NBA Four Quarters (05/12/17)
Heading into game six tonight, neither Boston nor Washington has won a game on the other's home court dating back to the regular season. In the four games in DC, the Wizards won by a combined total of 86 points. In the five games in Boston, the Celtics won by a combined 61 points. What is going on? The place to start is with the home court advantage each team enjoyed in the regular season, which can best be described as modest. For both teams, the largest difference came on the offensive end. The biggest factor in this difference for both teams was three-point shooting – Washington shot six percentage points better and Boston shot nearly four percentage points better at home. With more negligible changes between home and road defense for both teams, the three-point shooting has manifested itself profoundly in this postseason. The home team has shot over 41% from three while the road team has shot around 32%. I haven't done any formal analysis into the home court advantage of shooting, but we have discussed the variability of three-point shooting, which throws cold water on the continuation of this trend as this series progresses. I would be surprised if a road team doesn't take one to end this series.
In preparation for the Conference Finals, a quick preview of each potential series:
Boston will try to answer the age-old question: “can you out-shoot the best shooting team in the league?” We discussed the importance of three-point shooting in the context of home-court advantage for the Celtics, but even more important is three-point shooting in the context of winning advantage. In victories in the regular season, Boston shot 37.8% from three, compared to just 32.6% in losses. What exacerbates this advantage is the volume of three-point shots taken. Boston is number three in the league in percentage of shots taken from long distance. The problem for Boston? Cleveland is number two and has better shooting percentages from three no matter how you slice it (catch-and-shoot, pull-ups, wide open, etc). In essence, the Cavs are better at playing the three-point game than the Celtics. Unless Boston can run Cleveland off the line without paving a highway to the lane, it's going to be a long, tough road to an upset Finals appearance.
The Cavs took two of three from the Wizards in the regular season, but the most recent tilt, featuring rosters most resembling a potential Eastern Conference Finals, went to the Wizards in decisive fashion. Without giving too much weight to a single regular season game, it offers two instructive points of interest for a seven game series between these two teams. First, the bench disadvantage that is so frequently brought up in criticism of Washington is largely nullified. Cleveland is right behind Washington in terms of percentage of offense attributed to the starters. Additionally, Cleveland's bench is not particularly big or athletic, mitigating the defensive shortcomings of the bench unit that have been at times glaring in the Celtics series. The other point of interest for the Wizards is transition offense. In the March matchup, Washington scored 24 fast break points. During the regular season, the Wizards were a top three team in transition scoring, while Cleveland was dead last in defending against transition. So far in the playoffs, Washington's transition attack has cooled a bit, although still among the best. Meanwhile, Cleveland has “flipped the switch” so to speak, trailing only the Warriors in for stingiest transition defense. If these factors swing in favor of Washington, we could be in for a competitive Cavaliers series for once.
It would have been a real shame if this Warriors team went to three consecutive Finals without once playing the San Antonio Spurs, a rite of passage in the Western Conference. No need to worry, the matchup is now official. We have to go all the way back to the very first game of the season for some clarity of what we can expect in this series. As the only matchup close to resembling the rosters we will see on Sunday, we got a clue into the most interesting conundrum facing the Spurs: how to defend the Warriors small “Death Lineup” with Draymond Green at center. In that game, the Warriors closed the second quarter, as has become customary, with this lineup. The Spurs matched it with Tony Parker and Pau Gasol complementing Aldridge, Leonard, and Ginobili. Before long, Coach Popovich checked Mills and Simmons in for Parker and Gasol and the Spurs extended the lead by eight points and never looked back. Playing small has not been part of the M.O. for the Spurs over the past few seasons, but will likely be a necessity in this series. Playing Houston in the semifinals was the perfect matchup for San Antonio in preparation for Golden State. Forced to play small to match the Rockets super-small lineups, the Spurs found critical playoff minutes and confidence for their small lineups and Jonathan Simmons in particular. If Simmons plays well, like he did against Houston, the series with the Warriors changes significantly, adding an element of explosiveness and versatility on both ends desperately needed to compete with the best in the NBA.