|Giannis Antentokounmpo and Chris Paul (nba.com)|
The NBA playoffs have been a war of attrition, with teams trying to survive with their best players being knocked out of the playoffs. If every team was at full strength, we would probably be watching a Lakers-Nets final, but without Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, or James Harden both favorites lost in the early rounds. Nevertheless I'm watching.
Perennial All-Star and Hall of Fame shoo-in Chris Paul had never played in a conference final, much less in a championship.
He made the Phoenix Suns a sentimental favorite; at 36, the point guard is running out of chances to get a ring. However, I also feel sympathy for two-time MVP Giannis Antentokounmpo, a young, likeable, talented giant who has trouble making free throws (like a pro golfer who can drive the ball 350 yards but can't make a 5-foot putt).
So I like both the Phoenix Suns, who have never won a championship, and the Milwaukee Bucks, whose last title was 50 years ago. Both teams are flawed but seem evenly matched, and the last two games were decided in the final minute.
Now, a small complaint about modern sports commentary. Analysts bombard the audience with statistics, some interesting but many times not. If they're going to occupy our precious attention span, please don't waste it on triteness masquerading as insight.
Going into Saturday's game, reporters kept repeating the fact
that in a series tied at 2-2
the team that wins Game 5 has gone on to win the series 72% of the time (21-8).
Note: Milwaukee won and holds a 3-2 lead in the series.
When kids are introduced to algebra and elementary statistics, they are asked to construct a simple coin-flip table and calculate the probability of getting heads twice in a row. There are four possible outcomes to two coin flips, so there's a one-in-four chance (25%) of getting heads twice.
But what's the probability of getting at least one head
in the next two flips? Obviously, the answer is 3 out of 4, or 75%.
If the NBA finals has two evenly matched teams (almost by definition, if the games are split 2-2), then a simple statistical model in the absence of data would predict that the team that wins Game 5 goes on to win the championship 75% of the time. The actual result, 72%, is well within the range of expected outcomes in a population of 29 data points.
The surprise would be if the historical record produced a number higher than 80% or lower than 70%. Now that
would be interesting.
[Update - 7/20/21: The Milwaukee Bucks won Game 6, making them NBA champions. Their victory adjusts the historical record slightly: teams that win Game 5 become champions 73.3% (22-8) of the time.]