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Trying to take note of everything: Jazz, Clippers by way too many numbers

Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers look equal, but one team is more equal than the other where it counts in crunch time.

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Five Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Okay, so we’ve seen the Utah Jazz lose the regular season series to the Los Angeles Clippers 1-3. That said, the two teams finished with identical records almost across the board.

  • Regular season record: 51-31.
  • Conference record: 31-21.
  • Home record: 29-12.
  • Road record: 22-19.

It’s only fitting that these two teams have had a really tight 4 seed / 5 seed match-up in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Utah now has the lead, 3-2, with at most another two games yet to be played. Tim Cato, of SB Nation, points out that this has been a very tight series.

Tim writes:

It doesn’t feel like anything in the Jazz-Clippers series has gone according to plan.

In the utopia version of this series, Blake Griffin wouldn’t have suffered a season-ending injury, Rudy Gobert wouldn’t have tweaked his knee just minutes into Game 1, and Gordon Hayward wouldn’t have suffered through food poisoning in Game 4.

In a perfect world, the next round wouldn’t be the historically good Warriors, but would offer a more realistic path to a championship. And yet, five games into this anticipated series, and every game has thrilled us at every turn.

This has been our closest — and our best — series in the first round. Even with everything that has gone wrong, who can dislike that?

Tim Cato, SB Nation, 2017

He breaks down the numbers, which are super even, and even takes a stab at that’s on the line for Game 6, and possibly Game 7. It’s worth reading. But for me, I was already tracking a whole bunch of stupid stuff. The Playoffs is one thing, and clearly it appears that the Regular Season is both important and something you have to just throw away - depending on who you ask.

So I had to break down the Utah Jazz / Los Angeles Clippers series in three slices: regular season, the playoffs, and it all put together. It’s a sample size of 9 games, and if Utah finishes it off in Game 6, it’ll finish with a tidy n=10. I hope that happens.

Well, anyway, first things first . . . let’s look at the scoreboard!

Points, by quarter, half, and final

The Clippers went 3-1 in the regular season. The Jazz are so far 3-2 in the playoffs. Some of these games have been close. Those were not the regular season games at all. Yes, the Jazz were missing guys, but they really did not look like equals back in those October and February games., AllThatAmar

Utah was averaging 39.75 points per game in the first half of those regular season games. No wonder the LA faithful expected LAC in 5. It seems like the Jazz were playing possum a bit. Because the same slice, the first 24 minutes, have turned into the Jazz averaging 50.60 ppg in the first half. Utah went from being down 8.25 points at half on average to being up 1.20 points. The regular season isn’t the playoffs, and vice versa.

LA has maintained stronger third quarters, and the fourth have been virtual ties both in the season and playoffs. So it’s really the second quarter that’s the difference maker. Who plays more in the second quarter? Your bench guys.

Who was playing with 2-3 missing rotation players for almost every single game of the regular season? Utah.

When you are missing 2-3 rotation players does this make your bench weaker? Yes.

Is Utah injured now? Thankfully no. As a result, the bench is stronger. And they are making a difference in this game.

Overall the Clippers are still up 887 points to 851 points. One more game to play though, possibly two. It’s going to be interesting to see how this all shakes out. But if we are comparing the playoffs and the regular season I think it’s clear that this is a different Utah Jazz team.

The Four Factors:

The Four Factors are what us nerds really care about. The four factors include effective FG% (eFG%), turn overs (TOV%), rebounding (ORB% and DRB%), and of course the FT/FGA ratio. The eFG% is better than just simple FG% because it includes degree of difficulty (like threes). Turning the ball over is simply just turning the ball over, but in a percentage form. It’s the same with the rebounding percentages. These are conjugate results. FT/FGA is kind of abstract, but it represents a ratio of how frequently you are getting to the line — or on defense letting the other team get to the line.

The four factors are calculated for offense and for defense. If you find the difference between the two you get the net values. (Because it’s for offense and defense, the team’s ORTG is compared against their opponents ORTG, which is the same thing as the original team’s DRTG.)

Sure, we also care about pace of play, and Offensive Rating (ORTG) and Defensive Rating (DRTG). So let’s put it all together. But let’s take a look at four different groups.

  • The control group of the Utah Jazz over the regular season.
  • A second control group of the Los Angeles Clippers over the regular season.
  • The average of averages [AoA] of their head to head games in the regular season.
  • The average of averages of their head to head games in the playoffs.

Average of Averages because ain’t nobody got time to hand calculate this stuff at this time of the night. Anyway, this is what it looks like:, AllThatAmar

Okay. Wow. Just wow. There are a lot of numbers here. We see the factors for each of the nine games, and the four groups (Season H2H, Playoffs H2H, Jazz control, Clippers control). The point is that we can see what is NORMAL for each team, and then grade it against what we’ve seen.

