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By the numbers: Spurs outplay Cavaliers, but lose anyway

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The Spurs were the better team for the first 48 minutes, but missed free throws and a Kyrie Irving prayer doomed the Spurs to an overtime loss in an alternate reality which saw the Cavs hit every low percentage contested shot they could chuck at the rim. What can you do?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Spurs 125, Cavaliers 128 - Mar 12, '15

This game was just completely ridiculous and reminds us all that basketball is sometimes the opposite of logical. The Spurs looked great for 4 quarters, playing excellent defense and holding the Cavs to 46.2% from 2 while hitting 67.2% of their shots from inside the arc, and matched or basically drew in every other category but free throws, which quite literally lost them this game as Kawhi Leonard's two missed free throws gave the Cavs the opportunity they needed for a Kyrie Irving desperation 3 to fall at the buzzer.

I say desperation, but the shot pretty closely resembled lots of other shots Irving knocked down on his way to an improbable 57 points on 20/32 shooting, 10/10 from the line and 7/7 from deep.  Seven of seven from deep!  Kyrie Irving is a phenomenal 3 point shooter at 41.0% for the season, but even for that good of a shooter, the odds of hitting seven straight (not to mention that probably half or more were off balance or contested) are 0.19%.  Which makes me feel justified in throwing out the "L" word to describe the Cav's comeback as quite fortunate ... or lucky. (Granted, Kyrie didn't really need that last three to complete the comeback victory, and the odds of a 41% shooter hitting 6 straight are 0.48%)

At the :31 mark of the 4th quarter, the Cavs were sitting at a solid 8/20 for 40% from deep, giving them an advantage over the Spurs who were 7/23 for 30.4% to that point in the game.  What happened next was downright cruel, as the Cavs hit 6 straight threes while the Spurs went 1/3 in that same period.  When a good team finishes a game with 6 straight threes, you're probably not going to get the win.  The Spurs and Cavs both shot 26 3s - the Cavs hit 6 more of them, an 18 point deficit which superior play by the Silver and Black could not compensate for.

What was further frustrating about this was that the Spurs generated vastly better shots than their Irving-led counterparts, knocking down 2 point shots at 67% clip and getting uncontested looks on 42.5% of their looks to Cleveland's 35.2%.  For once, the uncontested field goal attempts stat is pretty meaningful, since both teams took the same number of threes (which tend to be uncontested despite what you might have thought watching Kyrie Irving).  Irving's 57 points came on a series of incredibly well-contested looks, as this SBNation breakdown shows.  What more can you do?

OK, enough dwelling on just how painfully unlucky the Spurs were to run into Kyrie Irving and the Cavs on a night when Kyrie almost literally could not miss a shot.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't note the supreme irony of Kawhi Leonard playing a phenomenal game and leading the Spurs to what should've been a W, then missing 2 free throws to give the Cavs the shot they needed to take it to overtime.  Someone call Alanis Morissette, because that right there is irony incarnate.

The reassuring thing is, from a "where do the Spurs stand" perspective, this game was just as good if not better than most wins would have been.  The Spurs regressed a bit from deep, but generated loads of open looks, moved the ball well and netted a 121.5 Offensive Rating in what looked like pretty sustainable quality play.  On the defensive side, the Spurs forced Cleveland into tons of low percentage shots, which they managed to hit an impossible-to-sustain rate.  I wish there were a statistic which could capture just how difficult/low percentage the Cavs shots were last night.  Even Charles Barkley noted that the Spurs were getting great looks every time down the floor, while Kyrie et al were just hitting really tough shots.  So hold your heads high, Spurs - it took either a statistical anomaly or an act of God for the Cavs to steal this one from you, and that's something to feel good about.

(There's more analysis under the box scores)

Four Factors (def.)

Spurs Cavaliers
Shooting (eFG%) 62% 56%
Ball Handling (TO%) 13% 11%
Off Rebounding (OR%) 26% 26%
Shooting FTs (FT Rate) 31% 33%

Free throws. *sigh*

Team Stats (Definitions at bottom of post)

Spurs Cavaliers
Pace (No. of Possessions) 94.2
Points Per Possession (PPP) 1.33 1.36
Points Per Shot (PPS) 1.44 1.41
2-PT FG% 67.2% 46.2%
3-PT FG% 30.8% 53.8%
FT% 70.4% 86.7%
True Shooting % 63.2% 61.4%
Spurs
Cavaliers
Offensive Rating 121.5 121.7
Defensive Rating 121.7 121.5
Net Rating -0.2 0.2
Spurs Cavaliers
Passes / poss. 3.5 2.8
% of FGA uncontested 42.5% 35.2%
Points in the paint 56 42
Second chance points 8 20
Fast break points 15 9
Spurs Cavaliers
Assists 28 19
Steals 6 8
Turnovers 13 12
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.62 2.25
Spurs Cavaliers
Expected Offensive Rebounds 8.8 10.8
Offensive Rebounds 9 11
Difference 0.2 0.2

Spurs Shot Chart

Cavaliers Shot Chart

Just look at the beauty of the Spurs 2 pt shot chart.  That's how you know you outplayed the other team.

