Moore’s Angles: Will Bad Shooting Be an Outlier or Trend for Nets and Bucks?
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets.
It was a hammer-throwing contest between two blindfolded contestants.
It was a bricklaying contest in a hurricane.
It was beer pong at 4 a.m. after all four kegs are gone.
The final was 86-83, making it just the eighth game since 2014-15 (the start of the era of 3-point dominated scoring) that the total finished below 170 points.
But it wasn’t just how much of a vomit bag of a game it was offensively, it was the delta between the result and the market’s expectation. The total on that game was 234.5, putting the final total at 55.5 points short of the line.
Since 2005, only three other games have finished at least 50 points below the closing total. Remove Nuggets–Jazz Game 7 in the bubble last year (since Game 7’s are often brutal scoring affairs) and Thursday marked just the third time since 2003 the total has been 50 or more points off.
As for how the games after went? Well, that’s interesting. First let’s take out Game 1s (so the previous rock fight wasn’t against a different opponent) or Game 7 (again, Game 7’s are born ugly). The under in games after a total goes 50 points below the closing line is 2-0. But obviously, that’s an incredibly tiny sample size.
Let’s expand it. If we go to a -30 over/under margin in the previous game, the under is 27-20-1 (57.4%). If we take out Round 1 games where one team might just get totally blitzed, the under goes to 13-6-1.
There’s one more trend you should be aware of here.
In games after a -30 over/under margin game, the home team is 47-19 straight up (71%), and 38-28 against the spread ( 57.6%). However, the home team is usually the favorite. Underdogs in that spot are just 3-6 SU and 4-5 ATS.
Sunday’s Game 4 marks the first time since at least 2003 when lines are available that a game has had a total above 220 when the previous game had less than 170 points total.
That’s how much of an outlier the books are treating Game 3.
The Nets shot 20-of-53 on uncontested shots via NBA.com’s admittedly wonky tracking data, a 37.7% mark that may sound like it was historically bad, and yet the Bucks somehow shot 18-of-52 for an even worse 34.6%.
Here’s the reality: both teams are going to feel like they missed makeable shots and both teams are right. These are NBA players. They are unlikely, as two combined teams of 17 players, to shoot this poorly again.
But we also get caught up too often in the idea that open shots are going to be made at high rates. The truth is those shots are expected to be made at a higher rate than contested shots, but still roughly around 45-50%.
Also, the Nets’ stars take tough shots by design. They are tough shot makers. That’s what they do.
And on the aggregate, that’s going to work out in their favor more often than not. But look at this Kyrie Irving shot, a tough floater over 7-foot Brook Lopez with Jrue Holiday trailing.
That’s a shot he can make, no doubt because Irving can make any shot. But if you inherently take mostly really brutally tough shots, you’re going to have some nights where they don’t go.
Same on this heavily contested face-up jumper.
Joe Harris takes much higher quality looks, but the Bucks actually did a really good job in Game 3 of making him feel them.
Yes, he missed shots like this:
But you also can’t expect him to hit every single one of those, either.
Meanwhile, even shots like this where he was able to get loose, Khris Middleton is trailing. The Nets stepped out further on dribble hand-offs and trailed Harris tighter.
Harris was the most obvious pressure point from the first two debacles in the series for Milwaukee to focus on.
You can’t do anything about Kevin Durant and you can’t do much about Irving. But you can’t be forced to live with those two playing to potential and then be giving up wide-open threes for Joe Harris, either.
According to data from Second Spectrum, Harris had a quantified shot quality of 49% eFG in Game 3, and an actual eFG% of 13.6%. Obviously, he can and will shoot better. But Harris had a quantified shot quality of 52.74% in the first two games, and had an actual eFG of 69.6%.
You can’t say that the bad shooting against better defense was a fluke and then believe that the red-hot, inferno shooting when the Bucks were slightly worse defensively was sustainable. It has to be both. Outliers on both ends happen.
Because of the Bucks’ recent playoff history, everyone believes their struggles are sustained and a result of their flaws. But despite Middleton scoring 35 points in Game 3, I’m here to tell you he missed some great looks:
The Bucks’ biggest problem is getting Giannis Antetokounmpo going.
He again can’t get the kind of whistle one would expect for a two-time MVP. That’s not good or bad, or fair, or unfair. It’s just a fact.
Antetokounmpo is incredibly hard to officiate because of his size and athleticism; in the regular season, he’s a beast at getting to the line and in the playoffs, a lot more slapping at his drives has been allowed.
Peeling away if the Nets have been great defensively or Milwaukee’s just missing shots is complicated. Blake Griffin has been significantly better than expected, but the process backs up the results. Nic Claxton has been phenomenal. But with Irving as the closest defender in this series, Milwaukee is 12-of-27 with a 48.15% eFG. That does not match the eye test, at all.
The total has moved significantly back the other way for Game 4, now at 228.5 after Game 3 closed at 234.5. There’s probably value going the other way because of how the market has moved, and both the ticket count and money are in favor of the under as of this writing.
The Pace in Game 3 was slightly faster (+2.0 possessions) than in Game 2, but the Bucks and Nets both seemed exhausted. A basic regression by both offenses, combined with an extra day off is promising for the idea of an actual basketball game breaking out in Game 4.
The best angle may be to take the Bucks’ team total over 114.5. The Nets may win putting up 130 and allowing 120, the Bucks may win putting up 120 and holding the Nets to 110. The Nets’ defensive performance is harder to sustain, even if their chances of advancing remain high based on their offense.
We may never see a game that bad between two teams this good again. At least, let’s hope so.