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Spurs win ugly, but a beautiful night in NY

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

Kawhi Leonard sprained his ankle in Game 5 but says he will play in Game 6.

San Antonio survives Game 5 vs. Houston in ugly fashion. Then we consider who had the better night in New York…the Ottawa Senators or our own Brent Musburger.

NBA: Spurs limp to dramatic overtime win

It was one of the worst “great” games ever. San Antonio is not a championship caliber team if Kawhi Leonard isn’t at his best. He sprained his ankle so badly with 5:40 to go in the third quarter that he only played token experimental minutes the rest of the way. Houston is not a championship caliber team if James Harden isn’t at his best. He hit a fourth quarter fatigue wall so hard that he was might as well have been on the bench. One could argue that Harden’s string of poor shots and bad passes hurt Houston worse than Kawhi’s absence hurt San Antonio.

Fourth-quarter score:

  • Houston 16
  • San Antonio 15

First three minutes of overtime:

  • Houston 0
  • San Antonio 0

That’s 15 minutes of 16-15 basketball that was even uglier to watch than the scoring totals make it sound. A three-pointer by Patrick Beverly broke the spell. Houston would get outscored 9-3 the rest of the way.

San Antonio (-5.5) 110, Houston 107 (in overtime)

  • Rebounding: Houston 48, San Antonio 52
  • Turnovers: Houston 15, San Antonio 7

Fitting in a grinder game (registering at 90 for pace when pro-rated to 48 minutes) that it was fundamentals ruling the day. Houston shot a lot better on two-pointers (58% to 44%), but that’s mostly because they only took two-pointers when the seas parted to allow chippies. Certainly, 33 missed three-point attempts played a big role in preventing the Rockets from getting over the top. Houston missed 33, San Antonio only took 33 treys. 

We’ve been talking about pace and possession counts all through the NBA postseason. VSiN City has many new subscribers since the playoffs began (thanks!). And, we honestly kind of jumped right in enthusiastically instead of explaining it well at the beginning. A quick breakdown…

In NBA analytics, pace is the estimate of possessions based on boxscore stats, pro-rated to 48 minutes. In most games, that’s going to be the same as “possession count” in our terms. But, if a game goes overtime, we make it clear that we’re using the 48-minute pro-rated estimate.

Here’s the formula used by basketball-reference to estimate possessions:

“The formula for teams is 0.5 * ((Tm FGA 0.4 *Tm FTA - 1.07 * (Tm ORB / (Tm ORB Opp DRB)) * (Tm FGA - Tm FG) Tm TOV) (Opp FGA 0.4 * OppFTA - 1.07 * (Opp ORB / (Opp ORB Tm DRB)) * (Opp FGA - Opp FG) Opp TOV)). This formula estimates possessions based on both the team's statistics and their opponent's statistics, then averages them to provide a more stable estimate.” 

You can look up formal definitions for pace, possessions—and a lot of other analytical terms on this glossary page from basketball-reference.

Here are the latest pace numbers for the second round on a game-by-game basis...

  • Houston/San Antonio: 103-88-96-99-90
  • Washington/Boston: 93-97-96-99
  • Cleveland’s sweep of Toronto: 100-100-96-93
  • Golden State’s sweep of Utah: 92-101-93-99

The 24-second clock helps narrow the range. Slow games will be in the low 90’s or the 80’s. Fast games will be in the high 90’s or 100’s. There’s not always a correlation between pace and results in terms of team sides or totals. But, being able to estimate a likely pace does help you make better informed predictions over the long haul. 

Look at how well pace paints the picture in the Rockets/Spurs series…

  • Pace counts were a fast 103 and 99 in Houston’s 126-99 and 125-104 wins (Rockets and Over both times)
  • Pace counts were a much slower 88, 96, and 90 in San Antonio’s 121-96, 103-92, and overtime wins (101-all in regulation)

That’s an average pace of 101 in Houston’s victories, but just an average of 91.33 in San Antonio’s victories. Houston’s fast paced games averaged 227 total points. San Antonio’s slower paced wins averaged just 204.6 points in regulation. 

San Antonio carries a 3-2 series lead into Thursday’s Game 6 in Houston. Can Harden get his legs back? How serious is Kawhi’s ankle tweak? Note that a potential Game 7 wouldn’t be until Sunday…which would allow an extra day to possibly get both superstars fresh and healthy.

Looking further down the road…it’s virtually impossible to imagine San Antonio challenging Golden State if Leonard can’t get back to 100% soon. And, the Rockets look helpless when the “tired” version of Harden has to carry the load in fourth quarters vs. quality opposition (a common theme for Mike D’Antoni teams through his career). If the Rockets can win the next two…Harden IS GOING TO WEAR DOWN against a Golden State onslaught. Tonight’s crunch time made Golden State’s stranglehold on the West seem even stronger.

One game Wednesday in the NBA playoffs…

Wednesday’s point spread

  • Washington at Boston (-4.5, total of 215.5); 8 p.m. ET on TNT

NHL: A whole lotta Ottawa! Underdog Senators storm into Eastern Finals

They weren’t supposed to get past the first round as series underdogs to Boston. And, they sure weren’t supposed to get past the second round against the Rangers. But, the Ottawa Senators are locked into the Eastern Conference finals, awaiting the winner of Washington/Pittsburgh. 

