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Thread: The value of never getting blown out

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    Default The value of never getting blown out

    So one thing that was occurring to me tonight as I was watching the Raptors stick with Lowry through the full fourth quarter after many coaches would have chalked it up to garbage time, was how that's been a theme of this season and, well, of Casey's whole time here. I think there's probably a teaching lesson in there, teaching guys to play right to the end. Against Cleveland last week, a double-digit deficit would have been time to throw in the towel for most coaches, but Casey kept his guys in there to make a final score that was somewhat more respectable than the team probably deserved. Same with late against Cleveland, being down 10 on the second night of a tough back-to-back, or down 18 to GSW. They're always pushing to prove themselves against an elite opponent.

    I got thinking about this more, and I began to wonder if there was any correlation there: between never losing big, and winning in the playoffs. So I looked up the best teams in NBA history by this measure: who had the lowest total margin in all of their regular season losses. The top of the list is dominated by the historically great teams, like the Jordan Bulls or 80s Celtics, who rarely lost and far more rarely lost a blowout.

    But what I was really interested in was not the total here but the average: the teams that might have lost 20+ games, but always kept it close. Would those teams be particularly good playoff teams? Surprisingly at the very top of the list is everyone's favorite "here's how you win without superstars" team, the 04 Pistons, who lost 28 games, but amazingly, by an average of just 5.6 points. In all, the top 30 on the list includes 13 NBA champions and an additional 11 finalists and conference finalists. There are a lot of interesting teams amongst those on the list: the Boston Celtics, back during their very first championship run, also lost 28 games, but by an average of 6.2. Chicago had their best score at 5.9, on the way to their second championship. Milwaukee's sudden rise to the NBA championship in just their third season came on the back of an impressive 6.2 mark. The first Lakers championship (1952, the first of 3 in a row) came with a great mark, as did the first of their 1980s championships, and the first of their 08-09 back-to-backs.

    It's not all good, as OKC has a trio of appearances in the top 30, their top score of 6.9 coming in their 2012 finals run, but they're pretty much the only team with multiple appearances on the list who could not turn it into a championship.

    So that brings us to the Raptors this season; in their combined 7 losses, the total margin of loss is a mere 33 points, for an average of less than 5. Major small sample size alert here, but that is the best average in league history. GSW, by comparison, has a total margin of defeat of 77 in their 4 losses. Which is fine for them, they already know how to win (in 2014-15 they posted a franchise best mark in this regard). Same with the Spurs (who themselves posted a great score by this measure in 99 and 04).

    Obviously wins are more important overall than margin of defeat. The NBA champions list is heavily populated with conference champions and runner-ups. But I think there's merit here to the idea that Casey is teaching his team to play every game to the bitter end, a lesson that seems especially important after the team got blown out and seemingly threw in the towel in several games during the conference finals last year. Ultimately, I can't tell here whether these other teams on the list were simply good enough to always be competitive regardless of lineup, or whether they just never refused to throw in the towel. I'd certainly like to think it's the latter... it fits with the narrative of how you get to be a champion someday.


    TL;DR: Maybe there's a correlation between teams that rarely or never lose by large margins, and teams that learn how to win championships. Maybe not.

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    Raptors Republic All-Star DogeLover1234's Avatar
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    I guess conversely, in a game where you know you are going to lose, it just risks injury and the minutes could add up for a bit extra fatigue.

    Real good write up, been wondering if that stat was all noise, but looks like there is some cause for optimism there. Great!

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    Jeez lossing by less than 5 means a chance for a win? The warriors seem to really falter in there losses(19 pts) it would really be interesting to see what the opponents lead is when the team pulls it's best players??

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    Quote rightsideup wrote: View Post
    Jeez lossing by less than 5 means a chance for a win? The warriors seem to really falter in there losses(19 pts) it would really be interesting to see what the opponents lead is when the team pulls it's best players??
    Conversely, I would expect larger margins in at least some Warriors losses because a) the Warriors are a team that can shoot their way back into a game quickly, so a higher cushion is is required before pulling starters, and b) the larger the margin of victory of the Warriors, the better the resulting bragging rights and confidence boost will be.

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    I personally like this stat, but there are a couple ways to look at it. Are the Raps fighting tough in every game? Or are they letting games that should be narrow wins turn into narrow losses? Both are possible with narrow margins.

    Thankfully we do have the answer - with the Raptors' incredible clutch and 4th Q ratings, it is definitely the former. So yay!

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    Raptors Republic All-Star Mess's Avatar
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    So it's still "We The Fourth" they've just gotten better in the first 3 quarters.
    Two beer away from being two beers away.

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    Raptors Republic Hall of Famer Nilanka's Avatar
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    Not a fan of our starters playing a lot of minutes, but I appreciate the roster's collective "never say die" attitude. They genuinely believe they're in every game. They don't just speak it, they mean it. Have to appreciate that perseverance.

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    Raptors Republic Superstar S.R.'s Avatar
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    Nice thoughts OP, thanks.

    On a related note John Hollinger always emphasized the importance of point differential to put W/L numbers in context. Good teams win by more and lose by less consistently, weaker teams might have a season where enough things go right to up the W/L numbers but the consistently win by less and are at risk to lose by more than better teams that may end up with a comparable W/L.

    BTW the Raptors currently have the best per game diff in the East and second in the league, only trailing GSW. They've moved up over their recent run of wins.
    "Control DeRozan's catch-shoot game. He rarely passes. Defend the ball. Much of what they do reverses to 1 on 1 play." -- Visitor Locker Room Whiteboard, Air Canada Centre, Feb. 26, 2015

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    Interesting thinking octothorp. You mention the Raptors this season but does the observations correctly predict the last 3 Raptor seasons + playoffs? Does the stats fall in line with last year's ECF appearance and one 3-7 and a 0-4 first round exits?

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    Quote RDV wrote: View Post
    Interesting thinking octothorp. You mention the Raptors this season but does the observations correctly predict the last 3 Raptor seasons + playoffs? Does the stats fall in line with last year's ECF appearance and one 3-7 and a 0-4 first round exits?
    The last 4 seasons, the Raptors have had the best loss point differential in franchise history. This year's is the best, last year's about twice as bad. 2013-14 almost identical to last year's. 2014-15 significantly worse.

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    Great post.

    I just love having (good) reason to watch the game to the bitter end, knowing that they'll make a run regardless to make it less bitter if not sweet.

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