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Monday, April 15, 2019

All Four Favorites Win in Day Two of the NBA Playoffs

The first day of the 2019 NBA playoffs featured three upsets but day two went strictly according to form. Here are brief recaps of the NBA's second quadrupleheader this weekend:

Boston 84, Indiana 74

Neither team shot well during a game that was either a throwback or--from the NBA's perspective of featuring offense at all costs--a setback. Kyrie Irving posted game-highs in points (20, tied with his teammate Marcus Morris) and assists (seven). As expected, the Pacers play hard and they play tough defense; as also expected, without the injured Victor Oladipo they struggle to score at times and they just do not have enough offensive firepower to take out the Celtics.

Portland 104, Oklahoma City 99

Portland looked injured and vulnerable coming into this series but after the opening tip the Trail Blazers quickly shot down those notions. Damian Lillard dominated with a game-high 30 points--including several three pointers from well behind the arc--and he added four assists and four rebounds. Former Thunder center Enes Kanter more than filled in for the injured Jusuf Nurkic, scoring 20 points and grabbing a game-high 18 rebounds. Critics are too quick to focus on Kanter's defense and they do not give him enough credit for the dual impact he has as a scorer and as a rebounder. He posted a game-high +15 plus/minus number and he was the difference in the game; Lillard's performance was expected, and was balanced out by Russell Westbrook's triple double (24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists while shooting 8-17 from the field and 8-8 from the free throw line), but Kanter's paint presence tilted the outcome in Portland's favor. C.J. McCollum also played well, finishing with 24 points.

This was Westbrook's ninth career playoff triple double, tying him for sixth place on the all-time list with Wilt Chamberlain. The Thunder dropped to 5-4 in Westbrook's triple double playoff games but during the telecast Mike Breen noted that the Thunder have a 110-28 record during Westbrook's regular season triple doubles. That is equivalent to a 65-17 record during an 82 game season and this highlights that Westbrook is most assuredly not chasing or putting up empty numbers but he is asserting statistical dominance in a way that directly causes, and correlates with, team success.

Paul George, who is laboring with injuries to both of his shoulders, shot like he had the weight of the world on those fragile joints: 8-24 from the field, including 4-15 from three point range. George finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds but he must shoot more efficiently for the Thunder to have a chance.

The good news for the Thunder is that this game was there for the taking in the final moments despite some of the worst outside shooting ever seen in the NBA playoffs (5-33 from three point range, a .152 percentage). The bad news is that the Thunder are an erratic three point shooting team, so if they do not improve quickly in that area and/or find a way to win the possession battle (boxing out Kanter more effectively would be a good start) then they will lose this series.

Milwaukee 121, Detroit 86

This was a classic beatdown and, short of Blake Griffin returning to health (and dominance) very quickly, there is nothing that Detroit can do to narrow the huge talent gap between these squads. Giannis Antetokounmpo posted game-highs in points (24) and rebounds (17) while also dishing four assists. All five Milwaukee starters plus two Milwaukee reserves scored in double figures.

Houston 122, Utah 90

Utah either had one of the worst defensive game plans ever seen in the NBA playoffs, or their players executed very poorly and did not follow the game plan. Either way, the "strategy" (and I use that word very loosely here) of escorting James Harden to the right side of the lane to shoot layups or make lob passes for dunks/kick out passes for open three pointers is ridiculous. As Kenny Smith put it, this is a third grade game plan for facing a kid who cannot use his off hand, not a game plan to be used against the reigning MVP. Harden should probably be shaded to the right, but he still must be guarded and his shots must be contested. Although Harden did not post great numbers by his standard this season (29 points on 11-26 field goal shooting, 10 assists, eight rebounds), Houston matched Milwaukee as all five starters plus two reserves scored in double figures.

One should hesitate to use the "s" word to describe professional athletes but I will go there with this game: Utah looked soft. The Jazz were soft with the ball (fumbling away passes, letting the ball be stripped way too easily), they let the Rockets push them around physically and they did not look mentally focused or prepared.

The difference between Utah and Detroit is that the Jazz have the necessary components to compete with, and beat, Houston. Detroit may not get beat down quite so badly in game two, but the Pistons will almost certainly be swept. On the other hand, if the Jazz enter game two with the right frame of mind and a coherent, logical defensive game plan then they could very well beat the Rockets to seize homecourt advantage. It would not be the first time that a team lost game one badly on the road only to quickly bounce back.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:51 AM



At Monday, April 15, 2019 8:39:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I only saw the Portland game but if I'm OKC I'm pretty damn worried because aside from Paul George's shooting woes (and hey, he still had more points than shots, whatever that's worth) that's exactly the game script I need to beat these guys: low scoring game, Lillard and McCollum both held well below 50%, Westbrook didn't shoot them out of it, Adams scored like a viable third banana.... that's the kind of game you need to win if you're OKC, I think.

