The Numbers Say Don't Dismiss the Miami Heat Yet
In last night's Game 5, the San Antonio Spurs shot an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) .170 better than the Miami Heat. That's a Tim Duncan-sized figure, but I still wouldn't say the Spurs dominated the game. Miami turned the ball over on 6.2 fewer possessions and collected 9.4 percent more available offensive rebounds, after all. Hot shooting may get you a win, but it's surely not sustainable.
All numbers regress towards the mean eventually you know, and the Heat shot a league-best .552 eFG% from the field during the regular season. If they shoot their norm while maintaining the lead in the turnover and rebounding battles, who's to say that Game 6 and Game 7 won't go their way?
At the very least, that's what our projections seem to be leaning that way. Heading into Game 6, Miami surely isn't down and out. If the Spurs hold any edge at all, it's only a slight one. Our projections still see this as a nearly-even series.
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According to numberFire Chief Analyst Keith Goldner, home court advantage in the playoffs is a completely different ball game. During the regular season, NBA teams average 3.25 more points per 48 minutes at home than on the road. In the playoffs, however, that number rises to a 4.08 point difference.
One point may not seem like much, but then imagine how close most teams in the NBA Finals are. A 4-point advantage as compared to a 3-point advantage can make all the difference in the world.
That's one major reason that, despite being down 3-2, the Heat cannot be discounted. As I wrote when examining the series odds before Game 3, San Antonio's best chance of taking the series would be to sweep Games 3 through 5 while they held their own home court advantage. They came close, but Miami's still hanging on, and now the Heat get the Home Court Bump.
How Miami Can Win
Just Shoot, Baby
Ready for one of the least shocking stats you'll see today? The team that has held the higher eFG% has won each of the past four games. I know, you may need to reevaluate a few things after hearing such life-altering news.
As it stands, the Miami Heat have shot above .500 eFG% in just two of the five games in this series (the two victories). Overall, their team eFG% during the Finals sits at just .516, a full 36 percentage points below their regular season average. I know the Spurs had the league's fifth-best shooting defense during the regular season at .480 eFG% allowed, but that type of substantial efficiency drop still would not be expected for a team of Miami's offensive caliber.
If they want to win this series, Miami will need to shoot close to or above their percentages from Game 2 (.554 eFG%), Game 4 (.552 eFG%), and the regular season (.552 eFG%). San Antonio finished second in the NBA with a regular season .531 eFG%, which means playing a Memphis-esque close defensive game isn't a likely victory strategy. That's how Miami lost Game 1 after all; both teams shot under .500, but San Antonio won with a few outlier stats. Offense is the key towards a Miami win.
Don't Give Up on Rebounding
In Game 3, San Antonio collected 41.3 percent of available offensive rebounds. In Game 2, they collected 35.7 percent. In each of the other three games, they never collected more than 18.5 percent. Well, there's some nice, sweet high variability for you.
But here's the issue: San Antonio still won two of those three games where they collected less than 20 percent of available offensive rebounds. In each of those games, the Heat even collected at least eight percent more offensive rebounds on their own end, but they still couldn't get it done. Meanwhile, in that Game 2 where San Antonio collected 35.7 percent of offensive boards, Miami collected only 23.7 percent and still won by 19.
However, given the regular season stats, losing while rebounding that well isn't a phenomenon that happens regularly. Miami collected at least 80 percent of available defensive rebounds in 18 of their 82 games during the regular season; they went 15-3 in those contests. The three losses were a two-point defeat against the Knicks, a two-point defeat against the Warriors, and a loss to the Celtics where they shot their single-lowest eFG% all season. All of our numbers point towards limiting offensive rebounds leading directly to wins.
Grabbing 80 percent of defensive boards isn't out of the realm of possibility for the Heat; the Spurs' 20.5 percent offensive rebound rate finished next-to-last in the entire NBA during the regular season. And if a high defensive rebounding night occurs, we'd expect the result to be more similar to the higher sample size (aka, that 15-3 regular season record) than the 1-2 mark this series.
Drive to the Bucket
What happened to those Miami Heat teams that loved to drive to the bucket? I think they got lost somewhere on South Beach somewhere before the start of the Indiana series.
Free throw factor, which takes a team's total made free throws and compares them with how many field goals a team takes (formula: FT/FGA), helps provide a look into how often a team gets free points compared to how often they settle for less efficient shots. The Heat were one of the best teams in the NBA at getting to the line this season, finishing with a sixth-best FT Factor at .222. That efficiency contributed directly to a 1.123 points-per-possession average that sat second in the NBA behind Oklahoma City.
But then they ran into San Antonio and the Spurs' third-best .179 defensive FT factor. Miami's .221 FT factor from Game 5 was actually their best of the series: they haven't topped their season average free throw efficiency rate once during the entire series. That includes an absolutely atrocious .093 free-throw factor from Game 3, when the Heat attempted 76 field goals but only actually made seven free throws.
According to basketball stats genius Dean Oliver, a team's free throw factor makes up about 15 percent of a team's overall success. That's 15 percent that the Heat are essentially conceding to the Spurs at the start, and in order to become truly competitive, they will need to reclaim their regular season free throw dominance.