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LakerTracker 2010: Games 1-3

Posted by Neil Paine on June 9, 2010

If you listened to any of the hype in the days leading up to Game 1 of the Finals, you know that this Lakers-Celtics series was going to be seen as a referendum on two things: how much Kobe Bryant (and the Lakers as a team) have improved since 2008, and which player is better in the Kobe-LeBron debate. Conveniently for the casual fan, the common opponent in all three cases (Lakers-Celts 2008, Celts-Cavs 2010, & Lakers-Celts 2010) is the Boston Celtics, a team that -- superficially, at least -- has changed very little in the past few years, making for an easy and seemingly valid measuring stick.

I won't debate the validity of this assumption any more than to point out that more has changed for the Celtics since 2008 than meets the eye. But say for the purposes of argument that the basic premise is valid, that you can straight-up compare Kobe '08, Kobe '10, and LeBron '10 on the basis of their performance against a common playoff foe... Who looks better after 3 games?

First, let's look at the teams and their Four Factors:

Offense Defense
Year Team Opp Pace ORtg eFG% TOV% OR% FTr DRtg eFG% TOV% OR% FTr
2008 LAL BOS 87.9 105.1 49.1 12.5 22.3 22.7 108.9 47.8 15.6 28.3 30.8
2010 LAL BOS 86.6 110.4 47.3 13.5 28.9 34.1 106.2 46.9 13.8 24.2 29.5

Using the Celtics as a barometer, the Lakers have improved significantly in the first 3 games of the 2010 Finals, vs. the first 3 games of their 2008 series. Boston has actually held the Lakers to a lower eFG% and a higher turnover % than in 2008, but L.A. has been flat-out abusing the C's inside, as evidenced by their huge rebounding & offensive free throw rates. Much of the Lakers' newfound inside advantage can be attributed to the presence of Andrew Bynum, whose 2008 injury may have been (in retrospect) the key to the Celtics' win. The primary Laker frontcourt in 2008 consisted of these players (stats through 3 games):


Player G GS Min ORtg %Pos DRtg DPA Floor% Stop%
Pau Gasol 3 3 121 111.3 17.9 107.8 0.37 0.560 0.522
Lamar Odom 3 3 99 84.1 20.3 107.4 0.19 0.419 0.532
V. Radmanovic 3 3 60 111.9 18.0 103.8 1.25 0.450 0.615
Ronny Turiaf 3 0 40 103.6 9.5 112.4 0.41 0.531 0.416
Luke Walton 3 0 38 53.6 12.8 111.6 -1.25 0.256 0.434

This year's version has been significantly more productive:

Player G GS Min ORtg %Pos DRtg DPA Floor% Stop%
Pau Gasol 3 3 128 133.5 21.0 103.2 2.94 0.665 0.571
Ron Artest 3 3 97 86.8 15.6 106.4 0.76 0.387 0.497
Andrew Bynum 3 3 96 120.5 18.4 105.3 1.91 0.601 0.522
Lamar Odom 3 0 64 109.1 14.9 107.6 0.41 0.519 0.467
Luke Walton 2 0 18 110.6 6.6 108.2 0.62 0.542 0.455

As for Bryant, he's been far better defensively (although he was responsible for checking Rajon Rondo when Rondo had a triple-double in Game 2), but less effective on offense:


Player Year G Min ORtg %Pos DRtg DPA Floor% Stop%
Kobe Bryant 2008 3 128 106.5 35.0 108.4 -1.66 0.514 0.508
Kobe Bryant 2010 3 117 104.3 35.9 101.6 0.22 0.476 0.610
Player Year MPG T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
Kobe Bryant 2008 42.5 1.56 44 35 15 6
Kobe Bryant 2010 39.0 1.65 49 37 9 5
Player Year P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %FGA FTr 3Ptd
Kobe Bryant 2008 25.4 49.2 25.0 77.4 54.5 34.0% 44.9 11.6
Kobe Bryant 2010 24.6 43.6 25.0 95.2 49.9 39.2% 29.6 22.5
Player Year AsR ToR PPR OR% DR% Blk% Stl%
Kobe Bryant 2008 25.3 13.4 -0.78 3.7 9.4 0.6 2.6
Kobe Bryant 2010 30.1 13.2 0.57 3.2 16.4 2.7 3.3

Finally, how about the 2010 Kobe-LeBron comparison after 3 games vs. Boston?


