NBA Finals: Winning the game by winning the quarters
Sports Stats ‘on Tapp’ is a sports statistics blog published daily that focuses on stats that go beyond the numbers.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were down 54-47 at halftime of Game 1 of the NBA Finals after losing the first quarter 29-22 and tying the Heat in the second quarter, 25-25. The Thunder won the game by winning the third quarter 27-19 and winning the fourth quarter 31-21.
So here’s a few questions to ponder: How important is it to win multiple quarters in the NBA Finals? Is it more important to win one particular quarter of the game? Can you win an NBA Finals game by outscoring your opponents in only one quarter and having them outscore your team in the other three quarters?
Looking at the quarter-by-quarter scores of the NBA Finals games since 2000 (68 games), it appears that the winning teams have had the most success in winning individual quarters two and three. Of the 272 quarters played in the 68 finals games since 2000, the winning team has won 167 quarters, lost 89 and tied in 16.
Following are the number of times the winning team won each of the four quarters in the NBA Finals since 2000.
First quarter: Won 35, Lost 26, Tied 7
Second quarter: Won 45. Lost 18, Tied 5
Third quarter: Won 45, Lost 20, Tied 3
Fourth quarter: Won 42, Lost 25, Tied 1
The Thunder were only the seventh team in the last 68 games to win a finals game without winning either of the first two quarters. The Dallas Mavericks accomplished this three times last year on their way to winning the 2011 NBA title over the Miami Heat. Could this be a trend for the Heat?
Since 2000, only four teams have won a finals game by outscoring their opponents in all four quarters. The four:
2008, Game 6: Boston over L.A. Lakers 131-92
2006, Game 4: Miami over Dallas, 98-74
2005, Game 4: Detroit over San Antonio, 102-71
2003, Game 5: San Antonio over N.J. Nets, 93-83
On the flip side, there have been only four teams that have won a finals game since 2000 by winning only one quarter and being outscored by their opponents in the other three quarters. They were:
2011, Game 3: Miami over Dallas, 88-86 (they outscored the Mavs in the first quarter only)
2002, Game 1: L.A. Lakers over N.J. Nets, 99-94 (they outscored the Nets in the first quarter only)
2001, Game 1: Philadelphia over L.A. Lakers, 107-101 (they outscored the Lakers in the second quarter only)
2000, Game 6: L.A. Lakers over Indiana, 116-111 (they outscored the Pacers in the fourth quarter only)
Did you know? The winning team has won 43 of the 68 finals games where they were outscored by their opponents in only one of the four quarters.
Did you know, Part 2? Teams that outscored their opponents in two or more quarters won the series 61 times and lost 26 times since 2000 (a .701 winning percentage).
The moral of the story (stat): Outscore your opponent in at least two quarters and you’ll have a 70% chance of winning the game!
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