Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Luck Factor

Am readying for the first game of tonight’s NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Kind of excited to follow this one closely, since most summers I’ve either been in Las Vegas throughout the Finals or go during, and so haven’t always been able to follow them closely.

I’m remembering today being in Las Vegas last year and covering an event along with Rich Ryan while Game 7 between the Spurs and Heat played out. We were a little distracted, I recall, as were most of the players. (That pic above is from that night, with Mike Sexton watching and Rich in the foreground -- click to embiggen.)

I also remember last year being in Vegas and playing in a tournament at the Golden Nugget when that incredible Game 6 occurred. The tourney started at noon, but I ended up going deep enough that I was still at the table when that one ended with the Heat’s incredible comeback in regulation and victory in overtime.

I watched the end of Game 6 again yesterday, led to do so after reading Bill Simmons’s column about it over on Grantland. Actually, to be honest, I read the first part of Simmons’s column and skimmed most of it, as I’m rarely inspired to read his always-longer-than-they-need-to-be columns word-for-word.

The beginning of this one is kind of cool, though, in which he gives about a 100 words per second to a nutty sequence that ended with LeBron James hitting a three-pointer to cut the lead to two. He gives a similar treatment to the play that came shortly afterwards that ended with Ray Allen hitting another trey to tie the game with five second left.

Both plays involve some incredibly fortunate bounces for the Heat, and because of the huge consequences end up being worth the microscopic analyses Simmons gives to both. Of course, what fascinates us most about that sequence and series is the role luck played in affecting the outcome.

The teams were especially evenly matched, trading wins back-and-forth in zig-zag fashion until Miami managed to win a second one in a row after succeeding in a close Game 7. In poker when two equally skilled opponents square off, luck ends up determining which of the two gets the advantage in terms of cards and/or circumstances and thus the better result. So, too, did that seem to be the case in the Spurs-Heat series last year.

Luck mattered in the end -- as it always does, but was all the more apparent thanks to the equal skill level of the two opponents.

A lot of people discussing the upcoming series have been fairly preoccupied with the subject of luck in basketball. Those of us in poker are often able to see very readily how much luck matters in other games -- and in other contexts, too -- but I think some basketball fans have a hard time accepting that fact, wanting instead to believe that skill wins out without exception. And the Spurs-Heat series last summer was therefore all the more jarring because of the way it foregrounded the idea in such a dramatic way that luck mattered.

Feel like the Heat may need some good fortune to win this year. But then again, every team generally does.

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