Player G Min ORtg %Pos DRtg DPA Floor% Stop%
LeBron James 3 124 126.8 31.8 102.3 2.40 0.604 0.624
Kobe Bryant 3 117 104.3 35.9 101.6 0.22 0.476 0.610
Player MPG T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
LeBron James 41.2 1.63 53 30 13 4
Kobe Bryant 39.0 1.65 49 37 9 5
Player P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %FGA FTr 3Ptd
LeBron James 28.2 58.3 38.5 74.3 63.5 32.0% 57.4 21.3
Kobe Bryant 24.6 43.6 25.0 95.2 49.9 39.2% 29.6 22.5
Player AsR ToR PPR OR% DR% Blk% Stl%
LeBron James 29.3 10.8 3.24 4.3 17.0 3.7 3.0
Kobe Bryant 30.1 13.2 0.57 3.2 16.4 2.7 3.3

Through 3 games, James thoroughly outplayed Bryant in practically every phase of the game. Although to be fair to Kobe, Game 3 was LeBron's magnum opus, a 38-point (on .636 shooting), 8-rebound, 7-assist masterpiece that proved to be his last truly great effort of the year -- James followed up that performance with 2 mediocre games (by his standards) and a legitimately terrible effort in Game 5. At the time, I noted that the Celtics' defense has shown an ability to adapt and take away the opponent's best player, which they did to James in those games, and to Kobe as well in 2008. But if Bryant can avoid the same fate -- and if his teammates continue to dominate -- Kobe will have an opportunity to gain plenty of ground on LeBron as the series goes on. Stay tuned, because this battle will likely come down to the final game of the season.


54 Responses to “LakerTracker 2010: Games 1-3”

  1. AYC Says:

    Kobe is shooting .394 from the field for the series. He was terrible in the 2nd half last night and finished 10-29 for the game. Yet the Lakers won; maybe Kobe has gotten further than LBJ because he has a better team...?

  2. P Middy Says:

    Ah, but why is his team better? Part of it is Gasol for sure. He's easily the best big man in the game right now. But he wasn't two years ago. Two years ago, he was "soft." Kobe is a ruthless, single-minded, and relentless competitor. Being honed against him has helped the Lakers become who they are just as much, if not more, than the front office. LeBron is the best on-the-floor talent in the league. But he is nowhere near the leader Kobe is. Kobe is the best player, because of everything he does (and doesn't do) when the game is not being played, as well as what he does between whistles.

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    After the series is over (if L.A. wins), it will probably shake out like this: LeBron's awful final 3 games balance out w/ his great 1st 3 games, and he ends up with mediocre overall series numbers. Kobe will continue to play mediocre ball throughout the series, and his numbers will basically be even with LBJ -- both players will be well below their usual levels. The difference will be that the other Lakers played amazingly, and the other Cavs played horribly. And casual fans will credit Kobe for the series win.

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    I think Gasol doesn't look as "soft" because there's another 7-footer in the lineup this time around. Bynum is a difference-maker in this series by sheer size alone -- if he's hurt again, they might not be winning, and Kobe has nothing to do with Bynum's health status.

  5. P Middy Says:

    You're selling him short, Neil. He's developed from even the high level he played two years ago. He's stronger. He's holding position in the low post. He's finishing plays much stronger than he used to. I'm not saying having two 7 footers is not a huge advantage, but I think to say it's the main reason is off the mark.

  6. Neil Paine Says:

    Oh, I definitely think Gasol is a lot better now, but they don't match up as well w/o Bynum, plain and simple. If L.A. doesn't have that extra 7-footer in there, it makes life much easier for Boston's bigs and might mean the difference in the series.

  7. Mike G Says:

    "... casual fans will credit Kobe for the series win."
    What if the Lakers are cruising to the title, and it's Gasol who looks like the Finals MVP?
    Does Kobe then sabotage the team with needing to be the Man?
    He sure did take a lot of bad shots last night.

  8. Neil Paine Says:

    I wonder if an established best player on a team has a sort of "incumbent effect" when it comes to Finals MVPs? In other words, how badly would Kobe have to play -- and how well would Gasol have to play -- for Kobe not to be named Finals MVP? Worthy was Finals MVP on a Magic Johnson team once; Dumars was Finals MVP on an Isiah Thomas team; Tony Parker was Finals MVP on a Duncan team, just to name a few. What kind of handicap does a 2nd banana have when trying to overcome the Alpha Dog for Finals MVP?

