Not only do I love to analyze basketball statistics, but Ilike to create my own in order to get a more in-depth picture of what happened during a game. In order to understand the NBA Eastern Conference results, I decided to divide the scoring and foul statistics between the starters and
bench for both teams.
If only the points of the Heat and Pacers starters determined the first four games of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers would have a 3-2 lead in the series. However, if just the bench score were being counted, the Heat would have been crowned the NBA Eastern Conference
champions after Game 4. According to the box scores on ESPN.com, the starters for
the Pacers outscored the Heat starters 84-78 in Game 1, 92-74 in Game 2, and 88-73 in Game 4.
Even though the Heat trounced the Pacers 114-96 in Game 3, the Heat starters outscored the Pacers starters only by six points (86-80). In Game 5, the Heat starters outscored the Pacers starters by only four points (75-71). The Heat bench has outscored the Pacers bench in Game 3 by a 28-16 margin and in every game of the Eastern Conference finals so far (25-18, Game 1;
19-5, Game 2; 28-16, Game 3; 19-11, Game 4; 15-8, Game 5).
However, one must keep in mind that the Heat bench have played significantly more minutes than the Pacers bench in the first five games (99-49, Game 1; 74-42, Game 2; 88-53, Game 3; 83-48, Game 4, 62-51, Game 5), which means the Pacers starters have played more minutes than the Heat starters (217-166, Game 1; 199-166, Game 2; 186-151, Game 3; 192-157, Game 4; 190-178, Game 5).
To get a more accurate assessment of the scoring in the Eastern Conference Finals, I calculated the points per minute (ppm) of both the starters and the bench for both teams, which showed that in the games that the Heat have won in this series, the Heat starters have scored more points per minute than the Pacers starters. In Game 1, The Heat starters scored 0.47 ppm per
minute compared to the Pacers starters' 0.39 ppm. As one might expect, the ppm differential between the Heat starters and the Pacers starters in the 114-96 rout of the Pacers was even greater with the Heat starters scoring 0.57 ppm and the Pacers starters scoring 0.43 ppm. In Game 5, The Heat scored 0.42 ppm, while the Pacers scored 0.77 ppm, which was their lowest ppm production in this series.
But in the games the Pacers have won, there has been no such ppm advantage. In Game 2, the Pacers starters had only a 0.01 ppm advantage over the Heat (0.46 ppm vs. 0.45 ppm), and both the Pacers and Heat starters have the same ppm in Game 4 (0.46 ppm). Therefore, the points the Pacers starters had in Games 2 and 4 came from the fact that the starters played more minutes than the Heat starters.
Additionally, one way the Heat starters could increase their scoring is if they play more minutes. That may have been a factor in Game 5 since the Heat starters played a series-high 178 minutes, which was 12 minutes over their previous series high of 166 in Games 1 and 2.
While the bench scoring analyzed by points per minute doesn't match game to game as the points per minute analysis of the starter scoring does, it shows that the Pacers bench has played the Heat bench close or better in three of the five games. In Game 1, the Pacers bench ppm rate was 0.37 compared to the 0.25 rate of the Heat bench. The Heat and Pacers benches played at the same 0.23 ppm rate in Game 4, and the Heat bench had a narrow 0.02 ppm margin (0.32 to 0.30 ppm) over the Pacers bench in Game 3. In Games 2 and 5, the Heat bench had a significant ppm advantage over the Pacers bench (0.24 ppm-0.12 ppm, Game 2; 0.24-0.16, Game 5).
An additional starter-bench analysis I did was to break down the fouls between the two groups, and like the ppm breakdown for the starters, there is a correlation between the number of fouls the starters received and the outcome of each game. In the three games the Heat won, the starters had fewer fouls than the Pacers starters (17-21, Game 1; 15-18, Game 3; 8-14, Game
5), and the Pacers starters had fewer fouls in the games the Pacers won (16-18, Game 2; 16-21, Game 4).
Like the ppm analysis, the analysis of the bench fouls doesn't follow the series results. In Game 1-3, the Heat bench had more fouls than the Pacers bench (11-9, Game 1; 9-7, Game 2; 15-7, Game 3), and both bench squads had the same number of fouls in Games 4 and 5 (9-9, Game 4; 3-3, Game 5).
From this type of analysis, the best chance that the Pacers have to stay alive in the Eastern Conference Finals is for the Pacers starters to either to match the ppm rate of the Heat as they did in their Games 2 and 4. It would help if the bench could match their 0.37 ppm rate that they had in Game 1 so there would be little drop off when the starters are on the bench and for
the Pacers starters have fewer fouls than the Heat starters.
If the Heat wants to end this series this evening, the Heat can try to play another game like Game 3 where the starters and the bench had their best ppm scoring game at 0.57 and 0.32 ppm respectively. Or the starters can limit their fouls like they did in Game 5 to single digits and play more minutes as they did in Game 5.