There are obvious trends to observe from the first three games of the Sixers/Magic first round series, and there are some more subtle as well. Given a minute to breath, I thought tonight was a good opportunity to take a look at a few advanced stats to see if we could prove out the obvious ones and surface a few of the more subtle.
I also had a chance to give a final update to the Four Factors Worksheet, so take a look.
We'll start our examination of the first three games with a look at the standard stats. Below, you'll find season per game averages for the Sixers and their opponents. I've highlighted every stat in which the Sixers have beaten their season average, and where they've held their opponent lower than the season average allowed.
As you can see, from the raw numbers the Sixers' largest improvements have been on the defensive end. They've held the Magic to fewer shot attempts than their average opponent in all three games, made field goals were down in two of three, in both wins they kept Orlando off the offensive glass, the Magic haven't done a very good job moving the ball and they've held the Magic under their average points allowed in two of three games.
When we look at the advanced stats, however, a different picture is developing:
By far, the most dramatic improvement for the Sixers has been their eFG. In all three games, they've topped the .500 mark, they only accomplished that 3 times in their last 13 games of the season. In game one, they topped .550, they only topped that mark 13 times all season. They just missed it in game three as well. While they're shooting it extremely well, they're also stoning Orlando. As you can tell, and as I'm sure you didn't need fancy stats to tell you, the team's defensive rebounding was superb in both wins, terrible in the loss.
Here's an interesting bit that may have slipped through the cracks. The series has been played at exactly the Sixers' season pace, 90 possessions per game. Orlando typically plays at 92.3 possessions per game. It may seem like a small thing, but those two-plus possessions are the difference between 12th fastest in the league, and 21st. Orlando's offense was pretty much clicking on all cylinders from a points/100 possessions perspective in games 1 and 2 before falling off in game 3. But their defense has been seriously exposed in the two losses.
All of this over-analysis brings me to a very important question. Were the two wins flukes? Is this a case of the simplest explanation being the true one, that the Sixers had uncharacteristically hot nights from the field and Orlando's defense was just off? Or, is there a deeper answer. Has familiarity with the opponent allowed the Sixers' coaches to develop a game plan that puts the ball in the hands of the players with the most-favorable mismatches throughout the game, and have those players simply been taking advantage of those mismatches?
Three games is too small a sample to draw any firm conclusions. It could be coincidence, it could be luck, it could be Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala simply willing themselves to produce at extremely high levels, it could be Hedo's ankle, Rashard's knee. It could simply be Stan Van Gundy's reluctance to modify his game plan. Or maybe it's as simple as Jameer Nelson's bum shoulder.
The thing about advanced statistics that makes them great and horrible is that they're a new and exciting way to tell you what happened, but they don't necessarily predict in any way what will happen. Especially not when you're playing the same team seven times in two weeks. Say defensive rebounding rate is killing you in games 1-3, well, you make a lineup change, or you gang up on Howard since he's the only guy crashing the glass for Orlando. You can swing any category in your favor with smart coaching. Maybe that's what these stats are telling us, maybe the Sixers coaches have just out-foxed SVG.
Anyway, have at it in the comments. 17 hours 'til tip. I'm tingling already.