  9. AYC Says:

    P Middy, did you actually watch the game last night?! Kobe was AWFUL in the second half. His bad shot-selection and unwillingness to pass the ball is the reason the Celts made up that 12 point lead LA had at half-time. Do you think Lebron wouldn't be capable of shooting .394 from the field in place of Kobe?

    Lebron has never had a teammate as good as Gasol, or a coach as good as Phil. Just remember, your great "leader" missed the playoffs once, and lost in the 1st round twice during the 3 years between Shaq and Gasol.

  10. P Middy Says:

    AYC, I did watch the game. This morning actually, so I dare say it's fresher in my mind than yours. He went 4-6 in the 3rd and 1-5 in the 4th. Bad shooting for sure in the 4th. BUT if you re-read my post, you will see that my praise of Kobe comes on account of his attitude, preparation, and visible commitment and the effect that has had on his teammates, especially Gasol, rather than his numbers.

    Kobe, and most NBA players, are never going to match LeBron's career stats when it's all said and done. Stats don't win rings.

    The question is: Is LeBron willing to be hated? Is he willing to fight, and bully, and demand more from his teammates? Or does he need to be liked by his teammates? It seems to me, Bryant will stop at nothing to win and that attitude rubs off on teammates, at least the ones ready for the challenge.

  11. JT Says:

    Good stuff Neil. Though your agenda is becoming increasingly obvious.

  12. P Middy Says:

    And Kobe is not "my" leader. I'm not an L.A. Laker. I think the guy is a rapist and a scumbag. But when it comes to winning at basketball, he knows more about it than anyone else in the Association. Dude's already got 4 rings. He's got a good chance the 5th one this year. Can he do it by himself? No. He needs good players around him.

    Name 1 NBA championship squad with a single superstar and a bunch of other suck-asses.

  13. Chad Says:

    I'm sorry, but if everybody, including the officials and the CBS commentators, are against the Celtics, they might as well not even show up. Van Gundy is probably one of the most biased commentators I have ever heard, and the officials certainly didn't help the Celtics any throughout the game. Unfortunately for the Celtics, instant replay can only be used at the end of games. Perhaps the league should use it for "ghost" foul calls on the Celtics.

  14. Neil Paine Says:

    I just think it's crazy that now we're crediting Kobe for other players' production because of things he supposedly does off the court. Can Kobe draw attention away from Gasol and give him easier shots? Yes. Can Kobe make great entry passes, or drive the lane and dish off at the perfect moment to set up Gasol for a dunk? Yes. But to assign him credit for Gasol's numbers because he allegedly made him work harder in practice is really pushing it. The same goes for Jordan -- I think Scottie Pippen got really good because Scottie Pippen was extremely talented and he wanted to push himself. Maybe MJ played a part, but at a certain point you're assigning coaching credit to him in addition to playing credit, and where does it end?

  15. zorza Says:

    Hey neil, great article!

    I was wondering, off-topic, if you could in the near future do a post, or if you knew of a post, concerning years in which the NBA had the least or greatest parity...for example, in my mind the most balanced year would be one in which every team had a 41-41 record, and then take it from there?

  16. Neil Paine Says:

    How is my agenda obvious? I want to take a scientific look, by the numbers, at how Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are doing against the same opponent. I will revisit this issue when the series is over and we have a complete outcome in place. And we'll compare the two players again. There's no agenda, just the pure numbers.

  17. Neil Paine Says:

    In terms of parity, 1976 springs to mind:

    The Warriors won 59 games, the Celtics won 54, nobody else won 50. All but 5 teams had between 35 and 49 wins.

  18. Hk Says:

    #12- "Name 1 NBA championship squad with a single superstar and a bunch of other suck-asses."

    How the hell does this statement help Kobe?

    Even the biggest Kobe lovers in the media are giving his team credit for game 3. This was a team win, I'm tired of people only bringing up Kobe's teammates when it helps him.

    #13- Chad, I didn't see any celtic fans complaining about the free throw differential in game 2 of the Finals. The game was pretty evenly called, and you won game 2 anyway. Stop with the excuses.

  19. Hk Says:

    *game 2 of the 2008 Finals.

    Sorry about the typo.

    Also both teans had 24 FTs last night, two were intentional for LA.

  20. JT Says:

    Looking forward to your post after the series has concluded. Also find it curious that you chose to compare James and Bryant after Bryant's worst shooting performance (in weeks) of the Finals.

  21. Hk Says:

    I remember Neil making a post about Kobe's 13 assist game against the Suns.

    Bryant has played a great defense in weeks. I don't mind the comparison now the media jumped all over him before.

