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Fun with Box Scores: 2020 Playoffs Edition

Box scores can be fun. Yes, really.

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game Three Photo by Kim Klement - Pool/Getty Images

People who have been reading my stuff for a while know that I like box scores. One of the first pieces I wrote at Pounding the Rock was called How A Coach Reads A Box Score. For instance, coaches really don’t care about total rebounds, even though game announcers focus on that statistic. Instead, coaches care about the percentage of missed shots that turn into offensive rebounds. We want to get a significant percentage of our own misses converted into offensive rebounds, which often lead to put-backs or kick outs to open three point shooters. And we don’t want to give those opportunities to the opponent.

I also enjoy funky box scores, where one can find strange and wonderful things. One example was the box-score from the Spurs’ most exciting game of the year — the double OT win over the Houston Rockets. My article about that game pointed out that the Spurs won even though all five of their starters had a negative plus-minus for the game, and the Spurs allowed the Rockets’ center Clint Capela to post a 22 point, 21 rebound game while shooting 100% from the field. (Which the Rockets then reward by trading him to the Atlanta Hawks.)

On the flip side, 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.

Several of the early Bubble Playoff box scores had cool things in them. Let’s start with honorary Spur Duncan Robinson of the Heat, who I named the Gritty Over-Achiever for the Heat in my pre-playoff piece. First, a question: How could the Spurs not draft someone named Duncan Robinson? He was undrafted. How could the Spurs pass on someone with that name? If Manuparker Gervin is available this year, the Spurs sure better scoop him up.

But back to Duncan Robinson. In Game 2 of the Pacers — Heat series, our favorite Should-Have-Been-a-Spur went 7 for 8, all three-pointers, plus 3 for 3 from the line — he was fouled on a three-point attempt. He scored 24 points on 8 shots from the field. He had zero two-pointers. None. But young Mr. Robinson had 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers and 2 fouls. A lot of twos for a guy who didn’t take or make any of them!

Speaking of a lot of points on not a lot of shots, Lakers’ rookie James LeBron scored 38 points on 18 shots against the Trail Blazers last night. That is the most points by a Laker rookie since... Hey, wait a minute. My bad. It was LeBron James, not James LeBron. In any event, that is a lot of points on not very many field goal attempts, aided by 17 free throws. (In the Spurs-Rockets double OT game mentioned above, James Harden needed 38 shots to get his 50 points, and went 24 for 24 from the free throw line. Which means that the Rockets lost even though they had a player score 50 points and make all of his 24 free throws.)

Over in the North portion of the Eastern Conference, the defending champion Raptors are up 3-0 over the Nets, despite playing two small guards together most of the time. Or more accurately, the Raptors are up 3-0 because they play two small guards together most of the time. In my pre-playoff piece, I described Kyle Lowry as a “gamer”. As proof, 6’1’’ (on a good day) Lowry is leading his team in rebounds in the playoffs, with almost 9 per game. And my Gritty Over-Achiever nominee for the Raptors, undrafted Fred VanVleet (who is also listed at 6’1” but is not as tall as Lowry), started the playoffs with this line in Game One: 11 for 15 from the floor, 8 for 10 from three, 11 assists, and 30 points. My friends, that is a great game even for a full-sized NBA player. He followed that up with a 24 points and 10 assists in Game Two, and 22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists on 6 of 10 from three in Game Three. Hobbits rule in the Great North.

Even a blow-out game box score can reveal some quirky numbers. In the stunning 124-87 Friday night massacre of the Nuggets by the Jazz, Mike Conley returned from the first ever paternity-caused Bubble Playoff four-day quarantine to score 27 points in 25 minutes, on 7 of 8 from three. Not bad for the new dad. For the game, the Jazz had 10 more baskets, 6 more threes, 11 more made free throws, 7 less turnovers and 7 more steals. All of which led a very surprising result.

Let’s finish with two games from the Celtics76ers series. The Celtics won Game 2 128-101, colorfully described with this introduction from

“Turns out the NBA did Philadelphia 76ers fans a favor by not allowing fans inside the Orlando bubble. The Boston Celtics wiped the floor with the Sixers in Game 2 on Wednesday with a 128-101 blowout win.”

Man, that is cold. But accurate. As was my pre-playoff prediction that Brett Brown will soon by referred to as “ex-76er coach Brett Brown”. Which is too bad. Brett is a good coach and, by reputation, a good guy. Brett didn’t put together this old-school line-up, nor did he cause Ben Simmons to injure himself just before the playoffs, nor did he choose not to acquire Marco Belinelli for some bench scoring. But sadly, because of those things, Brett will now go the way of all coaches not named Popovich.

Brett’s fate was sealed by the 76ers shooting woes in Game 3’s “must-win loss”. #Oxymoron. Philly went an incredibly bad 28 for 95 from the field. If you do the math, that’s 29.5%. Indeed, that is 29.5% even if you don’t do the math. #ScienceIsTrue. Philly also shot 23.1% from three. #Bricks. The only good news for the 76ers was their twenty offensive rebounds. A good number to get, until you remember that the 76ers gave themselves plenty of offensive rebounding opportunities.

This means that their offensive rebounding percentage (the statistic that matters) was not very high. Counting missed free throws, the 76ers missed 72 shots in a 48 minute game which they needed to win. #HaveANiceOffseason.