Stats & Info: 2012 playoffs

Aggressive LeBron, Heat on brink of title

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
11:49
AM ET

Garrett Ellwood/Getty ImagesLeBron James gets into the paint again for the Heat in the NBA Finals.
The Miami Heat host the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of NBA Finals tonight (9 ET on ABC).

Numbers never lie, right? Entering this year, 30 teams had trailed 3-1 in the NBA Finals and not a single team was able overcome that deficit and win a title. In fact, under the current 2-3-2 format (since 1985) none of the 13 teams facing a 3-1 hole have even forced a decisive Game 7.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE THUNDER?
After winning Game 1, the Thunder have dropped three straight games for just their second three-game losing streak of the season. They haven’t lost four straight games in more than three years, since February of 2009.

Oklahoma City has failed to reach 100 points in their last three games. They had just one such streak during the regular season, when they went five games in a row from April 1-8 without reaching the century mark. When the Thunder does reach 100 points this postseason, they’re 10-1.

One issue has been their poor distance shooting. In the Conference Finals against the Spurs, the Thunder averaged 41.3 points per game from 15+ feet while shooting nearly 45 percent. Against the Heat in the Finals, they are scoring nine points fewer per game and shooting under 38 percent.

The disappearance of James Harden has also hurt the Thunder. Harden had eight points in Game 4, his third game in single digits this series. Harden didn’t have a single-digit scoring game in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Harden has struggled as the pick & roll ball handler, scoring just four total points on those plays during the Finals, after averaging better than five points per game in the first three playoff rounds. Only 13 percent of his plays have been of the pick-and-roll variety in the Finals, compared to 41 percent in the first three rounds.

WHAT’S RIGHT WITH THE HEAT?
Two words: LeBron James. After a miserable Finals last year, James has emerged as the premier playoff performer this postseason.

James has recorded 671 points this postseason. He is 29 points away from becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to record at least 700 points in a single postseason.

One reason for his success is that he has been more aggressive attacking the basket.

He went 8-for-11 for 16 points inside the paint in Game 4. He’s recorded at least 16 points inside the paint in each of the last six games, his longest such streak in his postseason career (since 2006).

James has also been a primetime player under pressure, scoring 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting in “clutch time” situations (last five minutes of fourth quarter and overtime, score within five points) in the 2012 NBA Finals. In the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, James failed to score or even draw a foul in clutch time.

STAT OF SERIES
The Heat have trailed in three different series this postseason. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team entering this postseason has won a title in NBA history after trailing in three different series in a single postseason.

Statistical Support from NBA.com

Westbrook's foul didn't decide Game 4

June, 20, 2012
6/20/12
6:15
PM ET

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesRussell Westbrook's 43 points weren't enough to carry the Thunder to victory in Game 4.
Is Russell Westbrook’s late-game mistake to blame for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Miami Heat?

The numbers show that Westbrook had a lot more to do with the Thunder being in the game than losing it.

Leading by three points with 17.3 seconds left, the Heat gained possession of a jump ball with the shot clock dwindling. Seemingly unaware of the situation, Westbrook fouled Mario Chalmers, who went on to make two free throws to put the game away. But would the outcome have been different if the Thunder had simply played defense? Probably not.

Based on similar situations in over 7,300 games in recent NBA history, the Heat had a 97 percent chance of winning once they won the jump ball. When Westbrook committed the foul, that number went up to 98, and it rose to 99 when Chalmers hit both free throws. If Oklahoma City had not fouled and prevented a made shot, the Heat’s chances would have dropped to 95 percent.

Even if the Thunder had forced a miss and gotten the rebound with eight seconds to go, the Heat would have won 91 percent of the time. So if everything had gone right for Oklahoma City, its chances of winning were only nine percent. While that is better than one or two percent, it was a longshot at best for the Thunder to emerge victorious, foul or not.

Prior to any of that going down, though, it was Westbrook who put his team in a position to be in a close game at the end. The point guard scored 43 points, a career playoff high and franchise NBA Finals record, and did so on an efficient 20-of-32 shooting. And with his team down four entering the fourth quarter, Westbrook scored 17 points in the final frame, the most fourth-quarter points by a losing player in the last 15 NBA Finals.

In addition to pouring in 43, Westbrook also had seven rebounds and five assists. In NBA history, the only other players to reach those totals in a Finals game are Jerry West, Rick Barry, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. In the Thunder’s biggest game of the season, he was their premier performer.