  22. Neil Paine Says:

    No conspiracy here: I wrote yesterday's post on Sunday night and had planned to run it Monday morning, and I wanted to do this post before yesterday's game (through Game 2), but Ray Allen's shooting run on Sunday changed those plans.

  23. JT Says:

    Okay. So, just out of curiosity, what did the comparison look like through 2 games?

  24. P Middy Says:

    HK, my comment (#12) was a direct response to AYC's statement that Kobe didn't win any rings without Gasol and Shaq. My argument is that no one has won rings by themselves without at least 1 other great player.

    It's not designed to "help" Kobe Bryant. I don't even understand what you mean by that.

  25. AYC Says:

    Middy, Kobe was 4-10 in the 3rd quarter, not 4-6. He started the quarter 1-5:

    Second, Kobe's intangibles didn't do jack in those 3 years between Shaq and Gasol; the arrival of Gasol immediately resulted in 3 straight finals appearances. Replace Kobe with Lebron and those Gasol teams still make the finals.

  26. Neil Paine Says:

    I don't have time to run the advanced stats, but here are the basic unadjusted per-minute numbers thru 2 games:

    Player MPG PT/36 TS% AS/36 RB/36 TO/36 ST/36 BK/36
    Bryant 36.5 25.1 53.4 5.9 5.9 4.4 2.5 0.5
    James 42.2 25.2 58.5 4.7 6.0 3.0 2.6 1.7
  27. P Middy Says:

    AYC, my bad on the stats. I was misreading the shot chart for the 3rd quarter. (4 hits and 6 misses = 10 shots).

    The fact is though, while we can conjecture on what would happen if we swap LeBron and Kobe, there's no quantifiable way to prove one result or another.

    The bottom line is right now, The L.A. Lakers have been lead to 3 NBA Finals in a row by Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Phil Jackson. That's what actually has happened, and that's what actually makes Bryant (playing with 9 fingers the past two years, mind you) a better winner than LeBron. It's just the facts.

    I think LeBron is more talented. I think he has a higher ceiling. I like him more than Kobe. And I was rooting for him in the playoffs (and subsequently made me root against Boston the rest of the way). But until he's got that ring, Kobe's got 1 up on him. Or 4, depending on him much of a stickler you are.

  28. AYC Says:

    Here are Kobe 's fg% numbers in each of his finals appearences:

    '00- .367

    '01- .415

    '02- .514

    '04- .381

    '08- .405

    '09- .430

    '10- .394 (so far)

  29. Neil Paine Says:

    The Devil's Advocate in me would say the counter-argument is that judging individual players by team accomplishments like rings makes no sense. At a literal level, Kobe isn't a "winner", LeBron isn't a "winner", Michael Jordan wasn't a "winner"... The only entity that can win a game is a team. Players can only contribute to wins. So all you've really said is that the 1991-1998 Bulls won more championships than the 2000-2010 Lakers, who won more championships than the 2004-2010 Cavaliers.

  30. AYC Says:

    If Kobe gets two more rings he will be tied with Scottie Pippen... 4 more to catch Havlicek....

  31. Hk Says:


    No you're going to lose this debate, because if you use teammates Kobe loses. If you use stats Kobe loses. If you use leadership abilities, I'll point to all the Kobe chokes throughout his career. There's nothing Kobe has on LeBron, career wise. He doesn't even play better in the post-season

    Your lack of logic is amazing.You used the perfect pro-LeBron argument, you just haven't grasped it yet.

    Kobe sucked in Game 2, and he sucked in Game 3. Pro-Kobe people know it, now you need to absorb this knowledge as well Gasol is still an all-star without Kobe, and had 12 win shares.

    Kobe is not a "leader" by your own definitions. He wasn't a leader when he choked in Game 6 against the Celtics at age 29, but now at age 30-31 he understands the game like a leader? He must have been a completely moron before.

    LeBron will also win multiple rings, he's 25 years old. Jump off your dead bandwagon.

    Call it like it is, the Celtics are not the Suns. Everyone crying about LeBron was off.

  32. Hk Says:

    *complete Woops. ;)

  33. Walter Says:

    Neil, I would be interested in seeing Kobe's numbers through 3 games vs Lebron's numbers for the whole series. Basically a way of saying, "If Kobe continues on this current statistical path, he will finish with numbers that are better/worse than Lebron vs the same Celtics team."

