The look on Tim Duncan’s face after the Blocked Dunk Heard Round the World during the Spurs’ playoff elimination was the realization that the tyranny of numbers had finally caught up with him. But it wasn't his age that sealed the deal, it was another number: 75.2.
But to understand what that number is, and its impact on San Antonio's postseason chances, we're going to have to define a few new terms, and look at some unfamiliar, if not downright odd, calculations. I'll explain things along the way, and I expect that at the end we'll have a better grasp on what happened this year, and perhaps come away with a newfound respect for the Spurs.
First, a look at the seasons that have resulted in the Spurs appearing in the NBA finals (excluding the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season) shows an average of 75.2 total wins. When the Spurs lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Conference Semifinals this year, they had already achieved 73 wins. All of the focus on their advancing age overlooks the Spurs advanced number of wins. The truth is that you can actually win too many games.
Let’s call the optimal number of wins needed for a championship the Core Trajectory (CT). We can look to variables from the regular season to calculate CT. Typically, the best Spurs' seasons proceed through three distinct stages. Tempo (T) looks at how the season starts. The Spurs have won the first game of every championship year, something they did not accomplish in 2015-16. [I contend that Low T causes Premature Elimination (PE), the probability of achieving the desired win threshold (CT).] The next stage is, Continuity (C), when the Spurs go on a winning streak of at least ten games, and complete another regular season of at least 50 wins. Finally, Brake (B), represents the factor of stopping short at the end of the season. The Spurs have lost the last regular game of every championship season (again excluding ’98-’99 season). T, C, and B amount to the Ratio of Equitable Success (RES), and should yield a performance incline that peaks with a championship. For best results, consider the first game of the season as tantamount to game seven of the finals; don’t stress about the last game; and, for everything in between, well, I should probably try not to coach.
As you can see, despite their abridged post-season, the Spurs fought through pseudo-statistical condemnation to yet again raise the bar of franchise excellence, at least in the regular season. The reverence for what the Spurs did accomplish this season was lost in the preoccupation with the potential end of an era. Appreciate with me that the 2015-2016 Spurs were a very good team that peaked too soon. As the numbers bear out
RES = T+C+B, PE = RES*x
RES + PE = CT
In the end, even with the Spurs eliminated, we're left with RES+PE=CT defined counts, and it seems to me, RES, PE, CT make fair the T, C, B. Posit loosely. Posit loosely. Posit loosely, my friends.
[Editor's Note: If none of the above made much sense to you, then try reading that final formula as an acronym, or a word. Or at least click on the last link. -jrw]