The Heat are on the brink of an NBA title, but a loss in Game 5 would significantly shift the series, giving home-court advantage back to the Thunder. A similar game from Westbrook Thursday night could do just that.

Free throws, clutch time key in tight series

June, 18, 2012
6/18/12
2:25
PM ET

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImageseThe Heat and Thunder have a rest day today, but a critical Game 4 looms on Tuesday.
The Miami Heat may have a 2-1 advantage and the series momentum in the NBA Finals after taking Games 2 and 3, but the teams have nearly played to a draw over the three-game span.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have actually outscored the Heat by a single point after a combined 144 minutes of action.

What's been the difference for the Heat that's allowed them to lead in this tight series?

IMPORTANCE OF FREE THROWS
The Miami Heat have enjoyed a huge advantage at the free throw line, shooting 85 percent compared to 70 percent for the Thunder, and overall have an 13-point edge in points from made free throws.

The advantage for the Heat is most surprising when you take into account the expected free throws that each team should have made using season percentages.

Based on the number of times each player has gotten to the line this series and their rate of making free throws entering the Finals, the Heat have collected eight more points than they were expected to, while the Thunder have collected seven fewer points than expected.

That’s a 15-point swing that literally is the difference between the Heat being up 2-1 rather than down 0-3, if you consider the timing of the attempts in each game. (In Game 1, an 11 point win by the Thunder, free throws were not the determining factor in the outcome.)

In Game 2, when the Heat shot an incredible 88 percent and the Thunder missed seven free throws, the Heat’s four-point victory would have turned into a one point Thunder win if the Heat and Thunder would have made free throws at their usual rates.

And in Game 3, when the Heat shot a blistering 89 percent while the Thunder missed nine free throws, the Heat’s six-point win would have actually been a two-point Thunder victory based on the expected free throws each team should have made.

WHO’S MORE CLUTCH: LeBRON OR DURANT?
Entering the Finals, Kevin Durant was one of the most clutch players this postseason, shooting 60 percent in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime when the score is within five points (“clutch time”), the second-highest field goal percentage behind Paul Pierce.

However, Durant hasn't been as clutch during the Finals, missing five of six shots from the field in “clutch time”.

LeBron James, in a small sample, has quietly turned in to Mr. Clutch. Entering the Finals, James was shooting 30 percent in “clutch time” this postseason, but has made three of his five shots against the Thunder.

James has been better in the clutch this year in the Finals because he isn't settling for long-distance jump shots. His average shot distance is 11.6 feet in “clutch time”, compared to 22.9 feet against the Mavericks last year, when he missed all seven of his field goals in those situations.

IS GAME 4 MUST-WIN FOR THUNDER?
Since the 2-3-2 format began in 1985, 13 teams have trailed 3-1 in the NBA Finals. None of those 13 teams went on to win the title. In fact, none of the series even went to a deciding Game 7.

Statistical Support from NBA.com

Keys to Game 3: Painting a win, X factors

June, 16, 2012
6/16/12
3:26
PM ET

Garrett Ellwood/Getty ImagesLeBron James and Kevin Durant will try to lead their respective teams to the win in Game 3 on Sunday night.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat will play Game 3 of the NBA Finals at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.

How important is a win in Game 3? In NBA Finals series that are tied at one game apiece, the Game 3 winner has gone on to win the title 85.3 percent of the time. Here are some key factors that could decide this critical game:

GET INSIDE
In the Thunder’s Game 1 win, OKC outscored the Heat 56-40 in the paint, the second-most paint points allowed by the Heat in a playoff game in the Big Three era. Seven players scored from inside 5 feet for the Thunder, led by a postseason-high 14 from Russell Westbrook and 10 from Kevin Durant.

In the Heat’s Game 2 victory, Miami had a 48-32 advantage in the paint, the Heat’s second-largest paint points margin this postseason.

LeBron James was 9-of-16 in the paint in Game 2, and all but one of his 10 made field goals came from that range. Dwyane Wade also attacked the basket more in Game 2, going 3-of-7 from inside 5 feet after making just one of four shots from that area in Game 1.

X FACTORS
Shane Battier has been the biggest surprise of the Finals, scoring 17 points in each of the first two games, the first time he scored in double digits in back-to-back games this season. He has made nine of 13 3-pointers, after shooting a career-worst 34 percent from long distance in the regular season.

Nick Collison scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 21 minutes in Game 1. But he disappeared in Game 2, scoring zero points while not attempting a shot in 14 minutes. His plus-minus of plus-21 this series is the highest of any player in the NBA Finals.