  34. Neil Paine Says:

    Again, I don't have time to run the full advanced stats right now, but here are the basic per-minute numbers:

    Player MPG PT/36 TS% AS/36 RB/36 TO/36 ST/36 BK/36
    Bryant 39.0 24.6 49.9 4.9 5.9 3.1 2.2 1.2
    James 42.5 22.8 55.6 6.1 7.9 3.8 1.8 1.1
  35. Jason J Says:

    Wow! Lot going on here today.

    1) How about that Celtics defense taking it to the four best player in the league in consecutive series? Pretty f'n impressive (though LeBron's elbow injury may account more for his problems).

    2) Neil, I disagree regarding a player's impact on his team. I think a great practice player who forces his teammates to live up to his standards and makes the practice pressure the equal of game pressure is a major edge. Is it quantifiable? No. Should we consider where their teammates credit it for making the team better? I think so.

    3) Pippen was 5' 10" and 450 lbs before he started training with Michael Jordan. Everyone knows that. Jordan instilled height, athleticism, and the hightop fade into Pippen by screaming at him in training camp.

    4) Walton, Hakeem, and Barry all managed to win titles without another elite player on their teams, but they did so against single star squads for the most part as well. In a strong season, Middy is definitely right that it takes two (and Neil's champion usage stats backed that up).

    5) Having a low FG% in the finals isn't a sure-fire sign that you're having a terrible series. Jordan shot pretty lousy in the 1996-98 finals, but having the ability to get a lot of shots off and draw a lot of fouls when you play tough defenses that limit possessions can be the difference. Hitting a few game winners doesn't hurt either. Kobe brings those things to the table.

    6) The only way Gasol will win the Finals MVP is if he outscores Bryant for the series. That's how it usually goes with the voters when a lesser teammate takes it over an alpha dog.

    7) Kobe winning with better teammates and LeBron not winning with worse teammates proves nothing either way.

  36. Hk Says:

    If I've calculated correctly, through 33 Finals games Kobe has a game score of about 15.27 a game.

    According to this crucial game blog, Kobe usually has 17. Now I consider him to be underrated by some people I know in Miami (keep in mind I'm a Lakers fan over here), but that doesn't seem amazing or anything. Shooting 4% below your playoff average will hurt a little. He still has a great resume but ultimately what matters is how you perform as an individual, not hogging all the credit for wins.

  37. AYC Says:

    Jordan played his best ball during the first 3-peat, not the second.

    '91- .558
    '92- .526
    '93- .508

    '96- .415
    '97- .456
    '98- .427

    Keep in mind also that MJ was the primary scorer on all his teams, while Kobe was the second option on his first 4 finals teams

  38. Jason J Says:

    AYC - I'm not saying that there's a snowball's argument in hell that Kobe has had a better finals career than Jordan. I just wanted to point out that in the second threepeat, Michael, who definitely was the best player on the floor in two of those series (Kemp might have an argument in 1996) also shot for crap, and there are other ways a volume scorer can impact a game.

    If you look, I'm pretty sure Pippen shot even worse than Jordan, and Rodman only really played great in one of those series if I remember. Part of the problem of course was that while Chicago was rolling, MJ and Scottie were sitting, and when the going got tough, they played every minute, so there aren't a lot of stat-pad minutes in there to help w/ the old FG%.

  39. storyofgreats Says:

    Kobe is the man!
    Lakers in 6,Mamba for 40-8-8 in game 4.

  40. Walter Says:

    I think another interesting point that I haven't heard raised much is that while the Lakers run the triangle so that everyone is involved (unlike the Cavs who use Lebron for every play), Kobe is still the primary distributor and sets up plays for teammates more than any other player. During the Bulls run it was Pippen who typically had more assists than Jordan (though both were close, mid 20% on AST%). But on the Lakers it isn't close at all. Of the players who play significant minutes (at least 400 in the playoffs this year) Kobe leads the way with an assist percentage of 28.0% and the next closest is Gasol at 14.1% (roughly half). Sometimes I wonder if Kobe would shoot a higher percentage if he had a teammate who could help create easier opportunities for him(like Pippen did).

  41. Jason J Says:

    Maybe Walter. I think that Jordan's highest TS% came when he played point guard for Doug Collins in 1989 though. And by and large it's not like the defense was swarming to double Pippen and leave Jordan open for easy attempts. If anything Kobe may benefit more from Shaq and then Gasol as far as that goes.

    Where Scottie definitely benefited Jordan was in transition though. Pippen was a very good open-floor playmaker, and when the younger dynasty would press the two of them got on the break a lot. Kobe has not had a fastbreak oriented starting PG since Brian Shaw.

