Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

To Watch Or Not To Watch?

Why should I watch the rest of this series? So far it’s obvious that the Pistons are overmatched. Can this series be salvaged, or are we doomed to another 2 hours of boredom? Right now, it looks as if Detroit will get swept, but what does history tell us? So, I went back and looked over the first two games of every Finals since 1980. There have been only 4 series to go the minimum amount of games, and the average point difference of those games isn’t really telling.

Year    Avg Loss
02 14
95 6.5
89 7.5
83 8

The 2002 Lakers demolished the Nets in the first two games, but New Jersey made the scores more respectable in the last two games, only losing by an average of 4.5 points. The other three teams who have applied the broom to their opponents did so without dominating the scoreboard. The 1995 Rockets won the first two games by an average margin of 6.5, and the last two by 7 points. In what might be the closest sweep in history Shaq & Penny’s Magic lost two games by 3 points or less. The ’89 Pistons & the ’83 Sixers didn’t win any of their final two games by double digits. While this is an interesting history of sweeps, it doesn’t tell us anything about the Pistons odds of taking a single game in the series. Let’s take a look at the worst performances to start off a playoff series in the last 25 years.

Year    Net     Result
05 18 ?
86 17 4-2
87 16 4-2
02 14 4-0
99 12.5 4-1
00 12 4-2
96 10.5 4-2
*91 9.5 4-1
83 8 4-0

* The 1991 Bulls actually lost the first game, but won the second by 21, and then the next 3.

Two things stick out right away. Excluding the current series, four of the top six went a respectable six games. The outliers are the aforementioned 2002 Nets and the 1999 strike-shortened-almost-ruined-my-honeymoon-Knicks. That year Van Gundy, fearful of the Spurs twin towers, started Chris “Ivy League” Dudley in the first two games. Although Camby was penned in as the starter in game 3, he played pitifully, and it took a stellar performance from Allan Houston for the Knicks to avoid being swept.

The second is that this year’s Pistons are at the top of the list. In other words, we’ve just watched the most lopsided first two games in the last 25 years. This doesn’t bode well for the Pistons winning the series, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t win a couple of games. Routed in the first two games, the ’86 Rockets managed to win game 3 against the Celtics, and the next year Boston would manage to do the same against the Lakers. Even if the Pistons lose game 3, it doesn’t mean the series is over. The 1996 Sonics lost the first two by a combined 21 points, and then dropped game 3 by 22. Facing the embarrassment of a sweep, Seattle roared back in games 4 & 5 outscoring the Bulls by an average of 16 points.

Prior to this series, I had little hope for the Pistons. Not only did the APBRmetric board pre-Finals poll select the Spurs in a landslide (20-0 by my last count), but now the Pistons have dropped the first two games in an ignominious fashion. For all those looking for a reason to watch game 3, I think the above data is enough to trigger the optimist in each of us in the hopes that this is more likely to be a competitive series than a rout.