LINEUP COMPARISON
In the first two games, the Heat’s starting five have far outperformed the Thunder’s starting five. James, Wade, Battier, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers have outscored their opponents by a team-best nine points in the 39 minutes they have been on the court together.

Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have really struggled in their 28 minutes together on the court, having been outscored by 18 points, the worst of any lineup in the Finals.

FROM START TO FINISH
The Thunder got off to a slow start in each of the first two games of the Finals, falling behind in the first quarter by 11 points in Game 1 and 17 points in Game 2. They were able to erase the deficit in Game 1, but their comeback fell short in Game 2.

Westbrook shot a combined 5-for-20 in the first half of both games but made half his shots (15-of-30) in the second half. Durant, who averaged less than 10 points in the first half in Games 1 and 2, has taken over in the fourth quarter for the Thunder.

He has scored almost half his total points in this series in the final 12 minutes (33 of 68). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first player to score at least 16 fourth-quarter points in consecutive NBA Finals games since the ABA-NBA merger (1976-77).

Statistical support from NBA.com.

Don't blame Westbrook for Game 2 loss

June, 15, 2012
6/15/12
6:04
PM ET

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesAccording to the numbers below, Russell Westbrook should not be blamed for the Thunder’s Game 2 loss.
After the Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss to the Miami Heat in Game 2, many people are placing the blame on Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook took the most shots of anyone in the game, going 10-of-26 from the field and scoring 27 points. In some cases, the main thought seems to be that Kevin Durant, who went 12-for-22 from the field and finished with 32 points, should have gotten some of the opportunities that Westbrook “took away.”

In fact, the refrain that “he takes away too many shots from Durant” has been a commonly heard criticism of Westbrook all season. The problem with this attack is that the numbers show that the Thunder haven’t actually done better in games where Durant has had more opportunities than Westbrook this season.

When looking at it the simple way, it’s apparent that the team actually does better when Westbrook takes more shots. This is in terms of both offensive efficiency and win percentage.

Of course, field-goal attempts are just one part of a player’s offensive game –free throws and turnovers are also part of it. If we look at usage percentage – the percentage of team plays used by a player while he’s on the floor – we can see how often the ball ends with Westbrook or Durant, whether it be with a field-goal attempt, trip to the free-throw line, or turnover.

For some perspective, the average usage percentage is 20.0 percent, Durant’s average this season is 30.3 percent, and Westbrook’s average is 31.7 percent (5th-highest in NBA).

Looking at which player has had a higher usage percentage in each game, we can see a similar pattern emerges: The Thunder are more efficient offensively and win more games when Westbrook’s usage percentage exceeds Durant’s than vice versa.

Another thing we can look at is how the Thunder have performed when Westbrook and Durant use a lower/greater percentage of their team’s plays than usual.

There are four combinations when looking at each player’s usage percentage relative to his own average, presented in two different ways below:

• The Thunder offense is at its worst when Durant has an above average usage percentage and Westbrook has a below average usage percentage – averaging just 104.0 points per 100 possessions in those 20 games, with the team winning less than half of those as a result.

Meanwhile, the Thunder offense is still okay (slightly below average efficiency) when Westbrook uses more plays than usual and Durant uses fewer than usual. So shifting offensive opportunities directly from Westbrook to Durant, at least how that has been done in some games this season, does not seem to be optimal for OKC.

• The Thunder offense is at its best when Durant and Westbrook are both below average in terms of usage percentage, averaging an efficient 111.8 points per 100 possessions in those games. This would imply that getting others involved is the real key in the Thunder’s most effective offensive games.

Is this just about Westbrook setting others up better in those low-usage games? It doesn't look like it. In those 22 low-usage games, it is Durant's assists that go up (4.9 APG vs 3.1 in all other games), not Westbrook's (5.2 APG vs 5.7 in all other games).


Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

Heat have tough road against Thunder

June, 14, 2012
6/14/12
9:58
AM ET

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWestbrook joined Michael Jordan as the only players with 25 points and 10 assists in his Finals debut.
The Miami Heat will try and even the series tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder (ABC and ESPN3, 9 ET), but Elias tells us that Miami may already be in trouble. The Heat now trail in their third different series this postseason, and no team has ever won a title after trailing in three different series in a single postseason.

What's more, in each of their previous two NBA Finals appearances, the Heat lost Game 2 in both series (2006 and 2011). Miami is 4-5 on the road this postseason while averaging just 92.1 points, compared to 99.4 points at home. That road average is crucial, as the Heat are 8-0 this postseason when scoring at least 100 points but just 4-7 this postseason when they fail to reach 100.