  42. UB Says:

    @41 - What, you don't consider Smush Parker a fastbreak-oriented starter? :P

    @Neil (14) - Not to go all 'meta' here, but I do think there can be a PERCEPTION that one player inspires others to greatness. Allow me to quote Bill Simmons, an avowed fan of the Celtics, who has admitted more than once his severe dislike for both the Lakers and Bryant in particular. From one of his mailbags during the '09 season (

    "Q: Should Kobe win the MVP for spending the summer turning Lebron into the best player in the NBA?
    -- Michael, Inglewood, Calif.

    SG: Definitely add it to his résumé. The biggest moment of the 2008-09 season happened three months before the season: The time LeBron overheard Kobe saying something to the effect of, "I can't, I'm working out tomorrow at 6 a.m.," followed by LeBron going, "Hmmmmmm ... if he's working that hard all the time, maybe I should start working that hard?" And the rest was history... [S]tarting with the 2008 Olympics, as soon as it became patently clear they were the three best basketball players alive in some order, it's been ON ever since... Kobe's work ethic last summer, by all accounts, pushed his peers to a higher place. And since it has created the best 1-2-3 MVP race in 16 years -- since the remarkable Jordan-Barkley-Hakeem season in 1993 -- I say that, yes, he should get credit for this."

    Not that I'm saying it's definitely true. But it's certainly out of character for Simmons to admit to this kind of idea, given that he certainly -seems- to look for any angle he can that makes Kobe looks worse. Instead, he goes out of his way to ascribe success for LeBron and Wade (two of his favorite players) to Bryant (one of his least-favorite), which makes me think he has some sort of significant first- or second-hand evidence driving that belief.

    Also, I agree that Gasol is a brilliant (BRILLIANT!) basketball player. But let's not sell the Gasol-less Lakers short, please. LA's won-loss record without Gasol, but with a healthy Bynum, was 25-11 (69.4%). LA's won-loss record for that season as a whole was 57-25 (69.5%). Not to say they definitely could have sustained that for the whole season, but that data point has seemingly faded into the background as the party line has shifted to "Bryant is only winning due to the acquisition of Gasol" - that may or may not be the case (sadly we'll never know) but there's at least some level of argument against that belief.

  43. themojojedi Says:

    As Neil wrote, this will come down to the season's final game(s). While a comparison through 3 games is useful, the way this series will be remembered historically for both Kobe individually and the Lakers is in the way it ends. For better or for worse, that seems to be the pattern.

    Even in the short term, LeBron's series against 2010 Celtics isn't remembered for his great Game 1 and superhuman Game 3, but rather for the LeBacle in Game 5 and also the 38% shooting/9 turnovers that went along with his elimination game triple double.

    LeBron's 2008 Celtics series isn't remembered for his first 3 game averages of 18ppg on 22.42% shooting with 6.33 turnover's per game as his team went down 1-2. It is remembered for his 45 points in the game 7 duel against Paul Pierce.

    Wade's 2006 Finals isn't remembered for his 25.5ppg on 38.6% shooting with 4.5 TO per game as his team went down 0-2. It is remembered for 39.25ppg on 50.5% shooting as he lead them to wins in the final 4 games.

    The 1980 Finals isn't remembered for Kareem's 33.4ppg, 13.6rpg, 3.2apg, 4.6bpg on 54.9% shooting in a clear Finals MVP caliber performance through 5 games. It is remembered for Magic's 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists in Game 6 to snatch the Finals MVP away from an injured Abdul-Jabbar.

    Worthy's 1988 Finals MVP performance isn't remembered for his first 5 games averaging 18ppg,5.4rpg and 3.4apg on 42.11% shooting. It is remembered for his Big Games James performances of 28p,9r,4a in Game 6 and 36p,16r,10a in Game 7 on a combined 61.37% shooting.

    Then again there are series remembered not even for their final game, but by their final moment. Ask an NBA fan whether they remember any of MJ's 20 missed field goals in Game 6 of 1998. I guarantee they'll remember his last made field goal.

  44. Hk Says:

    People will remember the entire series. A game 7 will get extra attention but when they bring up your Finals MVP all your numbers will show up next to it.

    UB- Simmons is terrible with statistics, and his fair weather attitude towards his own team has been well documented in other places.

    He's just a funny guy with one liners, who shoots off randomly with his mouth and has his favorites.

