs. His 99 offensive rating - meaning he averaged less than one point per possession - was less efficient than even the offensively last place Washington Wizards this season. And his given his .355 3P% from the regular season, Neal would expect to hit six or more of ten three-point shots exactly 10.1 percent of the time.
Especially considering Neal's 13.7 field goals attempted per game average during the postseason, it's safe to say that nobody should have expected last night's 9-17 shooting, 6-10 from 3-point night to have occurred. Against a league-average team, Neal would be expected to score 24 or more points just three percent of the time.
Granted, given Neal's low number of minutes and shot attempts, that three percent probability has an extremely high variance. Given more time on the court, he could very well top 24 points with higher regularity. Or, as happened in seven of his 68 regular season games this year, the Spurs could give extra run to Tony Parker and Neal gets single-digit minutes. High variability is a cruel, cruel mistress.
Danny Green Scores 27 Points or More: 0.9%
That whole high variability spiel applies here as well, but really? Less than one percent odds? That's what Danny Green had to beat to put up his 27 points last night against the Heat.
To be fair, Green was more efficient than Neal during the regular season. Green's 110 offensive rating sat above San Antonio's 108.3 team average, and his .581 eFG% actually sat second on the team behind Boris Diaw. Given his exceptionally high .429 3P% during the regular season, Green would be expected to hit seven or more three-pointers on nine attempts 3.7 percent of the time.
But since when did Green actually shoot that much? His 8.3 field goal attempts per game during the regular season sat sixth-most on the Spurs, behind Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Leonard, and Neal. His field goal attempts per 36 minutes of court time was even worse, behind DeJuan Blair, Patrick Mills, and Stephen Jackson as well (although he did jump Leonard). For all of his offensive efficiency, the Spurs never really gave him an opportunity to get hot.
That's why Green scored 27 points or more just once in 86 combined games before yesterday - 28 points against Minnesota on February 6, a game where he went 8-12 from long-range. Unsurprisingly, it was also the only time where he attempted more than 10 3-pointers in a single game. He also only had 10 3-point attempts once (13 points against Toronto) and nine 3-point attempts just five times in 86 games before yesterday. That's why, given the odds, we just don't expect Green to get the chance to top 27 points against Miami, regardless of whether he could.