Don't Blame James

While LeBron James struggled in the fourth quarter in the Finals last year against the Dallas Mavericks, that was not the case in Game 1 this time around. James ranked first on the team in field goal attempts and free throws in the fourth quarter and tied with Dwyane Wade for the team-high in points and points in the paint. His four free throw attempts were also more than the rest of the Heat combined.

James has also scored at least 25 points in each of his last 11 games, the second-longest streak of scoring 25+ points in his postseason career (had a 17-game streak across the 2008 and 2009 postseason).

Storm Warning

Things certainly look good for the Thunder. Since moving to Oklahoma City entering the 2008-09 season, the Thunder are 3-0 in series when they win Game 1. The Thunder are also 9-0 at home this postseason, and according to Elias, that is tied for the longest home win streak to start a postseason in franchise history. The Seattle SuperSonics started the 1978 postseason also winning nine.

What do the Thunder need to do to win Game 2? The answer lies in the fast break. The Thunder outscored the Heat in fast break points 24-4 in Game 1, marking the team’s second-highest fast break differential this postseason.

Another incredible game by Kevin Durant certainly wouldn't hurt, either. Durant’s 36 points in Game 1 tied the franchise mark for most points in a Finals game, and he also became the fourth-youngest (23 years-257 days) player in NBA history to score at least 35 points in a NBA Finals game.

Teammate Russell Westbrook is also heating up, having recorded at least 20 points and 10 assists in two of his last three games overall. That's impressive, considering he did not record any 20-10 games in his first 13 games this postseason. What's more, Elias says Westbrook is only the second player to record at least 25 points and 10 assists in his Finals debut, alongside Michael Jordan.

James and Durant deliver differently

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
1:41
PM ET

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesJames attacked the basket far more than Durant, but Durant owned the perimeter this season.
Three-time NBA MVP LeBron James and three-time defending scoring champion Kevin Durant will go head-to-head in the NBA Finals (ABC and ESPN3, 9 ET), making it the 12th time in NBA Finals history that a matchup involved players who finished 1-2 in the MVP voting for that season.

James leads the Miami Heat into the Finals for the second consecutive season, making it his third-career Finals appearance overall. Durant will make his first-career Finals appearance, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the franchise’s first championship round since they were the Seattle SuperSonics in 1996.

As dynamic as these two prolific scorers are, they record their points in different ways. Let’s take a look at the breakdown of each player’s strengths and the history of the matchup.

Easy Baskets

During the regular season, James attacked the basket more than Durant. Among the 1,683 total points James scored, 37.4 percent occurred within five feet of the basket. Only 24.1 percent of Durant’s baskets were scored within that range.

Inside the paint, James was one of the league’s leaders. He recorded 12.2 points per game in the paint, the fourth-highest average among all players this season.

Perimeter Shooting

On the perimeter, Durant has the edge. Of his NBA-high 1,850 total points, 43.4 percent of Durant’s points were scored outside of the paint. By comparison, James only recorded 31.9 percent of his points from outside that area.

Also, Durant is the better pure shooter. From 15 feet and beyond, Durant connected on 42.5 percent of his field goals, trailing only Dirk Nowitzki (44.8) and Chris Paul (42.6) among players that ranked in the top 20 in scoring during the regular season.

The Real Help

James might play alongside former Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, but Durant has benefited the most from his team’s point guard play. Overall, 48.1 percent of Durant’s field goals were assisted during the regular season, compared to just 37.4 percent of James’ field goals.

Much of that was a result of Durant playing alongside All-Star guard Russell Westbrook. Although Westbrook isn’t viewed much as a distributor, he assisted on 171 of Durant’s field goals, the third-most assists by one player on a single teammate’s field goals in the NBA this season. Only Steve Nash (217 to Marcin Gortat) and Chris Paul (187 to Blake Griffin) assisted more of a teammate’s field goals.

History Dominated by James

Game 1 will be the 10th meeting between James and Durant, with the previous nine coming in the regular season. Durant holds the scoring edge with a 27.3 points average, but James has been more efficient from the field shooting 49.7 percent. Overall, James has dominated the most important category, winning seven of the nine meetings. The Heat and Thunder split the 2011-12 regular season series 1-1.

LeBron's Finals trouble: Easy scores

June, 11, 2012
6/11/12
3:20
PM ET

Bryan Terry/Reuters
LeBron James (right) may struggle in the NBA Finals when the Heat go up against the Thunder.
LeBron James was stellar against the Boston Celtics, averaging 33.6 points and 11 rebounds per game while making 52.7 percent of his field goals during the series. However, he’s got a tough road ahead of him when the Miami Heat take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.