  45. themojojedi Says:

    Hk, sure we can always look at the series averages for a summary but in my opinion the average performance is not necessarily representative of the way the series unfolded, who carried the team through rough periods, the timing of key (both positive and negative) contributions that were made which influenced the outcomes of games and series etc. It is why I'm a big proponent of looking at distributions in addition to measures of central tendency.

    I also think that its the reason Neil has taken the time to devote a number of posts to defining "crucial" games, evaluating player performance in crucial games and determining from a probability based standpoint the influence winning each game has on winning the series. If one believes that every recorded statistical contribution a player makes is equally valuable regardless of game, score and clock there would be no motivation to define any game or contribution to a game as more or less "crucial" than another.

    Also, I'm not referring only to evaluating and summarising a Finals performance numerically, but also understanding the way that it is both recalled and perceived. John Starks '94 Finals performance, particularly in Game 7, was brought up a few weeks back in a post on crucial games:

    Here is his game log for the year:

    Sticking to traditional statistics for the moment, do John Starks' series averages of 17.7ppg,5.9apg,3.1rpg on 36.8% shooting provide a good summary of his overall Finals performance? In Games 2 through 6, in which NY went 3-2, Starks averaged 21ppg, 7.2apg, 3.6rpg on 48.6% shooting. These are outstanding contributions considering the Knicks averaged only 89.2ppg during those games on 42.4% FG shooting. I would still suppose that most remembered moment is Starks' 3 being blocked by Olajuwon at the end of Game 6.

    In Games 1 and 7, both very winnable games, Starks shot 3-18 and 2-18 respectively and Game 7 burnt a lasting image in viewer's minds. In these two games he averaged 9.5ppg, 2.5apg, 2rpg on 13.9% shooting. Wow. Did this dude just did this? Flat out terrible. The advanced measures such as ORtg, TS%, eFG%, AST% and Game Score all paint the same picture.

    Moreso than Starks' series averages or his great stretch of basketball in Games 2-6, it was his 3 pointer getting blocked in Game 6 and his horrid Game 7 performance that came to define his main contribution to the series as people reflect on it today. Is that entirely fair? No, but in close 6-7 game series the crucial game moments and performances often seem to carry added weight. Also, don't we get a better picture of Starks series performance by breaking it down distributionally (though I've presented it here with some aggregation and averaging used) rather than just his overall series averages?

  46. themojojedi Says:

    Neil, to continue this discussion on early series player performance vs late series performance and your post on which games are the most important in a 7 game series, I think it would be interesting to see which 1 or 2 games retrospectively turned out to be the most important in each Finals series, and then whether player performance (by some measure such as GameScore or WS) in those games matched up with the eventual Finals MVP winner.

    The reason this came to mind is that, based on observation, I thought that Ray Allen had a legitimate case for Finals MVP in 2008. If I've understood your Game Importance post correctly the most important games in that series turned out to be Game 6 (Home up 3-2) and Game 4 (Away up 2-1). In terms of GameScore, Allen put up 25.8 and 20.5 in these games while Pierce put up 16.6 and 15.1.

    As you mentioned in the original post it would also be great to see the importance-weighted Finals performance (with the game importance probabilities as the basis of a weighting scheme) to compare to Finals MVP. A low weight would be assigned to the least important game in that series, which turned out to be Game 5 (Away up 3-1), in which Allen had his worst GameScore of the series at 6.8 and Pierce had by far his best at 27.2. This would be negated to some extent by Game 3, the second least important, featuring Pierce's clear worst (-3.1) up against a good Allen game (21.9).

  47. Hk Says:

    "Sticking to traditional statistics for the moment, do John Starks' series averages of 17.7ppg,5.9apg,3.1rpg on 36.8% shooting provide a good summary of his overall Finals performance? "

    I'm not sure what the Starks example proved. He did have a terrible series, it doesn't seem like a huge surprise that he failed in some games to that degree.

    "who carried the team through rough periods, the timing of key (both positive and negative) contributions that were made which influenced the outcomes of games and series etc. It is why I'm a big proponent of looking at distributions in addition to measures of central tendency. "

    Nothing Neil has gone over has shed more light on over and under playoff performers. Ray Allen had a case for Finals MVP in 2008, because he had some decent numbers ( Game Score).

    I just did a quick calculation of LeBron's game score against the #1 defense in the NBA, playoffs games 5-7 the past 3 seasons. Guess what I got? 22.12 (clink the link for his average crucial game score). This topic has been addressed already, and it is just a vague theory as it is that games 1-4 don't matter to an individual's legacy. Most important games in a 7 game series are team stats, dependent on teammates. You can't even get to that position without performing in games 1-4. There's an intrinsic flaw in your ideas, imo.

