Data Visualization: Warriors’ 2015 NBA title win inevitable

Stephen Curry and Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala, led the Golden State Warriors to their first title in 40 years against the Cleveland Cavaliers (and a relentless LeBron James) in game six of the 2015 NBA Finals.

After giving the Cavaliers a 2-1 advantage part way through the best-of-seven series, Warriors coach, Steve Kerr, said claiming the 2015 title was “pure joy”. But, Kerr needn’t have worried. Despite Golden State’s last NBA crown coming in 1975, statistics indicated that the Warriors were a sure thing to claim this year’s championship.

We’ll show you why using Business Intelligence and data visualization.

NBA Finals: Probability of victory by series-leading team (all-time)

Note: Statistics indicating the probability of the series-leading team winning the next Finals game, and the best-of-seven Finals series overall, were sources from www.whowins.com/home.html

Insights

  • The team that wins Game 1 of the Finals series goes on to win the championship 70.6% of the time
    • Curiously, the team that establishes the crucial 1-0 series lead is more likely to lose Game 2, winning the next match 45.6% of the time
  • The strongest position to hold in an NBA Finals series is a 3-0 lead – not only do series leading teams in this position have a 66.7% chance of winning Game 4, no team has ever lost the NBA Finals series after holding a 3-0 (or 3-1) lead
  • The team that holds a 2-1 series lead (the Cavaliers, in this instance) has an 83.9% probability of winning the Finals series
    • However, a team that holds a 2-1 series lead historically only has a 50/50 chance of winning Game 4 (Golden State comeback, anyone?)

Since winning Game 1, did the Warriors’ have two hands on the title?
After the Warriors’ clinched a tight and bruising encounter in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals series (108 – 100), history indicated that they basically had the championship stitched-up – the team that takes-out Game 1 progresses to claim the title 70.6% of the time. Even the Cavaliers comeback was statistically probable, with the loser of Game 1 going on to level the series at one apiece 54.4% of the time. But, it wasn’t to be for Cleveland – despite the valiant efforts of LeBron James.

To further emphasize the fact that successful comebacks in the best-of-seven NBA Finals are unlikely, no team has ever lost the series after establishing a 3-0 or 3-1 lead.

However, the Cavaliers can count themselves unlucky considering the way the series unfolded after Game 3. After improbably fighting their way back into the series – partly due to the surprisingly strong contributions of Australian Matthew Dellavedova – the Cavaliers should have then taken the series victory, according to historical data. Teams that secure a 2-1 series lead go onto win the title 83.9% of the time. But, it seems that, in this particular instance, injuries may have cruelled the Cavaliers charge.

Reliant on LeBron, and running high on revelatory offerings from lesser-lights, Cleveland simply ran out of steam and couldn’t continue to compensate for the loss of Kyrie Irving in Game 1 (fractured kneecap) and Kevin Love (dislocated shoulder). As LeBron said: “We ran out of talent”. Golden State would go on to win games four (103 – 82), five (104 – 91) and six (105 – 97) to secure a 4-2 series victory.

What makes the Warriors’ series win even more impressive, is that they also got back in the contest, and stormed home to clinch the last three games of the Finals, against the odds of playing on-the-road.

NBA Finals: Home and away winning percentages (all-time)


Insights

  • The average winning percentage for teams playing at home in the NBA Finals is 53.6%
  • The average winning percentage for teams playing on-the-road (away) in the NBA Finals is 33.5%
    • While teams playing at home during the NBA Finals have enjoyed a winning edge, it’s clear that playing away is tough, with a winning differential of 20.1% compared to home games

Golden State got their game plan going on the road
As we learnt before, the Warriors were in a dire position heading into Game 4, down 1-2 to Cleveland, with the history books only giving them a 16.1% probability of winning the Finals series from that point onwards. Not only that, but to get back in the contest and level the series, the Warriors had to win Game 4 on-the-road against the Cavs in Ohio.

Then, in order to earn the 2015 title in Game 6, Golden State had to once more overcome the specter of that lowly winning percentage of 33.5% for teams playing on-the-road in an NBA Final. And, they did.

So, it seems like the Warriors’ 2015 NBA Finals victory was both inevitable and hard-fought – if such a thing is possible…

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