James is averaging 9.9 fewer points per game in the NBA Finals than in all other rounds of the postseason. He has averaged 19.5 points on 41.7 percent shooting in 10 career NBA Finals games, both career lows of any postseason round. In fact, his career high in the Finals is just 25. He’s averaging 29.4 points per game in all other postseason rounds.

Much of James’ struggles in the NBA Finals have come in the fourth quarter. For his career, James averages just 5.7 fourth-quarter points, by far his lowest fourth-quarter scoring average of any round in his postseason career.

What’s causing his decline in production? It’s in part due to his inability to get “easy points”. James’ production in the paint, in transition and at the free throw line has declined in the Finals.

James has averaged almost two more points in the paint before the Finals than he does in the Finals, and nearly three times as many points from the free throw line.

James’ two regular season performances against the Thunder this season were wildly different. in the first meeting James scored 17 points, going 0-for-3 from 3-point range and 1-for-2 from the foul line in a 103-87 Oklahoma City win.

In the second meeting James scored 34 points, going 3-for-7 from 3-point range and making 11 of his 13 free throw attempts. The Heat won that one 98-93. James scored 12 points in the paint in both regular season games against the Thunder.

After loss, free agency could end Celtics era

June, 10, 2012
6/10/12
4:19
PM ET
The Boston Celtics fell short of the NBA Finals for the second straight season, bowing out to the Miami Heat in back-to-back seasons. With Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen entering free agency, is this the end of an era in Boston?

Possible players on the move
Garnett is an unrestricted free agent after making $21.2 million this season. He turned 36 last month, but was the key for the Celtics on both ends of the court this postseason.

In the 737 minutes he was on the court in the playoffs, the Celtics outscored opponents by 138 points. They were outscored by 118 points in the 238 minutes he was off the floor. That wasn’t a fluke, as the Celtics were +267 with Garnett on the floor during the regular season compared to -101 with him on the bench.

Allen is also an unrestricted free agent this summer and will turn 37 years old in July. He wasn’t as productive in the playoffs this year as he was the past four years. He averaged nearly 17 points in 39 minutes per game from 2008-11, but in 2012 those numbers declined by six points and five minutes.

Brandon Bass, who just finished his first season with the Celtics, has a $4 million player option for next season. Bass set career highs this season, averaging 32 minutes, 13 points and six rebounds per game.

Even if they have played their last game together, Paul Pierce, Garnett and Allen have already cemented their legacy in Boston. This is the fourth memorable era in Celtics history.

1957-69
Red Auerbach failed to make the NBA Finals during his first six years as head coach of the Celtics, but Bill Russell’s arrival for the 1956-57 season was the beginning of one of the greatest dynasties in sports history. The Celtics went on to capture 11 championships during Russell’s 13-year career.

1972-76
After Russell’s retirement in 1969, the Celtics missed the playoffs in 1970 and 1971, but it wasn’t long before they were back on top again.

John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, and Jo Jo White helped lead Boston to titles in 1974 and 1976. The Celtics also made it to the Conference Finals in 1972, 1973 and 1975.

1980-92
Boston was eliminated in the Conference Semifinals in 1977 and missed the playoffs entirely the next two seasons, but Larry Bird landed in Boston for the 1979-80 season and the rest was history.

The Celtics made five NBA Finals appearances and won three titles during Bird’s 13-year career, which ended in 1992 with a 4-games-to-3 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Semifinals.

2008-12
After experiencing a 21-season championship drought, Pierce, Garnett, and Allen guided the Celtics to a title during their first season together in 2008.

Garnett missed the playoffs the following year due to injury and the Celtics lost in the Conference Semifinals, but Boston made it back to the Finals in 2010, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in a hard-fought seven game series.

The Celtics couldn’t get by the Heat the last two seasons, losing in five games in the 2011 Conference Semifinals and coming up just short this year in the Conference Finals.

Thunder boom in second half to win West

June, 7, 2012
6/07/12
1:18
AM ET

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesKevin Durant led the Thunder's big second-half comeback to beat the Spurs and reach the NBA Finals.
For one half Wednesday night, Tony Parker was well on his way to carrying the San Antonio Spurs to victory and forcing Game 7.

Then Kevin Durant woke up… and Parker’s hot hand went ice cold.

