Win Score and the lost 1974 NBA Championship

The key thing that makes the Win Score metric (a variation of which I use on this blog) so valuable (in my mind) and yet so controversial (in the minds of guys who would rather invent ridiculously complicated metrics that are corrupted with unproven and unsupportable assumptions about the game) is that it properly rewards the “creation” of possessions (rebounds, steals, turnovers).

If you doubt the value of possessions created, just go back and watch the Youtube segments of Game 7 of the Bucks legendary 1974 NBA Finals.

After you get over the fact that the Bucks play about as lethargic a championship-deciding game as I’ve ever seen in sports history (notice how the Bucks are down 15 or whatever with like 4 minutes to go and they are playing with the passion and energy of a Wednesday night regular season game!  And then check out the “when is this season getting over with?” body language on display by Kareem every time he went to the foul line.  At one point I swear to God he lets out what looks like a sigh), then the next things you will notice are: (1) that the Bucks have the most dominant player on the court and refuse to use him, and; (2) the Celtics hammer the Bucks on the offensive boards (Rick Barry comments on it repeatedly.  Also watch when the Pete Maravich look-a-like scrub player comes in and institutes a one man full court press with about 30 seconds to play and Barry says “I would have thought they would have tried that a little earlier”).

It turns out, in fact, that possession creation played THE decisive factor in preventing the Bradley Center from featuring a second World Championship banner in its rafters.

I looked up the statistics from the 1974 NBA playoffs on Basketball-Reference.com, and then whittled them down until I was left with just the statistics from the NBA Finals.  Here’s are the shooting statistics I came up with:

………………FG-FGA………FT-FTA….PTS

Boston…..280-647….117-151….677

Milw……..272-585…..100-137….644

You will notice the Bucks shot the ball much better than the Celtics (46.4% to 43.1%).  You will also notice the Celtics had a whopping 69 more “scoring attempt” possessions (which I calculate as FGAs + .5FTAs) than the Bucks, which, using their point conversion average, we know that they converted into something like 64 “extra” points in the series, more than explaining the point differential between the teams, and more than explaining the Celtics upset championship win.

My stats tell me that the Celtics produced most of their “extra” possessions through vastly superior ball handling (anecdotely, my uncle once told me the Celtics victimized an overweight Oscar Robertson).

The Celtics dominated the Bucks in turnovers committed (107 to 142) with almost all of the gap explained by the Celtics dominance in steals (58 to 21… and since steals are disproportionately a “guard on guard” crime, that also points to the Robertson explanation).  When you throw in the Celtics edge in offensive rebounding, its no wonder that disaster happened at the Milwaukee Arena on that awful Easter Sunday, 1974 (which just happened to be the Easter that the Peanuts Gang launched their “not-nearly-as-appreciated-as-their-Halloween-and-Christmas-specials” Easter special, so not everything was bad about it, but it certainly was a darker day in Milwaukee than this glorious “I will never forget where I was when” Easter Sunday).

So next time you’re at a Bucks game and you glance up at the BC rafters and see only the 1970-71 banner, after you ask someone why the 1973-74 banner says “Western Conference” on it, you won’t have to follow up with “Why didn’t the Bucks win the championship that year?”  You will already know:  they didn’t value their possessions.

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2 Responses to “Win Score and the lost 1974 NBA Championship”

  1. Bob Owen Says:

    The 1973-1974 Bucks would have won a second title if Lucuis Allen did not have a torn knee cartilage (18 points a game).They also needed his ball handling skills to beat Boston’s press.Another factor was Jon McGlocklins sprained ankle that inhibited his jumping when he would shoot the Ball.And lastly do not forget about the Big O’s groin injury.
    As it was even a injuried Bucks team took the Celtics to seven games.
    Had the Bucks been healthy, the Bucks would have Won the Series in 5 maybe 6 games.

    • tywill33 Says:

      I think you’re right on all counts. Lucius Allen was just hitting his peak, but unfortunately that injury basically ended his effectiveness. The Bucks tried to rely on Ron Williams, but he was not up to the task.

      I think the team also made a monster mistake by not giving more minutes to the hugely underrated reserve F/G Mickey Davis.

      I’m working on a post that will provide a statistical analysis of every team of the Alcindor/Abdul-Jabbar era which you might find interesting. Keep checking back, and thanks for the comments.

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