Every sports team has demons lurking in the dark, lying deep within the shadows of the team’s every move, three-point shot and field-goal kick. This year’s Warriors are no different. Many analytical metrics had given Golden State less than a 1% chance of winning the NBA Finals at the start of this year’s playoffs — something that failed to hold true in the face of a 3-2 Warrior lead.
At times, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green looked utterly unbeatable; especially alongside rising star Jordan Poole. When the Warriors are clicking on all cylinders, it’s like a dream, working in complete harmony. This team can be the very epitome of perfect play.
For the first time in their dynastic run they had, and still continue to be given, substantially low odds. Entering these playoffs, Warrior superstar Curry had missed the final 12 games of the regular season due to a foot sprain he suffered March 16. During that 12-game span, Golden State went 6-6, which was not great. A shaky finish to the season combined with the unknowns of Curry and Thompson’s physical ability led to a lot of nerves in the Bay in the days leading up to this year’s playoffs.
Then, boom. Just like that. Just after three games, the Warriors became the Vegas-money favorite to win it all. Golden State came out guns blazing against the Denver Nuggets and took a 3-0 lead. However, analytical metrics stayed hesitant in giving the Warriors any real shot at achieving the ultimate goal. The Phoenix Suns were always considered overwhelming favorites to come out of the West.
After Game 1of the NBA Finals, statistical analysis website and news source FiveThirtyEight gave the Golden State Warriors just an 8% chance to win the NBA title. Prior to the start of the NBA Finals, ESPN’s very own advanced metric known as BPI had given the Warriors just a 12% of beating the Celtics following Game 2.
Here’s how the Warriors have made this epic finals run — a run that not many outside of the Bay saw coming. Now here we are, with the Golden State Warriors leading 3-2, and a chance to close out the heavily favored Boston powerhouse.
After the Warriors took Game 5 despite Curry’s shooting struggles, FiveThirtyEight and others finally gave Golden State the edge with a 63% chance to win its fourth title in seven years.
However, analytics provide bounds of insight on a game that the human eye cannot see. Some metrics are really good deciphers for considering good to great to all time. Yet, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the calculation and how that final metric comes to be. The majority doesn’t understand, and those who do will struggle to explain it with simplicity. What’s more, there’s a lot that analytics cannot track, such as experience, resilience and the will to win.
Going into the 2022 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors had a whopping 123 games of finals experience, while the Boston Celtics walked into Game 1 with a total of zero games played in the finals. Even with the stark difference in number of final games played, the Celtics were still given a 92% to be crowned after they notched their very first game.
Beyond the scope of an entire team, Klay Thompson is a prominent example of how analytics are unable to track the resiliency and determination of players. For context, Thompson suffered back-to-back season-ending injuries and hadn’t played an NBA game in roughly 1,000 days. After tearing his ACL in the finals of 2019, Klay followed that up with tearing his achilles the early summer of 2020. In the face of these career threatening injuries, Klay willed his way back onto the basketball court. I wouldn’t bet against someone like that.
The Warriors have the Celtics on their heels — they smell blood. The questions lying in these Warriors’ shadows seem all but nearly answered, while the Celtics’ shadow is as dark as ever.