Trailing by 15 points at the half, the Oklahoma City Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 in the second half to oust the West’s top seed and advance to their first NBA Finals since 1996, when the franchise was in Seattle. It was San Antonio’s largest blown playoff halftime lead ever.

The Thunder become the first Western Conference champion outside of the Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks since 1998. Coincidentally, Oklahoma City defeated all three during its current playoff run.

Durant, who played all 48 minutes, scored 20 points after halftime to key the Thunder’s huge comeback. He finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds, both team highs, and knocked down 12-of-15 free throws. Russell Westbrook played a solid supporting role with 25 points and eight boards.

Durant joins Xavier McDaniel and Gary Payton as the only members of the Oklahoma City/Seattle franchise with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game.

While the Thunder’s 3-point shooting was a major spark – they knocked down 10-of-18 from beyond the arc – they balanced it by scoring efficiently inside. Oklahoma City was 15-of-25 from inside 5 feet in Game 6, including a blistering 10-of-14 from that distance in the second half.

The Spurs watched their season end on a season-high four-game skid after running off 20 straight wins. After a dominant first half in which they scored 63 points on 54.5 percent from the field, they hit more iron than net in the second half, converting just 32.5 percent of their field goals.

A key was the Thunder limiting the Spurs’ pick-and-roll offense, allowing 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting on such plays (3-of-10, 6 points in 2nd half). The Spurs scored over 20 points on pick-and-rolls just once (Game 5) in the last four games of the series after scoring 30 in each of the first two games.

No player exemplified that more than Parker. The point guard had a first half for the ages, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter and reaching halftime with 21 points (8-14 FG) and 10 assists. He became the first player since at least 1996 to have at least 20 points and 10 assists in a playoff half.

Tony Parker
Parker
But Parker could not find his stroke in the second half, going just 4-of-13 from the field for eight points and two assists.

The Thunder become only the third team in NBA history to win four straight games in the conference finals after trailing 2-0 and now will wait to see if they will face the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. With home-court advantage in that series, Oklahoma City has a prime opportunity to win its first title since 1979.

Celtics have trouble closing series

June, 6, 2012
6/06/12
12:21
PM ET

Steve Mitchell/US PresswireThe Celtics are just 11-13 since 2007-08 with the chance to clinch a series.
A veteran squad such as the Boston Celtics have plenty of experience in closing out series, and will have the opportunity to do so against the Miami Heat in Game 6 on Thursday (8:30 ET, ESPN). But the Celtics haven't been as successful as fans might think when it comes to eliminating opponents recently.

Since Boston's Big 3 (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen) formed entering the 2007-08 season, the Celtics have in fact struggled closing out postseason series. When having the opportunity to clinch, Boston is just 11-13 in those games over that span. This postseason, the Celtics are 2-2 in such games but just 0-2 in the first opportunity. The one silver lining, however, is that Boston is 9-2 in such chances at home.

LeBron James, however, has trailed 3-2 in a best-of-seven series four times in his postseason career. Each time, his team went on to lose the series, including suffering defeat at the hands of the Celtics twice. Only once out of those four times has a James-led team been able to force a Game 7.

What's more, James is usually at his postseason worst when trailing in a series. When his team is tied or leads the series, James is averaging 28.5 points per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor. Compare that to when his team trails the series; in those situations, James is putting up 27.4 points per game with a field goal percentage of just 42.8. His turnovers per game also increase from 3.2 to 5.3.

Miami now has Chris Bosh back in the lineup, but his addition did not help the Heat in Game 5, as they were outscored by 12 points in the 14 minutes with Bosh on the court. In addition, Miami was 20.8 percent from the floor with Bosh in the game and had more turnovers (seven) than field goals (five).

Heat return to comfort zone vs Celtics

June, 5, 2012
6/05/12
1:05
PM ET

Credit: Steve Mitchell/US PresswireThe Game 5 winner has gone on to win the series 83.5 percent of the time when tied 2-2.
The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat (ESPN, 8:30 ET) will square off in Game 5 tonight with the winner taking a 3-2 lead in the series. The Celtics have put themselves in a good position to take control, because in the Big 3 era (since 2007-08 season), Boston is 8-0 in Game 5s when the series is tied 2-2.

The Heat, however, have been very comfortable at home against the Celtics recently. Miami is 6-1 at home against the Celtics in the postseason all-time, and according to Elias, Miami’s current six-game home postseason win streak against Boston is its longest against a single opponent in franchise history.

The Game 5 winner has gone on to win the series 83.5 percent of the time when tied 2-2.