For example, it’s not ABNORMAL for the Clippers to get to the line. For the season they had a FT/FGA ratio of .233, and that’s also the case for the Jazz, who have that control group FT/FGA ratio value of .215. Both should be getting about 20% of their FGA value as FTs. Is that what we’ve seen?

In their head to head match-up in the regular season both teams did not get to the line as much. LAC went from .233 to .196. That .196 value is very close to the Jazz defensive value, for the regular season it was .196. So LAC’s ability to get to the line against UTA was similar to what UTA’s defense is doing over the larger sample size of 82 games.

What about UTA’s ability to get to the line against LAC? UTA’s FT/FGA was .215 for the regular season, and in the H2H against LAC in the regular season it went down to .164. That’s a bigger drop off of what happened to LAC, but it’s also way below what LAC usually allows, which is .211. Yikes.

What about in the playoffs? Well, LAC is back up to their control group average, .233 is the same as .233. So this discounts the Jazz’ ability to defend without fouling - something the team worked really hard on. But the Clippers defense is amazing, apparently. UTA’s control group average for getting to the line was .215, but in the playoffs it’s . . . wait . . . only .212? That’s not too far off.

Anyway, this is just for FT/FGA. That’s one of the four factors. And that’s only looking at one aspect of the whole piece of the puzzle. I didn’t break down pace, or net ratings or whatever. But yeah, in the games where Rudy plays we see LAC isn’t getting any ORB%. Also, Utah really wasn’t good to start the season.

But for me, free throws is a big deal. And while the Four Factors half shows that Utah is getting screwed, the actual numbers prove that point better than the analytics. (Of course, the disparity in GM 3, 4, and 5 are appalling in the four factors as well.)

Actual Free Throws in the games:

Nine games. Lots of free throws. Overall it looks okay upon first glance. But it’s actually kind of messed up. , AllThatAmar

Utah had more free throw attempts twice in nine games, and lost both. That’s hilarious to me. But over the nine games LAC has shot 17 more free throws, and the actual margin between the two teams has been 36 total points. Yeah, 47% of the actual total margin for the entire regular season and playoffs can be made up in FTA. This is numerically significant. Especially in such a close series. In a few cases this is hilarious. Game one in the regular season had the Jazz lose by 13, while going to the line 7 fewer times. In game four it was another 13 point loss, but with 10 fewer FTA. In the last two games of the playoffs we had a Jazz 7 point win while shooting 8 fewer free throws, and a 4 point win while shooting 10 fewer free throws.

You can’t possibly have equal free throws. The teams take an unequal number of shots, in a different style of play, from difference distances, with different levels of talent. It’s not equal, so expecting equal is wrong. But these are two teams fighting hard.

The last three games, where LAC went to the line 33 times, 29 times, and 26 times really stick out. It’s not just recency bias. But during these last three games LAC has gone to the line 22 more times in three games. The final margin of these three games, cumulative, has been six points. LAC went to the line 22 more times, and the final margin of three games has been 6 points.

What’s that ratio? That first ratio was 47% of the FTA difference being a product of final margin. The last three games the ratio is 367% of the FTA difference being a product of the final margin. I didn’t miss a decimal point.

When you graph it we see this . . . and it’s insane.

Cumulative Free Throw attempts:

This looks at every game these two teams played, and their cumulative FTA. We’ve also included a line of best fit., AllThatAmar

Yeah, if you are an uber nerd and find out the relative slopes of the two data sets . . . LAC has a higher slope, and it’s accelerating right now. Not surprisingly, the pressure for the big market team to win games and advance is also increasing in urgency. (Seriously, West coast series between two Cali teams makes a lot more money - and less travel costs too.)

Is there even a conclusion here?

So while these two teams on all accounts are equal, some teams are more equal than others. For example, the team who gets J.J. Redick to the line 10 times off of jumpers, that’s the team that’s ‘more’ equal.

LAC, the team with the .233 FT/FGA ratio against the entire NBA and then went down to .196 against UTA in 3 wins and 1 loss . . . over the last three games had FT/FGA ratios of .293 .280 and .348. The Jazz, a team that gets to the line almost as frequently as the Clippers according to the actual data, went .290 .203 and .106 in the same last three games with the same refs.

Again, final cumulative margin in those three games was 6 points. And the difference in free throws was 22 more attempts for the Clippers.

I don’t like swearing on the blog, but I feel compelled to here.

But Chris Paul, and the rest of his cadre of babies, really are _____________ _________ _______ holes. But I guess that gets you to the line.

Of course, when Utah gets to the line more they lose. So maybe that bodes well for the next round, you know, the round Utah will be playing in.