Also worth noting (not mentioned in the recap) that Lillard started out on fire, nuking RWB basically every possession, until OKC switched George onto him, which really slowed him down. Interesting to see if they open with George on him in the second game and what it means for his offensive energy level if they do.

Pleasantly surprised by Kanter's defensive effort level and efficacy. Is it possible his career of crap defense was at least partially a coaching or culture issue?

At Wednesday, April 17, 2019 11:35:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Interesting historical note (though I still expect OKC to ultimately rally and win the series):

If Portland wins, Russell Westbrook will be the first MVP in history to have his MVP award come during a four year stretch without a second round playoff appearance.

At Wednesday, April 17, 2019 4:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, you mean 3-year stretch? But, point taken. If Harden lost in the 1st round the past 2 years and looking likely to do it a 3rd straight time this year like RW is, I don't think he'd be talked about anywhere near as favorly as David is talking about RW right now.

George will likely make 1st team all-nba this season. And if you think RW deserves a 1st team selection as well, OKC is likely the worst team in nba history to have 2 1st team all-nba players. 49 wins doesn't cut it for me. But, there's still time. OKC is on the weak half of the WC bracket. DEN/SA both don't look too tough and nowhere near true contenders. OKC has it made to the WCF. By that point, GS will have played 10-14 games, and maybe KD or Curry get hurt, and the doors open up a bit.

Hard to win 4 out of 5 now for OKC, but I don't consider POR that good of a team, so definitely doable. If RW was truly a legit MVP candidate this year, OKC should be winning fairly easily. Instead, Lillard is destroying RW H2H, and RW is playing like maybe the 4th best player in the series so far through 2 games.

Lillard is +38 to RW's -27 for the series. RW has to at least win his position.

At Wednesday, April 17, 2019 5:52:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

It's already a three year stretch. He won the MVP in the second year of it. But he's not alone there, I don't think. Pretty sure McAdoo got his MVP in his third season and didn't win a playoff series till his fourth. I have a nagging feeling there's another one that's also three years, but I could be wrong there and can't place it off the top of my head.

At Wednesday, April 17, 2019 11:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OKC made the 2016 WCF; therefore, if POR beats OKC, it'll only be 3 years since then.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 12:15:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

You're absolutely right, my brain is broken. For some reason I thought there was a season where they missed the playoffs after KD left but before the Oladipo year, but I think I was thinking of 2015 (when KD missed most of the season).

Nevermind, I'm just flat-out wrong on this one. If they lose to Portland he'll join McAdoo and maybe someone else as having a three-year run with no playoff series wins, but he certainly won't stand alone.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

After some cursory and not-at-all definitive checking, I think he *may* be the first to have a three-year run with no playoff wins after winning the MVP, however. McAdoo made the second round the year after his, as did Unseld, while Robertson did so the year he got his MVP.

I briefly thought he may already be the first to go two years, but at the very least he has Dirk and Wilt (first MVP) for company there.

Kinda less interesting than the other version, I think, but still unique.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 4:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


This is not surprising. In recent seasons, the Thunder have an elite winning percentage in Westbrook’s triple double games and a Lottery level winning percentage in the rest of their games. In other words, the Thunder’s success is connected to Westbrook performing like prime Oscar Robertson—not just triple doubles, but triple doubles with 25 or 30 points. If he does that the rest of the way then the Thunder could come back and win this series.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 8:44:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


In games he plays, that is true.

In games he doesn't play over those three years, they are 7-5; basically the same 48-win rate they've been hovering around over all.

That is a small but not insignificant sample size that suggests that when RWB is playing, and using 30% of the team's possessions, he needs to play transcendently for them to do particularly well. This makes sense. It also suggests that when he is not playing OKC (at least the Paul George iteration) is an average-ish team. This also makes sense, given what we have seen from previous Paul George teams.

