When asked before the LA Clippers-Houston series, I freely said that I thought the Clippers were the far better team and would win handily. Cullen Baggett claims that the word sweep left my lips. While I don’t recall saying it, it certainly was not far from my thoughts. Knowing Chris Paul would not play, I didn’t believe in a sweep, but I still believed they were the better team.
Well, now the series is tied 3-3 and the Houston Rockets are headed home for game seven with momentum and must be considered the favorite. So, clearly, I was incorrect. Clearly two teams that had the exact same record in the regular season, including the same record at home and on the road, and are tied 3-3 in a series are of approximately equal worth. Two teams this equal are a coin flip.
Not so fast. First of all, if your best argument is that the teams are even, then your argument is not that good. Second of all, the teams aren’t quite as even as you might believe. While Houston is home for game 7 because they won their division, the fact is that had they either both won or both not won their divisions, the Clippers would have won the tiebreaker.
Breaking down tiebreakers is not much of differentiation, but looking at the numbers beneath those base numbers is different. The Clippers had a better offense and a better defense this year. Their point differential was 2.2 points per game better. That’s equivalent to the difference between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Phoenix Suns PLUS the difference between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Utah Jazz. It’s almost 200 points better during the season.
They’ve also been better in this series. Thirty-five points better, which is two and a half times better than the point differential during the regular season. But this cannot be surprising to the people who have watched this series. Of the six games, the Clippers were clearly better through 36 minutes in five of those games. The other game (Game 5) was one where they clearly were casual with the game. Of course, we know that games aren’t 36 minutes and the Clippers were also casual at the end of games 2 and 6.
Even without Chris Paul early (and him being less than 100% late), the Clippers have been the dominant team. Now, this is the great part about sports. The dominant team doesn’t always win. There are times when an 18-0 Patriots team can lose Super Bowl XLII. So, the Clippers can dominate the series and still not win. That’s possible. And part of winning an NBA Title has to do with learning how to win games you have no business winning.
So, I’m excited to watch game 7. I’m excited to see if the better team will win. I’m excited that we have a trade-off between better skill and more opportunistic playing. I’m excited that sports are fun because of the unknown. So, I guess I was wrong…but not really.