Sunday, May 1, 2011

Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat is Order vs. Chaos

The Genesis
This article will use Win Score and Estimated Wins Produced, statistical models created by Professor David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal, to measure how much a player's box score statistics contributed to their team's efficiency differential and wins. An average player produces an estimated 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (Est.WP48), a star player produces +0.200 Est.WP48 and a superstar produces +0.300 Est.WP48. More information on these stats can be found at the following links:

Simple Models of Player Performance
Wins Produced vs. Win Score
What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say
Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

The Celtics crossed the line when Danny Ainge got his buddy Kevin McHale to trade Kevin Garnett to the Celtics to form the best team in franchise history. They squeezed and hammered the best players in the game to the point of desperation, as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Shandel Richardson illustrated:
  • In the 2008 playoffs, the Celtics defeated:
  • In the 2010 playoffs, the Celtics defeated:
    • Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and the Miami Heat 4-1 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
    • LeBron, Big Z and the Cavs 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Three Kings’ teams were 8-27 in the regular season against the Celtics from 2007 to 2010 and by the summer of 2010 they were desperate. In their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.

Order vs. Chaos
LeBron caught flak for telling Sun Sports’ Eric Reid he wanted to win more than seven championships when he was introduced at the American Airlines Arena. That’s nothing. Pat Riley said there’s only been one dynasty in the history of the NBA (the ‘60s Celtics that won 11 titles in 13 seasons) and he’s trying to architect the second.

What?! Riley wants the Heat to win 11 titles?!

I think it’s safe to say Wade, LeBron and Bosh didn’t fully understand what they were getting themselves into with Riley when they signed and the same goes for Erik Spoelstra.

Whether it was a dispute over playing too many minutes in big regular season games, chilling vs. working or telling reporters they were crying in the locker room, it’s also safe to say the players haven’t always been on the same page with Spoelstra this season. And it seemed like he preferred it that way. Whenever he was asked about controversy and conflict with his team this season, Spoelstra said he enjoyed it.

Spoelstra’s embrace of chaos is different from the Celtics’ Doc Rivers preaching ubuntu and allegiance to one another (even if Ainge practices something different). The Celtics function on the principles of order while the Heat seem to function best with chaos.

The Celtics had plans. The Lakers had plans. They’re schemers (see trades for KG and Pau Gasol). Schemers trying to control the NBA. And with 33 titles between them, they’ve been pretty good at it. The Heat are not schemers. They’re trying to show schemers like the Celtics how pathetic their plan to control the title really is. Riley did what he does best (see ‘80s Lakers and ‘90s Knicks). He took their plan and turned it on itself.

He built a title contender through free agency instead of trades while schemers like the Knicks and Bulls came up short.

He built a team with speed and scorers that dominate the ball instead of a traditional big man and point guard.

He did it all with three free agents of chaos that introduced a little anarchy to the NBA. Look at what they did to this season with a Decision and a Welcome Party at the American Airlines Arena.

No NBA fans, writers or analysts panicked when things went “according to plan” for the Celtics. Even if the plan was horrifying.

Mid-level exception for a washed up big man?
History repeated itself in Boston.

Rasheed Wallace only produced -0.038 wins per 48 minutes in the 2010 regular season and an estimated -0.001 wins per 48 minutes in the 2010 NBA Finals but got to start Game 7. He was the least productive Celtic in the game and produced -0.062 est.WP48. The Celtics replaced him with 38 year-old Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine “My Next Pair of Knees Will Be My First Good Pair” O’Neal. Nobody panicked.

The “best shooter alive” got outplayed in Game 7 of the NBA Finals by a guy that shot 6-24 from the floor. How did that happen? The “best shooter alive” shot 3-14. Ray Allen only produced 0.021 est.WP48 in Game 7, also known as one of the biggest rock fights in NBA Finals history. The Celtics re-signed him to a contract for two years and $20 million. Nobody panicked. Because it was all “part of the plan.”

But after all that bad basketball and decision-making, one little ole’ two-time MVP decides to take his talents to South Beach and everybody loses their mind. LeBron, Wade and Bosh introduced a little anarchy to the NBA and everything turned to chaos. They were free agents of chaos.

You know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.

This fairness can be seen in the numbers for both team. The numbers are objective, not subjective like the whims of the Dead Basketball Poets Society.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Celtics have one of the top three offenses in the NBA when they trust each other and are making hand offs, coming off screens or hitting the cutters. The Heat have the best offense in the NBA running isolation plays, pick-and-rolls for the ballhandler and getting out in transition. Isolation plays? That’s not ubuntu. Transition? That’s chaos.
  • Celtics Top Offensive Plays - Points per Play, Rank
    • Off Screen - 0.99, 2nd
    • Hand Off - 1.03, 3rd
    • Cut - 1.30, 2nd
    • Overall - 0.96, 9th
  • Heat Top Offensive Plays - Points per Play, Rank
    • Isolation - 0.92, 1st
    • P&R Ball Handler - 0.92, 1st
    • Transition - 1.22, 1st
    • Overall - 0.99, 1st

The Heat’s chaos lost to the order of the Celtics three of four times in the regular season, but the Heat produced an estimated 1.9 wins in those four games to the Celtics’ 2.1 estimated wins produced.

If this Eastern Conference Semifinal plays out like the season series, then the Heat have a 42.3 percent chance of winning the series with their best chance of closing the Celtics out coming in Game 7 at 17.3 percent, and the Celtics’ best chance of winning would be Game 6 at 22 percent.

Of course, both teams have changed a lot over the course of an 82-game season. Only six Heat players were on the floor for all four games in the regular season with Udonis Haslem being the biggest missing piece. Haslem was the most productive Heat player versus the Celtics with 0.453 est.WP48 and an estimated 0.6 wins produced in the two games he played. Only five Celtics were on the floor for all four games in the regular season but they were the team’s best five players. For all the talk about Shaquille O’Neal, he only produced -0.074 est.WP48 in two games against the Heat.

If this Eastern Conference Semifinal plays out based on numbers seen over the entire regular season (courtesy of and the rotations each team used in the first round of the playoffs, then here is how the series plays out:
  • The average WP48 of the Heat’s top six players is 0.153
  • The average WP48 of the Celtics’ top six players is 0.143
  • The Heat’s chance of winning the series would be 62 percent, with their best odds of closing the series out in Game 7 (20.4 percent)
Anything can happen in a game 7. It’s like a coin flip. Heads, you live. Tails, you die. Now we’re talking.

According to ESPN and, the Celtics’ Big Three were paid $42.7 million to produce 38.6 wins this season. The Three Kings were paid $43.2 million to produce 49.1 wins. The Eastern Conference deserves a better class of champion and the Heat are going to give it to them. It’s not about money. It’s about sending a message. Everything burns.

Prediction: Heat win in 7.


  1. This is a great article Mosi. Love all the Batman stuff. The heat are upsetting people because they are doing their own thing and not following tradition.

    Great work.

  2. Thanks for the compliment, Kabelo. I've been sitting on that metaphor for awhile. After hearing people talk about this series, it felt like a good time to bring it out.