Players (Definitions at bottom of post, columns sortable)

Spurs

Player
Min
AdjGS
GS/Min
Line
Usage%
Floor%
OffRtg
DefRtg
NetRtg
Kawhi Leonard 44 26.3 0.60 24 Pts (9-14 FG, 1-3 3PT, 5-8 FT) 9 Reb (3 Off), 7 Ast, 1 Blk, 1 Stl, 3 TO, 5 PF 23% 62% 130.1 129.7 0.4
Danny Green 36 26.0 0.71 24 Pts (7-13 FG, 5-10 3PT, 5-5 FT) 4 Reb (0 Off), 1 Ast, 4 Blk, 2 Stl, 1 TO, 4 PF 21% 62% 131.9 132.2 -0.3
Tony Parker 43 25.7 0.60 31 Pts (15-23 FG, 0-1 3PT, 1-3 FT) 5 Reb (0 Off), 6 Ast, 1 Stl, 4 TO, 3 PF 31% 58% 119.5 126.9 -7.4
Tim Duncan 42 25.7 0.61 18 Pts (7-11 FG, 4-5 FT) 11 Reb (3 Off), 8 Ast, 4 Blk, 1 Stl, 3 TO, 5 PF 18% 64% 120.1 123.0 -2.9
Patty Mills 13 7.6 0.57 6 Pts (2-3 FG, 2-3 3PT ) 1 Reb (0 Off), 2 Ast, 11% 76% 131.0 100.2 30.8
Boris Diaw 24 6.4 0.27 9 Pts (4-8 FG, 0-3 3PT, 1-2 FT) 3 Reb (1 Off), 1 Ast, 3 PF 17% 55% 103.9 119.6 -15.7
Tiago Splitter 22 5.2 0.24 9 Pts (3-6 FG, 3-4 FT) 1 Reb (1 Off), 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO, 4 PF 22% 49% 138.6 116.3 22.3
Marco Belinelli 22 1.7 0.07 4 Pts (2-7 FG, 0-4 3PT ) 5 Reb (1 Off), 1 PF 14% 29% 110.3 104.2 6.2
Manu Ginobili 10 1.1 0.11 0 Pts (0-1 FG, 0-1 3PT ) 2 Reb (0 Off), 2 Ast, 1 PF 5% 49% 68.9 110.8 -41.9
Cory Joseph 0 0.0 0.00 0 Pts , 0% 0% 0.0 300.0 -300.0
Matt Bonner 8 -0.8 -0.11 0 Pts (0-1 FG, 0-1 3PT ) , 6% 0% 144.8 111.1 33.7

Hide Cavaliers Players

Player
Min
AdjGS
GS/Min
Line
Usage%
Floor%
OffRtg
DefRtg
NetRtg
Kyrie Irving 47 63.1 1.36 57 Pts (20-32 FG, 7-7 3PT, 10-10 FT) 3 Reb (1 Off), 5 Ast, 4 Stl, 2 TO, 3 PF 37% 70% 123.5 119.0 4.4
LeBron James 44 33.4 0.76 31 Pts (10-20 FG, 3-6 3PT, 8-10 FT) 5 Reb (0 Off), 7 Ast, 1 Blk, 2 Stl, 3 TO, 2 PF 30% 59% 130.1 129.4 0.7
Tristan Thompson 30 14.1 0.48 12 Pts (5-9 FG, 2-2 FT) 9 Reb (4 Off), 3 PF 16% 64% 121.7 118.2 3.4
Timofey Mozgov 23 10.0 0.42 10 Pts (4-7 FG, 2-4 FT) 6 Reb (4 Off), 1 Ast, 2 TO, 1 PF 21% 49% 121.8 125.8 -3.9
Kevin Love 33 7.2 0.22 8 Pts (2-10 FG, 2-4 3PT, 2-2 FT) 5 Reb (2 Off), 2 Ast, 15% 37% 120.1 121.3 -1.2
J.R. Smith 30 1.8 0.06 6 Pts (2-6 FG, 2-5 3PT ) 3 Reb (0 Off), 3 Ast, 3 TO, 3 PF 13% 32% 110.9 115.3 -4.4
Matthew Dellavedova 11 1.7 0.15 0 Pts , 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 PF 0% 100% 100.2 155.0 -54.9
James Jones 20 -0.4 -0.02 2 Pts (0-1 FG, 0-1 3PT, 2-2 FT) , 4 PF 4% 64% 121.7 119.3 2.4
Iman Shumpert 28 -3.0 -0.11 2 Pts (1-6 FG, 0-3 3PT ) 6 Reb (0 Off), 1 Blk, 1 Stl, 2 TO, 5 PF 13% 13% 127.5 110.0 17.5