Miami has certainly been more comfortable at home this postseason, averaging 100.4 points compared to 91.0 on the road. That's crucial, considering the Heat are 7-0 this postseason when scoring at least 100 points, and were 25-4 in such games during the regular season.

The focus for Miami will again likely be in the closing seconds. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem each missed game-tying and go-ahead attempts with under 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and OT in Game 4, and the Heat are now 0-for-10 on such shots in the last two postseasons. Overall, Wade is now 2-8 on game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or OT in his postseason career, below the league average of 26.9 percent. By comparison, LeBron James is 5-14 (35.7 percent) in those situations.

What's more, Wade has been a slow starter this series. He is averaging just 5.5 points on 25.8 percent shooting in the first half of games against the Celtics, his lowest points average for a first half for any round in his postseason career.

The Heat are also hoping to activate Chris Bosh for Game 5. His status could be pivotal, as Miami is 5-1 this postseason in games Bosh has played, with a +13.2 points differential in that span.

On the other side, the Celtics have relied heavily on Rajon Rondo in this series. Boston has been much better with Rondo on the court, averaging more than 19 points per 48 minutes compared to when he’s been off the floor. According to Elias, Rondo has 13 double-digit assist games this postseason and 38 for his career, and when he takes the court tonight, he'll be looking for his 39th 10-assist game, which would break the all-time Celtics record originally held by Bob Cousy.

Rondo's postseason performance has also placed him in great company this year. He's averaging 17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 11.9 assists in 16 games this postseason, and according to Elias only one player in NBA history has averaged at least 17 points, six rebounds and 11 assists in 10+ games played in a single postseason (Magic Johnson did it six times).

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Spurs, Parker look to roll at home in Game 5

June, 4, 2012
6/04/12
2:20
PM ET
Matthew Emmonsj/US PresswireTony Parker needs to get back on track if the Spurs are going to win Game 5.
The Western Conference Finals head back to San Antonio for Game 5 tonight at 9 ET with the series knotted at two games apiece.

Spurs Keys to the Game
The San Antonio Spurs are looking to bounce back after suffering back-to-back losses following their near-record 20-game win streak. Both of those losses came on the road, however, and a return to the AT&T Center should provide a spark to the Spurs.

The Spurs are 6-0 at home this postseason, and the big difference has come on the offensive end. They are averaging 15 more points per game at home than on the road, and have thrived around the basket at home, where they are outscoring their opponents by 17 points per game in the paint.

Tony Parker needs to get back on track if the Spurs are going to take Game 5. He really struggled in Games 3 and 4, averaging just 14 points per game on 41 percent shooting.

He wasn’t as efficient running the pick-and-roll, making just 2-of-7 shots on those plays in the last two games, compared to 9-of-15 in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 the Spurs failed to produce on the interior, scoring a postseason-low 22 points inside five feet in the loss, nearly half has many points as they averaged in that area in the first two games.

In Game 4, San Antonio couldn't contain the Thunder's perimeter shooting. The Thunder were 19-of-37 (52 percent) from 15 feet and beyond on Saturday, after the Spurs had held them to 42 percent shooting from that distance in the first three games.

Thunder Keys to the Game
It may seem that the Oklahoma City Thunder have seized the momentum by winning Games 3 and 4 on their homecourt, but history suggests that is not necessarily true.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, entering these conference finals, 66 teams did what the Thunder did, winning Games 3 and 4 of a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games. In only 13 of those 66 instances did the team that evened the series with two wins go on to win the series.

In winning the last two games, the Thunder received huge contributions from their “non-Big 3” – Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. That trio nearly tripled their scoring output in Games 3 and 4 compared to Games 1 and 2.

Thabo Sefolosha has been the key defensive player for the Thunder in their two victories over the Spurs. Over the last two games, the Spurs are averaging almost 20 fewer points per 48 minutes when Sefolosha is on the court compared to when he is on the bench.

He has been effective limiting the Spurs guards on pick-and-rolls and when coming off screens. As the on-ball defender in those situations in Games 3 and 4, he allowed just four points (2-of-7 shooting) and forced five turnovers on 12 combined plays.

Stat of the Game
The Spurs have won each of the last five best-of-seven series they have played in which the series was tied 2-2 after four games. That is the second-longest current streak of its kind in the NBA behind the Los Angeles Lakers, who have won eight in a row, according to Elias.

History heavily favors the Miami Heat

June, 1, 2012
6/01/12
12:32
PM ET

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Miami Heat have never lost a seven-game series when they've won the first two games.
(The Boston Celtics host the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, Friday at 8:30 ET on ESPN.)

