Friday, June 12, 2015

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Success in the NBA Finals

Got back to the farm from Savannah in decent shape earlier today after a very fun, quick visit.

Yesterday afternoon Vera and I took one of those trolley tours around the city, then ended up walking even more as we explored just about all of the 22 different squares contained within the very pedestrian-friendly city. Had to laugh at one point about how convenient the city happens to be laid out, something I greatly appreciated thanks to my notoriously bad sense of direction. Was easy to stay oriented the entire time, given all those friendly right angles.

Did manage to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals last night back in the Nixon room, which I realized today kind of illustrated in miniature a truth about the difference between short-term and long-term success.

After losing two of the first three games of the finals, Golden State coach Steve Kerr went with a smaller starting line-up last night, a move many had been discussing as a possibility before the game.

The argument against changing the line-up was essentially rooted in the team’s overwhelming success during the regular season and previous playoff series, a sample size considered large enough to support the argument that a change wouldn’t be welcome. But recognizing the match-ups presented by Cleveland and the potential advantage that could come from the change, Kerr opted to make the move.

That wasn’t the illustration of the difference between short-term and long-term success to which I’m referring, though. Cleveland jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game, and I recall seeing tweets in my feed right away suggesting the new Warrior line-up was a big mistake. Kerr called a quick time-out -- they were barely two minutes into the game -- and talked to his team.

They did one of those “Wired” segments a little later sharing a snippet of Kerr’s comments to his team during that time-out. “They’ve got a lot of energy right now with their crowd,” Kerr said. “But over 48 minutes, they’re playing seven people -- they’re gonna wear down.”

It’s true -- during the first three games of the series, Golden State played 10 players each game, with Cleveland playing only eight (and in truth, only six or seven of those got significant minutes). And as it happened, Kerr was dead right about the Cavs wearing down during Game 4, as the Warriors easily pulled away in the fourth quarter to win by 21.

The game played out very much like a cash session in which a lesser-skilled player enjoys a fortunate start to win the first few pots at the outset, then gets grinded down to the felt by better opponents over the course of the longer session.

The best-of-seven format obviously favors better-skilled teams, especially those with a solid bench as Golden State has, thus making it less likely for an underdog to get “lucky” as could happen in a one-and-done format. But you can even compare short-term and long-term success in a single game, looking at the relative significance of a few plays compared to the nearly 200 possessions the two teams will have.

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