“The Celtics are going to ride their high and take Game 1 from the Cavs,” they said. “The Cavaliers are going to have a lot of rust going into the first game of the series,” they said. They were wrong.
Wednesday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 was an indication of just how wrong “they” were.
After a 10-day layoff that was the longest in team history, the Cavaliers looked like they never had any rust at all. The Cavs jumped out to a 22-point halftime lead, held Isaiah Thomas to just 3 field goals in the first half, and extended the lead to as many as 28 points before running away with a 117-104 victory. The Cavs looked focused and energized. The Celtics, by game’s end, looked exhausted and defeated.
The Cavaliers are running right through the Eastern Conference, and yet many seem unconvinced of their prowess. As of Thursday afternoon, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) indicated that the Cavaliers had only a 5.4% chance to win the NBA title. You read that correctly: A team that hasn’t lost a basketball game since April 12 and has the best player in the world has only 5.4% chance to come out on top.
In respect, the Warriors have arguably been just as good as the Cavaliers, having not lost a game since April 10th in their own right (ask the Spurs and Greg Popovich what they think about that), but it’s not like we’re talking about a 3% or 4% difference here. Despite what the Cavs have accomplished in the past month, it’s hard to rationalize the above percentages. In other news, ESPN BPI picked the Celtics as 60% to 40% favorites to win Game 1, by the way.
One can’t help but raise the question: What in the world is BPI anyway? According to ESPN, BPI is “a forward-looking measure of team quality. It uses advanced statistical analysis to measure each team’s offensive and defensive levels relative to an average team.” In short, BPI takes into account a variety of factors such as offensive rating, defensive rating, the amount of rest a team has, the amount of travel they have before a given game, the pace of the game, and many other factors in order to get a composite score for each team.
Again, it’s hard to imagine that these numbers hold a ton of stock.
Math and number crunching are both great analytical tools and have made the game accessible to a larger variety of fans, but there is one piece of analysis that probably should hold more weight: the eye test.
From the looks of it, both the Cavaliers and Warriors are playing peak basketball. There is a very valid argument to be made that the Cavs and Warriors were essentially on an equal playing field last season, but that the addition of Kevin Durant gives the Warriors a slight advantage.
However, the way the Warriors played in Game 1 against the Spurs was a clear indication of their humanity. The Spurs played a defense that looked a lot like the defense the Cavaliers played against the Warriors in last year’s Finals. The Spurs also were able to slow the game to a pace that limited the Warriors’ opportunities.
Where the Warriors are most dangerous are when teams play into their preferred method of play. If the Warriors are grabbing long rebounds and getting out in transition, they will find a way to get an open three-pointer or a wide-open layup. The good news for Cavs fans is that they are functioning on a high enough level offensively to prevent the Warriors from getting those opportunities. In short, take away the Warriors’ incredible scoring bursts and you afford yourself a chance.
After all this, though, the bottom line is simple: Take these advanced metrics with a grain of salt. If you’re a Cavs fan reading this article, don’t be fooled into thinking that the Cavs have no chance because of the absurdity of advanced metrics.