Tag Archives: Cavaliers

Which Comeback Was Most Unlikely?

Last night was ridiculous. Only Brady and Belichick can go down twenty-five points in the Super Bowl without their fans losing hope. And to score thirty-one straight points to do it? And to win the first ever overtime Super Bowl? And to do it while setting records left and right? Holy crap.

Then again, the Patriots are really just continuing a trend that’s been going on since June. This past year has been filled with tremendous comebacks and upsets. Like the Pats, the Cubs, Clemson, Trump, and the Cavs have all accrued huge deficits and overcome them. But which comeback of these five was the most improbable of all? Let’s figure it out.

5. Donald Trump (28.2% chance of winning)

This was a difficult probability to determine. While we can rely on Vegas and ESPN’s win expectancy for sports, there are a number of conflicting predictions out there. Accordingly, I went with Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight’s empirical prediction model, rather than predictions from places such as the New York Times (15%) and the Princeton Election Consortium (1%) that were less based on statistics.

Although the Trump’s victory seemed unbelievable and shocking at the time, statistically, it wasn’t all that unlikely. Accordingly, all four sports comebacks were more miraculous than the election results.

4. Chicago Cubs (21.7%)

The Cubs’ comeback seems unlikely, and it was, but they were favored in each of the fateful final three games, by significant margins. Vegas expected Chicago to win each of the individual final three games, so the fact that it did isn’t too surprising.

Based on the money line, Chicago was expected to win 67.7% of the time in Game 5, about 59% in Game 6, and 54.5% in Game 7. Combined, they had barely better than a one in five chance of winning three straight games and emerging victorious at their nadir, which, while improbable, isn’t quite the act of God that it appeared to be.

3. Clemson Tigers (9.6%)

Clemson’s low point came after a Calvin Ridley reception gave Alabama a first down. At that point, in the middle of the second quarter, Clemson was down two touchdowns against a dominant defense. Despite this, the Tigers came roaring back to draw within three.

Later on, O.J. Howard’s 68 yard touchdown catch pushed their odds of winning back down to 14%. Once more, Clemson fought hard and eventually took the lead for the first time, gave it up, and finally regained it with one second remaining.

This was an impressive victory against the Evil Empire of college football, and the situation for Clemson was dire for large chunks of the game. However, the deficit was only fourteen points at its largest, so it doesn’t seem like the Tigers had a major comeback, even though their win expectancy reveals they did.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (5.9%)

Both the Cavs and Cubs had to win three straight games, including two on the road, to break a mammoth championship drought. So why was Chicago nearly four times as likely as Cleveland to end its season with champagne?

The main reason is that the Cubs were superior to the Indians, while the Cavaliers were inferior to the record-setting Warriors. Furthermore, basketball is much less reliant on luck than baseball, so Cleveland needed to legitimately beat a dominant, otherworldly Golden State squad three straight times–a lucky, fluky win wasn’t possible.

Because of this, the Cavs’ championship comeback was the most unlikely of all until…

1. New England Patriots (0.03%)

The Pats had a huge comeback over the Falcons last night: after going down 28-3, New England roared back to score thirty-one points unanswered. The Falcons had a win probability of over 92% for thirty straight minutes, including a twelve minute streak when it never dipped below 98%.

The situation was bleakest after an incomplete pass from Julian Edelman left the Pats facing a 3rd and 3 from their own 46 with just over six minutes left in the third quarter while down 28-3. ESPN gave the Patriots a 0.03% chance of coming back to win the game at that point.

Even if you want to use the least optimistic Trump prediction, which gave him a 1% chance of winning the election, last night’s Patriots victory was three times as unlikely as Trump’s triumph.

Any way you slice it, this Super Bowl comeback was nearly impossible, and was the most improbable of the last year’s five unlikely moments. Of course, that’s just from a quantitative standpoint, which can’t capture the in-the-moment insanity that accompanies any spectacular event, along with all the other qualitative factors that go into making a memorable moment. Which one do you think was the craziest comeback of all? Let us know in the poll and in the comments!