I do not buy the implication that OKC its a think or weak overall team that is elevated only by RWB going full Oscar; Paul George is a an All-NBA 2nd team level player and Steven Adams is a top 10 center.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 8:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


OKC’s five wins this season without Westbrook include early season horrible Houston, Cleveland, Phoenix (twice) and New York. That sample does not reveal much about OKC sans Westbrook.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 9:01:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


I do not have the time or the inclination to go over his box scores for the last three years but my suspicion is that a significant percentage of RWB's triple doubles, particularly his wins, have come against bad teams as well. That is generally how wins work; you get more of them against crappy opponents. They all ultimately count the same, though.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 9:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My point is that the sample size you cited is small and thus not particularly relevant. I don’t have the numbers in front of me but I suspect you are mistaken about the relative distribution of Westbrook’s triple doubles.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 9:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Quick look shows that this season Westbrook had triple doubles in wins versus Mil, GS, Tor, Por and Houston after the Rockets had bounced back from their slow start. There are fewer good teams than bad ones so of course more triple doubles may have come against bad teams but Westbrook has repeatedly delivered against top competition.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I may dig a little deeper pending how much of a pain the information is, but at the ten thousand foot level:

There were 8 50 win teams in the NBA this season. RWB averaged a triple double against two of them (Milwaukee and Houston). He averaged a triple double against 11 of the other 21 teams.

What I am more interested in, though, is his win-rate against good teams when he has a triple double. Will report back if I can easily dig that up.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 11:12:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

"Westbrook has repeatedly delivered against top competition."

Oklahoma w/ RWB is 4-6 against the top four teams in the league this season. Of note, Kyle Lowry did not play in their win against Toronto (or their loss, to be fair), Steph Curry didn't play in their win against Golden State, and Giannis, Bledsoe, and Brogdon did not play in one of their two wins against Milwaukee.

Oklahoma has one win this season against a healthy top 4 team.

RWB's splits against those teams:

Milwaukee: 14/12/14 on 40/38/25 shooting. 4 TOs, 2-0 (Giannis/Brogdon/Bledsoe didn't play in the second game)
Toronto: 30/11.5/9.5 on 45/37/69 shooting. 6 TOs, 1-1 (Lowry didn't play either game)
Golden State: 9/9.5/11 on 23/08/45 shooting. 4 TOs, 1-1 (Curry didn't play the win)
Denver: 19.5/11.8/9.5 on 41/29/51 shooting. 4.5 T0s, 0-4

The rebounding and assist numbers are there, but his scoring plummets whenever there's a real PG on the other team and his shooting was abysmal. I would not classify the above as "delivering against top competition," at least not by Westbrook's standards.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 11:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The additional data is interesting and it is good to have context but your initial assertion/hypothesis did not relate to FG% or TOs but if Westbrook had triple doubles in the past three years in wins versus good teams.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


Totally. Haven't gotten around to digging that out yet. It's going over 240ish box scores and cross-referencing for who was good when, which sounds like more work than I have the bandwidth for right now.

At Thursday, April 18, 2019 1:29:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

For the less labor-intensive version, I was able to search just for his playoff triple doubles (which I think we safely can conclude come pretty exclusively against good teams).

For his career, OKC is 5-4 in playoff games in which he records a triple double but only 1-3 since Durant left (roughly even with OKC's overall 3-11 playoff record in that span), so at least in the playoffs his Triple Double or lack thereof does not seem to materially impact OKC's performance, at least not so far.

On the more positive side, his 9 playoff triple doubles I believe place him sixth all time (tied with Wilt) behind Magic (30), Lebron (23), Kidd (11), and Rondo/Bird (10), and he will probably pass Rondo/Bird and maybe Kidd this year.

At Friday, April 19, 2019 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Was curious if the trend extended to the other big Triple Double guys, so here are the playoff records in games with Triple Doubles for everyone who has at least 3:

Magic: 24-6
Lebron: 16-7
Kidd: 7-4
Bird: 8-2
Rondo: 8-2
Wilt: 7-2
Westbrook: 5-4
Oscar: 6-2
Havlicek: 5-0
Pippen: 4-0
Draymond: 4-0
Duncan: 3-1
Barkley: 3-1
Baylor: 3-1
Russell: 3-0
Wilkens: 3-0
Lever: 2-1
KG: 2-1
Blake: 2-1
Harden: 2-1

So far from his Triple Doubles being key for his teams to win in the playoffs, Westbrook actually has the lowest Triple Double playoff win rate of anyone who's recorded at least three. His playoff win rate with a a triple double (.556) is only three percent higher than his overall playoff record (.526), in fact.

Historically, the players with the most similar imprint to RWB by this metric is Jason Kidd (7-4) which makes sense; while Kidd is a better defender and RWB a more dangerous scoring threat, both guys were/are hyper-athletic guards with troublesome jumpshots. I would go a step further and say both are great players probably better suited to being the second-best player on a title team than the franchise cornerstone (though Kidd did reach the Finals twice as his team's best guy, he got his butt kicked both times).

Good news for RWB, though, is that Kidd eventually fixed his jumper, took a secondary role, and won a title. It is not hard to envision a similar path for RWB.