Absolutely stellar performances from Kawhi, Danny, Parker and Duncan.  Look at Duncan's line: 18 Pts on 7-11, 11 boards, 8 assists, 4 blocks, and a steal, and he merely tied for 3rd in AdjGS.  Just so much quality play from the Spurs' best players.  Danny Green registered four blocks and went 5-10 from deep and hit all 5 free throws.  Kawhi went toe to toe with the best player in the world and matched him for most of the game.  Tony Parker scored over 30 points once more and feasted in the lane.  Just so much to like about this performance.

I also just have to point out that Kyrie Irving and LeBron James scored 87 of the Cavs 128 points, and accounted for 96 of their 128 AdjGS points.  That's just an insane amount of production from just two players.  I'm with Michael Erler though in doubting that the Cavs can continue to win games in this fashion.  The Spurs on the other hand look fantastic, and nearly beat the hot-handed Cavs despite being the beneficiaries of almost no lucky breaks themselves.  I'll take that.

I'll leave you with this:

Spurs Index: 98.2 (def.)

Factor Value Score
Passing (AST%) 57.1% 27.6
Shooting (eFG%) 62.1% 23.1
Defensive Rebounding (DReb%) 74.4% 19.5
Defense (DefRtg) 121.7 16.5
Opponent % of FGA Uncontested 35.2% 11.6
Total 98.2

Cavaliers Spurs Index: 84.0 Hide Breakdown

Factor Value Score
Passing (AST%) 43.2% 20.9
Shooting (eFG%) 47.3% 17.6
Defensive Rebounding (DReb%) 74.3% 19.5
Defense (DefRtg) 121.5 16.5
Opponent % of FGA Uncontested 42.5% 9.6
Total 84.0

Poor defense (or I should say, impossible to beat offense by the Cavs) held what was otherwise a phenomenal game to a sub-par 98.2 SI.  Not every day you face a guy doing what Kyrie did on Thursday night though.  Hopefully the Spurs can keep building their momentum.

Finally

Am I bitter about this one?  Absolutely, and I'm sure an astute reader would point out that the Spurs were the beneficiaries of a 61% team 3pt shooting performance on Tuesday against the Raptors, but it's particularly tough to walk away an L when the only advantage of significance your opponent managed was the one with the most statistical variance and most associated with a heavy dose of chance, while your team earned hard-won advantages in categories having more to do with quality play, like uncontested looks and points near the basket.

That said, hats off to Irving. He made some amazing shots.

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Definitions

eFG%: Effective Field Goal percentage. (via) Effective Field Goal Percentage; the formula is (FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA. This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%).

AdjGS: a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It takes points, assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls into account to determine an individual's "score" for a given game. The "adjustment" in Adjusted Game Score is simply matching the total game scores to the total points scored in the game, thereby redistributing the game's points scored to those who had the biggest impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

Usage%: This "estimates the % of team possessions a player consumes while on the floor" (via). The usage of those possessions is determined via a formula using field goal and free throw attempts, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers. The higher the number, the more prevalent a player is (good or bad) in a team's offensive outcome.

Floor%: Via Basketball-Reference.com: Floor % answers the question, "when Player X uses a possession, what is the probability that his team scores at least 1 point?". The higher the Floor%, the more frequently the team probably scores when the given player is involved.

Offensive Rating (offRtg): Points per 100 possessions.

Defensive Rating (defRtg): Points allowed per 100 possessions.

Spurs Index: The Spurs Index © is a just-for-fun formula that attempts to quantify just how "Spursy" a particular game is, based off averages for the 2013-2014 regular season. A perfectly average game would have a Spurs Index of 100. The formula consists of four factors which the Spurs are known for and lead or nearly lead the league in: Shooting (effective Field Goal %), Passing (Assist percentage), Defensive Rebounding Rate, and Defensive Rating. These metrics are weighted as follows:

Factor Weight Average
Passing (AST%) 30% 62.1%
Shooting (eFG%) 20% 53.7%
Defensive Rebounding (DReb%) 20% 76.4%
Defense (DefRtg) 20% 100.1
Opponent % of FGA Uncontested 10% 40.8%
The values for each metric are determined based on how a particular game's performance compares to the Spurs 2013-2014 regular season average for that metric. For instance, the average effective Field Goal percentage for 2013-2014 was 53.7%. So if the Spurs shot 60% in a given game, the score for eFG% would be calculated by: (0.6 / 0.537) * 20, which would yield a "score" for that factor of 22.3.

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