Sources: FiveThirtyEight for Trump, ESPN for Clemson and New England, and oddsshark.com for Chicago and Cleveland. 

NBA Playoff Predictions

Round 1

Cleveland over Detroit (5 games)

Toronto over Indiana (7)

Charlotte over Miami (6)

Boston over Atlanta (6)

Golden State over Houston (4)

San Antonio over Memphis (4)

Oklahoma City over Dallas (4)

Los Angeles over Portland (5)

Round 2

Cleveland over Boston (7)

Charlotte over Toronto (6)

Golden State over Los Angeles (4)

San Antonio over Oklahoma City (7)

Conference Finals

Cleveland over Charlotte (5)

Golden State over San Antonio (7)

NBA Finals

Golden State over Cleveland (5)

Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

As the NBA heads into the final stretch of its season, playoff seeds are beginning to crystallize. By my count, eleven teams have already essentially clinched a spot in the playoffs, leaving five positions available for the other nineteen teams.

In the Eastern Conference, there are two playoff berths available for four teams and Washington, Indiana, Detroit, and Chicago are set to duke it out over the next month to make it into the postseason.

Which teams on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble will make it in? Which ones won’t? Let’s take a look.

In the East, the seventh and eighth seeds are up for grabs. Currently, the Pacers and Pistons hold those two spots, but the Bulls are tied with the Pistons for the eighth seed. The Wizards are lurking one-and-a-half games behind the Bulls and Pistons after recently pulling out of a tailspin; after making it back to .500, they lost five straight games before a dominant forty-three point blowout against the Pistons earlier this week on national TV and a twenty-one point victory against the Bulls last night.

Washington is the furthest from a playoff spot, but there remains hope in D.C. thanks to a fairly easy schedule to close out the season. Of its fifteen remaining games, only two are near-certain losses (@GSW and @LAC). In addition, the Wizards play three times against the Hawks, although two of those games are at home, and once against the surging Hornets in Washington.

Though Washington is one-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, there still remains a head-to-head opportunity to make up ground on its direct competitors. The Wizards will play in Detroit on April 8th, a game that will be vital to their playoff aspirations.

The Pacers are elevated above the fray, sitting two-and-a-half games above the Bulls and Pistons and four above the Wizards. With a strong finish, Indiana could even push its way into the fifth or sixth seed, and with a creampuff schedule down the stretch, there’s a very real possibility that it could happen.

The Bulls have the easiest schedule of all, but they currently face severe problems with injuries. Jimmy Butler returned only a couple of days ago from a knee injury, Derrick Rose is dealing with a groin injury, and Pau Gasol has an injured knee. If Chicago is down its best three players, it won’t matter how easy their schedule is.

The Pistons begin a nine-game homestand against the Hawks, but their schedule is the most challenging of the teams they’re competing against. Eight of Detroit’s fifteen remaining games come against playoff teams, and that doesn’t include the games against its direct competitors. It plays in Chicago on April 2nd and against Washington at home on April 8th.

The question remains: Which of these teams will make the playoffs?

It seems to be a forgone conclusion that the Bulls will miss the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. They have too many injuries to adequately compete, and if they lose to the Pistons on April 2nd, they won’t have the tiebreaker against either the Pistons or the Wizards. Chicago will compete to the end, and it’s certainly within its capabilities to scratch out just enough victories to make it to the playoffs, but the postseason seems out of reach at the moment.

The Pacers have a stranglehold on a playoff berth. They’re as close to the #4 seed as the Pistons and Bulls are to them. It’s far more likely that Indiana moves up the ladder to nab a higher seed than they collapse and miss out on the playoffs.

The most intrigue comes with the battle for the eighth seed between the Wizards and Pistons.

I’m torn on this prediction, and although it’s safer to bet on the Pistons maintaining their lead, the Wizards have the tiebreaker and the ineffable, possibly nonexistent “mental edge” after the blowout earlier this week. Instead, I think that whoever wins that April 8th game in Detroit will take home the eighth seed. Washington should be the underdog in that game, so I guess my prediction is Detroit, but if it can defy expectations and win that game on its way to the playoffs, I bet there’ll be a big…

(at least until they get blown out by the Cavs in the first round)

The Blockbuster Trade That Needs to Happen

As fans, blockbusters are fun to think about. It’s great to imagine stars flying around willy-nilly, the landscape of the league changing every other minute.