Of note, I couldn't figure out how to make the Basketball Reference Game Finder look for ABA games, so it is possible Dr. J, Rick Barry, Artis Gilmore, or any number of other players should be on that list and aren't.

At Friday, April 19, 2019 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Not sure why, as I had him on my list, but one player got cut in the transfer. Probably accidentally highlighted him and typed over him with someone else.

Frazier: 3-1

At Friday, April 19, 2019 12:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RW/Kidd both seem clearly like #2 guys at best on normal title teams.

The 2x Kidd reach the Finals with the Nets, his teams only won 52 and 49 games, which would've put them as the #5 seed in 2002 and the #7 seed in 2003 in the West. Meaning, his teams wouldn't even have been favorites to win one series in the playoffs either year in the West. Odds are, he wouldn't have gotten past the 2nd round at best. He was just fortunate to play in the much weaker conference both of those years.

At Saturday, April 20, 2019 12:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Our initial exchange was not about which teams Westbrook averaged a triple double against, but which teams he achieved a triple double against in a win. You suggested that he did not have many triple doubles in wins against good teams and I cited several games that prove otherwise. We could endlessly look at FG%, who played, who was fully healthy (Westbrook was hobbled for at least the first part of this season due to knee surgery but he played anyway and he played hard, even though his shot was not consistently good), but those were not the original question. Westbrook has in fact posted triple doubles in several wins against very good teams.

Again, OKC over the past three years needs Westbrook to put up 25-10-10. When he does so, they have a great record. When he is not playing at Oscar Robertson Pantheon level, the Thunder are very vulnerable. That is a sample size of 246 games suggesting that Westbrook does not have a great supporting cast. Granted, this year's cast is better than the previous two, but still not great. That is why I picked OKC to finish fourth in the West (they ended up sixth in a closely packed conference); I knew that even if Westbrook played great they could only go so far as currently constructed.

At Saturday, April 20, 2019 1:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Allow me to clarify my "repeatedly delivered against top competition" comment (I was typing my answer on my phone while waiting for a connecting flight).

Westbrook has been a key member of four WCF teams (and one NBA Finalist). So, throughout his career he has often come up big against top teams. He has also had several triple doubles in wins against good teams in recent years. He may not have always shot well in those games, but he did enough as a scorer/rebounder/passer to lead his team to victory--and his team has a Lottery level record against the entire league in games during which he does not have a triple double.

At Saturday, April 20, 2019 1:07:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


I think at this point the conversation in this thread is overlapping pretty entirely with the conversation in the other thread, so I'll keep further responses there for the sake of convenience.

At Saturday, April 20, 2019 1:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The won/loss percentages in triple double playoff games are interesting but three games or even seven or 10 is a small sample size. Also, I never said that OKC's playoff winning percentage is connected to Westbrook's triple doubles. This is what I wrote:

"In recent seasons, the Thunder have an elite winning percentage in Westbrook’s triple double games and a Lottery level winning percentage in the rest of their games. In other words, the Thunder’s success is connected to Westbrook performing like prime Oscar Robertson—not just triple doubles, but triple doubles with 25 or 30 points."

My point is two-fold: (1) OKC's regular season success over a three year span is heavily connected with Westbrook getting a triple double (which suggests that Westbrook's supporting cast is not that great); (2) OKC needs Westbrook to be at or near triple double level to win (but even that may not be sufficient against a good team, as OKC's 5-4 playoff record during his triple double games shows).

Westbrook can carry a team very far but even his greatness has its limits.

At Saturday, April 20, 2019 1:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kidd had a great impact on winning. Teams he left tended to decline and teams he joined tended to improve. Could he have been the best player on a championship team? Probably but only in certain circumstances.

Westbrook, on the other hand, is a much better scorer than Kidd (albeit a worse defender). A Kidd triple double was typically something like 15-10-10 but a Westbrook triple double is 25 or 30 points plus 10 and 10.

So, particularly in an era during which defense is on the verge of being outlawed, Westbrook could almost certainly be the best player on a championship team.

At Sunday, April 21, 2019 7:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based on what as far as RW goes? We have 4 years of RW as the best player on his team. His results are 1 missed playoff, 2 1st round losses, and now down 1-2 in the 1st round. His cast the past 2 seasons is very comparable if not quite possibly better than the casts Kobe had from 08-10. He's nowhere close to leading a team to a title. And he wasn't even the best player on OKC this season either.

Kidd might have impact on winning, every AS caliber player does, but there is little evidence to suggest his impact was anywhere near that of a #1 player on a title team. His Nets would've been fortunate just to make the 2nd round in the West. When he was in DAL, he was a full-blown role player. RW is likely better than Kidd though.


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