Bron v. Curry pt. 4: or How We Became 3 Point Crazy and Learned That Analytics Can Fail
Memorial Day Monday evening's flameout by the Houston Rockets will be a day that lives in infamy. If I have my way at least. First, let me correct my FB status above. The Houston Rockets actually ended up missing 27 consecutive threes during the deciding game 7 of the Western Conference finals, including an astonishing 0-14 stretch during the third quarter after leading by 11 at halftime. The Warriors went on to win and advance to the finals once again to face Daddy Bron and company.
In explaining the abomination, some reverted to statistics and figures and noted that the likelihood of the 36.2 percent three-point shooting Houston Rockets missing 26 threes in a row was .00084%. I'll take, what are the odds of being struck by lighting for $400, Alex. However, in once again applying statistics to demystify this glitch in the matrix, stats geeks only compound the problem. I don't need a formula to make sense of what happened, I just need my eyes. And they hurt.
Monday night's disaster was the logical conclusion of nearly a decades'-long commitment to privileging analytics and pace and space above pretty much everything else. The era that rightly wondered why you would take a "long" 2 when you could take a "short" corner 3. Once upon a time stretch bigs like Toni Kokoc (33.5% 3pt %) or Rasheed Wallace (33.6 3pt %) were pretty rare. Now, they're a dime a dozen and at times shoot much better than said bigs of old.
Here's another stat: Through game 3 of the Western Conference finals, in 15 conference finals games played this season and last, seven were decided by at least 20 points, five by at least 30-point routs and two exceeded 40 points. Even the 2016 NBA finals, a 7 game slugfest and certified classic featured six double-digit games and a 17-point average margin of victory. In this era, if your 3 point shot is falling, you get the spoils. If not, time to pack up and try your luck next game.
Sure, it's not that simple. However, it's tough to say that such a gamebreaking shot hasn't contributed to some of this volatility, especially when, in the final estimation, two teams are pretty much equal, as was the case in the 2016 Finals (yeah, yeah I know Draymond Green) or even with a healthy Chris Paul on the Houston Rockets.
What was so despicable about Monday night was the lack of imagination and flexibility. I've never seen this beautiful sport (to be fair Houston should be credited for their greatly improved defense) be reduced to one facet for so long. I've seen more creativity and discipline in a 12-year old opponent spamming 3s with, well, the Warriors or the Rockets, in NBA2K online. If the 3 isn't falling, do something else. Heck, maybe even find out what makes you the "special" team that won 65 games, because the Warriors aren't just great just because they shoot the three well. When the dust settled, a team that was built to beat the Warriors at their own game went mad in Frankenstein fashion, with only FiveThirtyEight data littering the empty lab.
This brings me to another point. Maybe this is nostalgia speaking, but it always felt that in past eras, while dominant teams influenced the style and strategy of lesser and rival teams, I saw much more of a clash of identities. The 90s Jazz and Da Bulls both played hard-nosed defense, but the Jazz were the masters of the pick and roll and let the Bulls be the keepers of the triangle. Could you imagine Byron Russell or Antoine Carr bringing up the ball instead of Floor General Stockton?! Sloan would have had a fit.
It was so painful seeing teams like the Miami Heat chuck 3s to try to keep up with the 76ers, nevermind the Warriors. Sorry Josh Richardson isn't Redick, and definitely isn't Curry, Klay, or KD. Either you have the personnel or you don't and if you don't, find other ways to dominate. I want diversity. I want bigs down low. And heck, if the 3s aren't falling and they're packing the paint, shoot some of those "bad 2s" to loosen everything up.
A narrowing style has also seduced even bright hoops observers to misread aging legends like when I had to go in on someone who praised prime Wade but lamented that he probably wouldn't do well in this era without a 3 point shot because they'd pack the paint. As if a Westbrook who also had discipline and leadership and unselfishness and much more wouldn't have plenty of bling to show for it.
These playoffs haven't exactly been bad either. Round 1 was especially entertaining and both conference finals series went the full seven games. But I can't wait for this current brand of 3-point happy hoops to moderate a bit.
As for Warriors v. Cavs Pt 4, I mean, it's pretty obvious what's going to happen. But I thought the Cavs were cooked in round two and you saw how that turned out. Maybe it took too long to notice, but since 2015, Lebron is holding his own and even beating teams he has no business beating. And if he somehow pulls this one off, funny enough, the likes of Derrick Rose will also finally get a ring. Incredible indeed.