The problem with blockbusters is that they almost never occur. The reason why blockbusters so rarely happen can be easily explained by Newton’s first law: An object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force (thanks 8th grade science!). GMs are unwilling to gamble their jobs on one big move, so rather than taking a chance, they’re content to just sit back and do nothing.

There are a couple of stars rumored to be available: Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. However, it’s unlikely that a team overcomes its inertia to pull off a blockbuster trade for either of them, because Doc Rivers’ asking price for Griffin is sky-high and teams have little interest in trading for Howard, who’s on an expiring contract, is declining, has dealt with nagging injuries, and will expect a max contract in free agency, one that starts at $30 million per season. In addition, the team that has the most assets available in a trade and is looking for a star, the Celtics, “have recoiled at paying a price Houston would find acceptable,” according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.

Speaking of those Celtics, although they won’t be going after Howard, there are still plenty of other options. And that’s the impetus for the blockbuster trade that absolutely needs to happen:

New York trades Carmelo Anthony to Cleveland 

Cleveland trades Kevin Love to Boston

Boston trades David Lee, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier, James Young, unprotected Brooklyn 2016 1st round pick, top-7 protected Dallas 2016 first round pick to New York

I absolutely love this trade. It works for every single team involved.

As we were just saying, the Celtics are in the hunt for a star, and Danny Ainge has long been an admirer of Love’s game. The two make a perfect fit.

Personally, I’m not so high on Love, as to me, he’s just a more famous version of Olynyk, but if Ainge wants him, this is a reasonable price to pay. Even better, unlike Howard, Love is signed long-term; he won’t reach free agency until 2020.

Losing five good young players will hurt, but as we discussed a few days ago, the Celtics might have too many good players (if that’s possible) and are therefore unable to play them all. The same logic in trading three good players for a very good player like Al Horford applies here as well.

This trade would make Anthony happy. Melo said last Friday: “I think everybody always kind of dreams and hopes that they can play with another great player, another star player,” adding “It’s a star players’ league. I think that’s what we all talk about every time we get together.”

We can infer from that quote that Anthony is hoping to play with a star and doesn’t want to wait for Kristaps Porzingis to blossom into one. And what better a way to do it than to join his friend LeBron in Cleveland for a title run?

Every couple of years, we see Melo on Team USA, enjoying himself, just swishing three-pointers whenever someone passes to him. On the Knicks, he can’t be a complimentary player; on the Cavaliers, he can. Even better, if Tyronn Lue decided to stagger his three stars’ minutes, two of LeBron James, Melo, and Kyrie Irving would be out on the floor at the same time. All three of those guys can create shots for themselves and others, meaning that Cleveland’s offense wouldn’t miss a beat when LeBron takes a breather.

Speaking of LeBron, this trade would make him happy too. James has historically wanted to play with his friends, and Melo would make basketball sense for the Cavs as well.

Love is shooting 36.8% from three-point range, while Anthony is shooting 32.7%. However, Anthony is attempting far more challenging shots than Love; 61% of his three point attempts have come on catch-and-shoots, compared to 91% of Love’s. As you can see, unlike Love, Anthony is capable of creating his own shot. And, as more of a complimentary player, Anthony will be playing off the ball more, leading to more catch-and-shoot attempts. That’ll raise his 3FG% much closer to Love’s.

Defensively, Anthony is far superior to Love. A good way to measure defensive prowess is by defensive field goal percentage. Comparing the player’s defensive FG% to the usual FG% of the player being defended allows us to find out how the defender is playing when compared to an average defender. To illustrate this point, holding Stephen Curry to 45% shooting is considered a success, while allowing Lance Stephenson to shoot 45%, well, isn’t.

Anyways, in this regard, Anthony is a big winner. He ranks sixth in the NBA among the players who have played in at least forty games, holding his opponents to a FG% 6.3 percentage points lower than their norm, while Love ranks 229th out of the 250 players, with a mark of +4.3.

