One of my first pieces with Pounding the Rock five years ago was entitled “How a Coach Reads a Box Score”. In that piece, I wrote the following:
“Since I stopped coaching, I have continued to closely examine box scores after games. What I look for are not the fairly useless statistics that many national basketball announcers focus on. Mark Twain famously referred to “lies, damned lies, and statistics” [Editor’s note: Twain put his list in order of increasing evil - jrw]. That applies to basketball too.”
The box score from the Spurs – Rockets thriller Tuesday night proves my point, although if that box score had been the centerpiece of my post five years ago, the title might have been “Box Scores Are Fun!” For instance:
- In a game that the Spurs won, every one of their starters had a negative plus-minus.
- One of those starters was Bryn Forbes. By the numbers and by the eye-test, Forbes had a great game – 25 points on 10 for 13 shooting, including 5 of 6 from three. He also did an admirable job defending against Russell Westbrook most of the game, and played most of the fourth quarter and all of the two overtimes. He still wound up negative on the night.
- On the flip side, every single player on the Spurs bench was positive plus-minus.
- Including, of course, Lonnie Walker IV, who was an incredible +29 for the game.
- For the Rockets, Austin Rivers also had a great game, both by the numbers (19 points on 8 shots, including 5 of 6 from three) and by the eye-test. Rivers wound up negative 13 for the night.
- The game featured three All-Stars — DeMar DeRozan, James Harden and Westbrook. Harden and Westbrook are also former MVPs. Combined, the three “stars” shot 27 for 93, or 29%. (Note that they averaged 31 shots taken — I have never taken 31 shots in a game, much less the 38 taken by Harden). The remaining players in the game, none of them yet an All-Star or MVP, went 65 for 125, or 52%. The stars’ shooting on three-pointers was even worse, a combined 5 for 27, including a 4 for 20 stinker from Harden due to being well-defended by the Spurs! Again, the non-stars completely out-shone the stars, making 23 for 54 on threes, a solid 42%.
- Before getting too down on Harden, he did score 50 points, including making all 24 free throws he took. A team has never lost a game in which one of their players went 24 – 24 from the line — because this is the first time in history anyone has made that many freebies without missing. The Rockets lost despite taking more shots from the field, making twelve more free throws (at 94%), getting six more offensive rebounds, and committing four less turnovers.
- Also falling into the “Has this ever happened before?” category: Rockets’ center Clint Capela shot 100% from the field (9 for 9) for 22 points, to go with his 21 rebounds, 8 of them offensive. So the Rockets starting center got over 20 points and 20 rebounds and made all of his shots. And his team lost.
- Back to Walker, who really needs an appropriate nick-name — LW4? Lonnie Skywalker? Including the Rockets game, he is now averaging less than 8 minutes and 5 points per game. Against the Rockets, he played 35 minutes (and never looked tired or fazed) and scored 28 points. I predict that he will play more than 8 minutes per game going forward.
I had an interesting time watching the overtimes. Living in Los Angeles, I generally record weekday Spurs games and watch them on tape delay. For this game, I set the television to record an extra 30 minutes. When I did so, I remember thinking that the 30 extra minutes would never be needed because there was no way that a Spurs team that just got crushed by the Detroit Pistons could even force overtime against the Houston Rockets. I was wrong.
As the game entered the second overtime, I had no idea if I had recorded enough of the game to take into account a second overtime. It turns out that I did not. My recording shut off just after Harden ran over DeRozan with 0.8 on the clock, clinching the game for the Spurs. (So I thought – it turns out that some additional stuff happened, though the result stayed the same.)
For future games, I will record an extra hour, even for games which I don’t think the Spurs have a chance of winning. Last night showed why they play the game, and why we watch it. All of it.