If history is any indication, then the Miami Heat will be in the NBA Finals for a second consecutive year.

Overall, teams that lead 2-0 in a best-of-seven series advance 94.3 percent of the time. Miami’s percentage in such scenarios is even greater. In franchise history, the Heat have never lost a seven-game series after winning the first two games (7-0).

As for the Boston Celtics, they have lost eight of nine best-of-seven series when losing the first two games. The only seven-game series they won after dropping the first two games was the 1969 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, Boston gets the next two games at home, where they are 6-1 this postseason. The Celtics have outscored their opponents by eight points per game at home, and, the Heat are averaging 91.0 points per game on the road this postseason -- almost a 10-point drop from what they are averaging at home (100.4).

Since losing back-to-back games against the Indiana Pacers in the conference quarterfinals, the Heat have won five straight games. And it’s how the Heat have come out of the locker room after halftime that has played a big part in their win streak.

In each of the last five games, the Heat have outscored their opponents by at least 10 points in the third quarter. In the first two games of the conference finals, Miami is +24 points in the third quarter, but has been outscored by six points the rest of the game.

As for LeBron James, he continues to put up big numbers. He’s had at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in the first two games of this series, and has five 30-10 games this postseason.

In his career, James has scored at least 35 points in four playoff games at the TD Garden. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most playoff games with at least 35 points for any player in that arena. Paul Pierce has scored at least 35 points in three playoff games at TD Garden.

However, much was made about the two go-ahead field goals James missed in the final 24 seconds of Game 2. James now has missed his last four game-tying or go-ahead field goals in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime of playoff games, dating back to his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James is 0-for-3 on such shots with the Heat, but 5-for-14 (35.7 percent) in his postseason career. Not only is that percentage better than his teammate Dwyane Wade (2-7, 28.6), it’s much higher than the league average (27.0) over the last 16 seasons.

-- Ernest Tolden and Alok Pattani contributed to this post.

Thunder paint Spurs into corner in Game 3

June, 1, 2012
6/01/12
1:39
AM ET

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Thunder excelled with Russell Westbrook (L) on the floor in Thursday's Game 3 win over the Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs may have been due for a loss, but not this kind of loss.

The winners of 20 straight contests, San Antonio lost in grand fashion Thursday night to the Oklahoma City Thunder, falling 102-82. It was just the Spurs' third loss this season by 20 points or more, and it was their lowest offensive output in the playoffs.

The Thunder, who now trail 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals, dominated in virtually every way in Game 3, but their advantage in the paint proved to be the difference. Oklahoma City outscored the conference’s top seed 44-24 in the lane. Nearly half of the Thunder’s shots came in the painted area, and they made 52.4 percent of those attempts.

Inside of 5 feet, the Thunder not only excelled offensively but also locked down the opponent. They scored 38 points (19-33 FG) from that distance Thursday night, holding the Spurs to a playoff-low 22 points on 11-of-20 from the field.

Pressure defense was also a key for the Thunder. They had 14 steals, including six by G Thabo Sefolosha, and San Antonio finished with 21 turnovers. That is the most turnovers by the Spurs in a playoff game since 2007, when they committed 23 against the Jazz in a win.

Those turnovers allowed Oklahoma City to get out and run. The West’s second seed outscored the Spurs 23-9 in transition, converting 10 of their 14 field goal attempts. San Antonio managed only two buckets in transition.

In the half court, the Thunder were able to take away one of the Spurs’ main weapons: the pick-and-roll. San Antonio scored 30 points off pick-and-roll plays in each of the first two games of the series, but the team was held to only 12 points on such plays in Game 3.

Tim Duncan finished with 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting. He did set a milestone by passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most blocks in playoff history (478), but it comes with a caveat: Blocks were not an official stat until 1973-74, Abdul-Jabbar’s fifth NBA season.

The Thunder were able to triumph despite star G Russell Westbrook scoring just 10 points. Westbrook contributed nine assists and four steals, though, and Oklahoma City outscored the Spurs by 29 points when he was on the court. Westbrook averaged 22.0 points in losses in Games 1 and 2.

While Kevin Durant poured in 22, it was a pair of unlikely players that provided the punch for Oklahoma City. Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka combined for 33 points in Game 3; they had just 22 points total in the first two games of the series.

If the Thunder continue to control the interior and transition game, they could give the Spurs fits. Tonight’s effort proved that the Thunder are very much alive in this series.

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