    Neil has sufficiently eliminated a lot of myths about the league. I'm a proponent of large sample sizes, or at least a series breakdown. "The advanced measures such as ORtg, TS%, eFG%, AST% and Game Score all paint the same picture." They already have painted a clear picture in recent blog posts here. Nor should we let players take Games 1-3 off. It is just a hypothesis that we should believe in "crucial" playoff games as it is.

    "Also, don't we get a better picture of Starks series performance by breaking it down distributionally (though I've presented it here with some aggregation and averaging used) rather than just his overall series averages?"

    You're also ignoring just the random variability of performance. On average in crucial game situations, the same over-performers in the playoffs will usually show up. I think this is mostly a waste of your time but I'll still address this anyway. You forgot about players that under perform against bad defenses as well. Playing terrible against a porous Phoenix Suns defense in 2007 should also go against your resume.

  48. Hk Says:

    *22.49 I meant.

    Thanks for the series of analysis in the playoffs though, Neil.

  49. UB Says:

    HK - He's been fair-weather towards his own team, sure, but he's never been unwilling to pile on those he DISLIKES, as far as I can tell. Don't get me wrong - I don't really particularly like him. But he's a perfect example of the prevailing wisdom about basketball, with better connections within the league than you or I, certainly. There was no argument regarding statistics in that quote. He was literally ascribing LeBron's improved defensive effort and work ethic in the 2009 season to Kobe Bryant, a player he absolutely despises. I'm not saying that's true. I'm saying that, in this case, Simmons is going *out of his way* to award the attainment of positive traits of a player he loves to a player he hates, and he made that argument based on what he claims is inside information.

    True? Who knows.

    But my point was simply that, to back-up the mere possibility that playing with Bryant has improved Gasol... To quote, "there can be a PERCEPTION that one player inspires others to greatness."

  50. themojojedi Says:

    Hk, none of the points I made here relate to player under/over performance or play versus strength of defense. Neil provided an analysis of the first three games of the series and I tried to point out some examples (using LeBron as one because that's who he used) to illustrate that in a 6-7 games series the performance from the first 3 games is often not the lasting memory of the series.

    The points I was trying to make with the Starks example were:
    1.When remembering (or rewarding) a player's performance in a 6-7 game series people tend to attach, whether rightly or wrongly, greater significance to the last few games and often the end of those games also. Starks 1994 Finals is a clear example of both.
    2.The average statistics for a series in isolation do not always give a good overview of how the player contributed to each game. Starks 1994 Finals is an extreme example of this. Do you really think that Starks had a terrible series? He had a bimodal series for sure, with 5 positive contribution games in the good-very good category and 2 negative contribution games in the historically bad category. But his 27 points on 9-18 game 6 only affects the outcome of one game and his 2-18 game 7 only affects the outcome of one game. I'm sure he'd love to average that performance over two games and win the series in game 7. Averages alone don't tell the story of a series.

    Regarding crucial/important games, I think its an interesting idea but you'll see from my contribution in the previous thread that I'm not committed to the truth of the concept and am trying to stir up some different ways to think about equal versus unequal importance of playoff games.

  51. Hk Says:

    I don't care what people remember, I'll happily refresh their memories with the facts. I feel comfortable with reality and will simply regurgitate it when necessary. I've seen Neil clearly address the gist of your ideas, the rest is not really necessary but could be interesting. For fun I suppose.

    2. I see three clearly poor games by Game score, another average one I guess. Again with that kind of sample size I'm not sure you should be making any definitive conclusions. By having a super poor performance he just ensured a loss, by the way. The kind of loss Boston had recently by having a player shoot 0-13, where going 5-13 would have been different. If over a span of various Finals/playoff series this trend shows up, maybe you would have more to stand on. Giving credit for a team stat is something I'm still dubious about.

    UB- In spite of his dislike for LA, he's the type of writer that reads too much into short term performance and intangibles. This is a nuance I just wanted to note.

  52. koberulz Says:

    If I remember correctly, Dwyane, Melo and LeBron, or one or two of them, or something (it was a while ago) explicitly mentioned that Kobe's work ethic had inspired them to work harder and become better players. FWIW.

  53. Walter Says:

    Neil, is it possible to get this blog updated with numbers through 5 games now? Thanks.

  54. Neil Paine Says:

    I can do that tomorrow. Today's post is about Kobe, but not this specific topic.