As we can see, Anthony is a clear upgrade over Love. Naturally, that leads to the question: Why wouldn’t the Celtics just trade for Melo instead? Well, Anthony has a no-trade clause, and although he’ll likely waive it if he’s sent to Cleveland to play with LeBron, he’s unlikely to allow the Knicks to trade him to Boston. On top of that, Love is 27, four years younger than the 31-year old Melo, which makes him a better fit for the up-and-coming Celtics team.

Now that we’ve established why both the Cavaliers and the Celtics would make this trade, it’s time to figure out why the Knicks would too.

Well, it’s really not that hard to figure out. Anthony is nearly twelve years older than Porzingis, and by the time the latter enters his prime, the former will be way past his. Accordingly, the Knicks would be wise to build around Porzingis and this trade would allow them to do so.

Porzingis is 20, Rozier is 21, Olynyk is 24, and Young is 20. The two 2016 first rounders will be similarly aged. Add in the 23-year old Jerian Grant and the 24-year old Langston Galloway, and that’s the start of a damn good roster.

The Knicks will also have control of all of those players for years to come, allowing them to develop chemistry through continuity.

The last guy New York would acquire is Lee. He’s an unimportant part of this deal, as he’s on an expiring contract and would be included just to make the salaries work.

Again, I’m doubtful that this blockbuster will ever occur, but if ever there were a time for NBA teams to overcome their inertia to actually make a trade, this is definitely the trade with which to do it.

A Critical Review of ESPN’s Virtual Three-Point Line

Just before January 30th’s Cavs-Spurs game, Heather Cox, an ESPN sideline reporter, had an exciting announcement: ESPN would now be using a “new technology”, a virtual three-point line.

Cox later mentioned that the supposedly “new technology” was based off of the 1st and 10 technology in football, a blatant contradiction.

Anyways, Cox explained that the virtual-three point line would light up after every three-point attempt and remain lit up until the next possession if the shot was made.

To further explain this innovative technology, here’s a GIF so you can see it in action:

ESPN Virtual-Three Point Line GIF

This “cool technology” (as Cox put it) is such low-hanging fruit that I almost feel guilty for making fun of it. Almost.

I’ve gotta wonder whose brainchild this one was. Perhaps some random executive’s seven-year old kid pressed a few random buttons during “take-your-child-to-work day”; after all, what other explanation could there be?

Perhaps I’m judging a little hastily. Maybe I’m wrong about this technology. Let’s talk about why it’s useful.

One of the best things about it is that it caters directly to one specific subset of the population: the people who can’t see a player taking a jump shot but who can see a red line lighting up right next to the shooter. That demographic is obviously a huge part of the sports-watching population and ESPN did well to creatively cater to its needs.

Another demographic that this technology helps is the one consisting of people who can’t see the basketball going through the net or hear the announcers telling the audience what just occurred but who somehow are able to see the three-point line up. Yet another wise business decision by ESPN.

For those of us who don’t belong to either of those groups, this technology is still useful. After a three-pointer, the line lights up for a few seconds. In the meantime, many teams try to get fast-break points against opponents who have fallen asleep. They’ll quickly inbound the ball and push up the floor as fast as possible. For much of the time the three-point line is lit up, the viewer can’t see it as action occurs on the other side of the court. I, for one, still think that the technology is useful because, somehow, I find it reassuring to know that the three-point line is lit up, even though I can’t see it.

I know that this technology is based off of the 1st-and-10 technology, but I wonder how ESPN implements it during the game. My best guess: Some poor intern at a computer has to press control-b every time a three-pointer is attempted.

Cox added at the end of her explanation: “I certainly hope you enjoy this new toy as much as we do.” Yeah, Heather, I’m definitely enjoying this “new toy”, but probably not for the reasons you intended.

Notes From Knicks-Jazz

Last night was chock full of basketball, with local channels carrying both the Knicks-Jazz and Nets-Cavs games.

