Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: Graphing NBA Finals Game Four

Roger PAnalyst IJune 13, 2009

Derek Fisher was the Lakers' hero for Game Four of the NBA Finals. Twice.

His stat line doesn't look like much—only 12 points, and he only made 2-7 from beyond the arc—but his two trios came at the best possible times. One tied the game to send it into overtime, and the other gave the Lakers an overtime lead that stuck, for the win.

The Magic had built a substantial lead in the first half, then gave it all away in the second as the Lakers turn a 12-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead entering the fourth quarter. For as up and down as the game went, though, the statistics make for pretty similar team Spider Graphs:

The offensive performances, on the top half of the graph, are almost identical.

The bottom half is where things get interesting. The Magic had a crazy number of blocks, and the Lakers had twice as many steals—reflecting that Orlando dominated big, and the Lakers played slow and quick.

The stat lines agree, as Dwight Howard played a monster 49 minutes (more on that later), and the Lakers got big games from Trevor Ariza and (sort of) Derek Fisher instead of Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

It's interesting to note also that for the third straight game (meaning everything after Game One, which we now realize was the exception and not the rule) the Magic out-rebounded and out-assisted the Lakers. In essence, they've outplayed the Lakers in three straight games—but the Lakers managed to force overtime twice, and then won both those contests.

Now, without wasting any more time, let's look at the superstar performances:

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Kobe's graph is decent, but the poor shooting is the gaping flaw that keeps it from being nicely rounded like usual. He almost gave the game away by shooting 2-9 in the pivotal fourth quarter, but redeemed himself with two gritty baskets to start overtime.

He hasn't been, in this series, the clutch player we know him as. But that's a whole different discussion.

Dwight Howard, on the other hand, has been the king of the Spider Graph in this series. Posting an unworldly nine blocks (nine! blocks!) in the game goes way, way off the charts—not to mention his 21 rebounds.

There is a flaw in his game, though, and it's just as easy to see here as it is when watching him play. While his defense and rebounding are Bill Walton-type numbers, his offensive output is inconsistent due to limited options.

His typically offensive possession is fairly predictable. Receive the pass deep in the paint, hold the ball low, turn and power over the defender.

The Lakers have figured that out, too, and adding a help defender before the shot (when he has the ball low) has kept him reasonably in check and forced him to earn his points from the foul line, where his shooting has been mediocre at best.

That was true in this game, where he scored 10 points on 12 shots, and adding six from the line (out of 14)—but was even more so in Game Three, where he only got off six shots (though he made five) and added 11 (out of 16) from the line.

Just to bring this point home, it's then appropriate to mention that a couple of missed Dwight Howard free throws could have iced this game and prevented overtime. But that's water under the bridge now.

And finally, after a brief reappearance, the point guards of both teams have again been reported missing. While Fisher made it happen with his two clutch three, those add up to half his points:

Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown combined for 11 minutes of play, so they again didn't qualify for the graph. Fisher's play, while not spectacular, hasn't been a hazard to the Lakers—he tied for the team-highest +/- in this game, with 15—and thus he's played nearly full games.

If you need context to this graph, compare it to the Kobe-Dwight graph above and realize that they're on the same scale. The impact that these point guards have had on most of these Finals games, from a statistical standpoint, has been almost completely negligible.

Fisher scored 12, Rafer Alston scored 11, and Jameer Nelson added only two points in 26 minutes. The Magic could be distancing themselves from the Lakers if they got more production from the point—they're not wearing themselves out defending Fisher, and represent a mostly-untapped source of offense.

Game Five on Sunday will dictate whether we need a Game Six, and to this point it seems 50/50. The Magic have outplayed the Lake Show for the most part, but the Lakers have shown their experience in putting in better clutch performances to win games.

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