Thinking on the Margin in the NBA
Many margins matter. And the Warriors Got Screwed.
You will often see professional NBA teams that lose games say that they lost it because of factor X. X could be one of many things: poor shooting, poor switching off on defense, careless turnovers, or silly touch fouls, to name four. In last Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Golden State Warriors did some of all those four, causing them to give up a comfortable halftime lead.
There’s nothing wrong with that reasoning. But it leaves out other factors. One other such factor is poor referee calls. Referees miss even egregious fouls but hopefully they miss roughly the same number each way. But one poor referee call that’s beyond the pale is calling a play dead after one of the players about to pass the ball into play fumbles it and a player on the other side picks it up.
That’s what happened in last Wednesday’s game. After the Warriors scored, LeBron James took the ball out of bounds to pass it in. But he fumbled and Warriors player (and fellow Canadian) Andrew Wiggins grabs it and is about to go up for an easy 2-pointer. Instead, the referee whistles the call dead and gives LeBron a do-over.
You might argue that the official didn’t think LeBron had possession and that’s why he blew it dead. That could make sense except for one glaring fact: the official did think LeBron had possession, which is why he had started his 5-second count for LeBron to pass it in. Watch the 8-second video.
If the official had called it right, the odds are about 0.99 that Wiggins would have scored. The Warriors lost by 3 points and needed a heroic 3-point play in the last 2 seconds, which they didn’t get. But if it had been called right, they would have been down by one one point, not three, and so would have had many options for a 2-point play.
Many margins matter.
Postscript: In some ways the picture accompanying this article is more apt.