Ottawa (plus-165) 4, NY Rangers 2

  • Shots: Ottawa 26, NY Rangers 30

The Rangers posted a furious 15-5 shot tally advantage while trying to rally from a third period deficit. An empty-netter from the visitors created a misleading final score. 

Ottawa also beat Boston in a Game 6 on the road to finish off the series. This from a team that was so disrespected by the market that they were series underdogs twice despite starting with home ice advantage both times. You can be sure they will be prohibitive underdogs against either Pittsburgh or Washington. Right where they want to be!

A huge Wednesday night awaits hockey fans, with a pair of dramatic Game 7’s…

Wednesday’s money lines (both series tied at 3-3)

  • Pittsburgh at Washington (-190, 5.5--Under -125); 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network
  • Edmonton at Anaheim (-125, 5.5--Under -135); 10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network

Congratulations Brent Musburger

You’ve likely heard by now that Musburger was in New York Tuesday night to accept a Lifetime Achievement Sports Emmy. (Broadcast on Periscope.) We all look forward to hearing stories about that trip and experience when Brent returns to “My Guys in the Desert” Thursday afternoon. 

In the meantime…how about…

A quick look back at Brent’s call of Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary to Gerard Phelan in 1984?

A trip down memory lane to a halftime show from NFL Today in 1979?

A Hall of Fame collection of Brent, Hubie Brown, and Dick Stockton from an NBA league finals prelude in 1989?

(If you’ve got some time…enjoying old clips on youtube from Brent’s career is well worth the effort. Also, if you heard Ron Flatter recite the lyrics from 1970’s CBS NBA telecast openers Tuesday afternoon on VSiN, here’s what that sounded like when put to music. Be forewarned that you’ll be humming the song for a few hours after you watch.) 

MLB: Interleague Ledger

With a flurry of Interleague games on the Major League Baseball slate at the moment, this seems like the ideal time to put that topic front and center. There’s another flurry coming up in the middle of next week (highlighted by the Boston Red Sox visiting the St. Louis Cardinals). As we gear up for an increase in cross-league battles, let’s see where things stand at the moment.

Interleague records (through Tuesday)

  • American League 27, National League 17
  • Adjusted for moneylines: American League plus 8.7 units
  • American League at home: 14-6 (plus 7.1 units)
  • American League on the road: 13-11 (plus 1.6 units)

The unit counts are approximate given varying closing lines across the industry. Different tabulations using opening lines or widely available midday lines would have some fractional differences. But, not enough to change the early view that the AL is still superior.

You regulars may recall VSiN host Gill Alexander discussing the home/road dynamic on “A Number’s Game” not too long ago. For several years now, the American League has turned a fairly standard MLB home field victory ratio 54% to 46% strongly in their direction when playing the National League. Gill told listeners the AL wins around 58-59% at home. On the road, they win about 50% when visiting NL squads. An increase of about 4-5% points each way. 

Too many NL squads become blowout fodder on the road in cross-league battles because they don’t have a great DH option off the bench. Though, the AL is still a coin flip at road sites when its pitchers have to bat…better than the standard 46% win-rate for MLB visitors. 

The theme of AL dominance is underplayed by major media networks who might suffer ratings losses if the National League was presented as significantly inferior. Yet, recent history shows that’s very much been the case.

Interleague records by year since 2005

  • 2005: American League 136, National League 116
  • 2006: American League 154, National League 98
  • 2007: American League 137, National League 115
  • 2008: American League 149, National League 103
  • 2009: American League 138, National League 114
  • 2010: American League 134, National League 118
  • 2011: American League 131, National League 121
  • 2012: American League 142, National League 110
  • 2013: American League 154, National League 146
  • 2014: American League 163, National League 137
  • 2015: American League 167, National League 133
  • 2016: American League 165, National League 135

The National League definitely fell down to “glorified Triple A” status back from 2006-2008. There are concerns that we could be seeing something at least in that direction based on the AL’s advantages the past three seasons. And, that’s with some NL teams raiding AL braintrusts and talent! The Chicago Cubs brought in Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon. That might have helped them to a very strong 15-5 mark vs. the AL in 2016. That means the rest of the National League was just 120-160 vs. the AL a year ago! 

It’s still very early in 2017, obviously. We’ll continue to monitor records and market performance for you here in VSiN City. Maybe the NL will make a run at equality this season, similar to 2011 and 2013. Maybe they’ll end more than a decade of the AL’s rule. For now, the “senior circuit” continues to play more like the junior varsity.  

That wraps up Wednesday. Back with you tomorrow to review those exciting Game 7’s in the NHL playoffs and Game Six of Washington/Boston in the NBA. If you have any comments about VSiN programming, or suggestions for future newsletter topics, please drop us a note. If you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to receive these weekday reports in your email box by clicking here. And, don’t forget to follow us on twitter for live bulletins and programming updates seven days a week. 

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