Luckily, I was able to avoid most of the ugly Nets game in favor of the Knicks, but the one significant play I saw was a classic LeBron transition dunk met with cheers from the Barclays Center crowd. The TV only showed the seats close to the court, but those seats were filled with Cavs fans. I guess Nets fans have officially given up on the most boring team in the league. Good for them.

Anyways, let’s talk about the Knicks-Jazz game.  I was very impressed with how Young Kristaps was able to hang with Trey Lyles, a speedy power forward, on defense. That skill a big part of his appeal: He’s big enough to play center but fast enough to cover stretch-4s. That flexibility gives the Knicks multitudinous lineup options.

Rudy Gobert, the French Rejection, the Stifle Tower, is a gangly 7’2″ center for Utah. He’s not much of a driver—Gobert drives only once every two games—but early in the first quarter, he put the ball on the floor and drove for a layup. If Gobert can combine some offensive skill with his fearsome rim protection he could become even more valuable than he already is.

And, for the record, he is already extremely valuable as a rim protector on defense: Opponents have hit only 40.7% of their shots at the rim against him, one of the best marks in the league. Gobert displayed his rim-protecting prowess last night when he absolutely destroyed a Melo dunk attempt

As always, Walt Frazier’s rhyming commentary was entertaining and enjoyable. After Robin Lopez hit his unblockable hook shot, Frazier noted that he was “looking and hooking”. Following YKP’s lovely turnaround shot from the baseline with the shot clock running out, Frazier exclaimed that the Latvian was “shaking and baking”.

The best one of the night, though, was a triple-rhyme: “bounding and astounding and confounding”.

After yesterday’s game, Carmelo Anthony has now played a combined ninety-one minutes over the past two games. For someone who underwent a season-ending knee surgery last season, it seems a tad reckless to be playing so much. The Knicks certainly don’t need another Amar’e Stoudemire clogging up their cap for years. New York would do well to sit Melo for a game of rest sooner or later.

We need to talk about Gordon Hayward, the Jazz’s starting small forward. He’s a very good player, but his lips are bright red. It’s scary. It looks like he rehydrates on the sideline either with Kool-Aid or blood, I’m not sure which. Someone needs to investigate this.

Anyways, the Knicks ended up winning 118-111 in overtime. Including free throws, New York shot a blistering 11/16 in OT, scoring nineteen points over the five minute period.

The Knicks are back to .500 at 22-22 as they head into a challenging stretch of their schedule. They currently stand a half-game out of a playoff spot in the East, and if they can survive the next few games, they’ll be in prime position to make a run at the playoffs after the All-Star Break.

Which Games Should You Watch on Christmas?

On Christmas Day, us fans of the NBA have a serious conundrum. There’s basketball for thirteen hours straight, which is great, but we also have familial obligations and the like. For those of you who can only escape your family for a game or two, here’s a guide to determining which games you should watch and which ones you shouldn’t.

Miami Heat vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Watch if you like: Freakishly long arms, all-lefty lineups, aging stars,  unibrows, imagining what Young Kristaps will be like in three years, having a quick snooze before the good games start.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Chicago Bulls

Watch if you like: Teams still finding their identities, power struggles, Enes Kanter’s bushy eyebrows, discontented players, Steven Adam’s fake-looking mustache, ex-college coaches in their first season in the NBA, Bobby Portis sitting on the bench, Dion Waiters hoisting up awful shots that miss by a mile.

Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Watch if you like: Games with history behind them, unstoppable pick-and-rolls, superduperstars, injured players returning, going small, raucous home crowds, great basketball, ridiculous displays of shooting from Steph Curry, ridiculous displays of athleticism from LeBron James, Iman Shumpert’s hair, JR Smith hoisting up awful shots that somehow go in.

Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs

Watch if you like: Spectacular wing defense, Hack-a-Howard, intra-state rivalries, Spursgasms, foreign players, beards, dazzling sequences of passing, free throws, lefty shooting guards with Eurosteps.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Watch if you like: Kobe Bryant missing shots, thunderous dunks, Chris Paul to DeAndre Jordan alley-oops, young studs against in-their-prime superstars, brutal blowouts, watching the last quarter and a half played by scrubs.