Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Off the Index: The NBA Playoffs' Top 100 Scoring Games of Last 20 Years, Ranked by Win Score

This post was prompted by a tweet from my man, Alfredo Arteago of and the Miami Heat Talk Podcast. He said Dirk Nowitzki's performance last night in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was the best NBA playoff performance he'd seen since he became an NBA junkie in 1983.

Let's see what the numbers have to say...

This article will use Win Score, a statistical model 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 using a simple formula — PTS+REB+STL+AST/2+BLK/2-FGA-FTA/2-TO-PF/2. More information on this stat can be found at Simple Models of Player Performance.

Notes on the Top 100 Playoff Games:
Dirk Nowitzki scored 48 points on 15 shots and 24 free throw attempts with six rebounds, four assists, four blocks, two turnovers and three fouls in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His stat line sums up to a 27.5 Win Score. 

As I mentioned in the Western Conference Finals Preview, the Mavs had a favorable match-up at PF but Dirk's game more than doubled the expected performance against the Thunder (who ranked 10th in opponent Win Score at PF). So how does Dirk's production in Game 1 stack up with the other great scoring games in the last 20 years of the NBA playoffs?

This spreadsheet lists the top 100 scoring performances in the NBA playoffs since 1991, ranked by Win Score.

Here are some things that jumped out at me looking at this list...
  • Dirk's Game 1 in the 2011 WCF doesn't crack the Top 10 but finishes tied for 11th.
  • Dirk has four games in the Top 20 which ties him with Shaquille O'Neal for the most of any player on the list.
  • Charles Barkley has the top three playoff games, by Win Score, in the last 20 years. He was 30+ years-old in all of them.
  • LeBron James makes two appearances in the Top 20:
    • His performance on 5/9/2009 at Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Semifinals ranked 5th with a 29.5 Win Score from 47 points on 25 shots and 16 free throw attempts, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
    • Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on 5/20/2009 vs. Orlando ranked 20th with a 25 Win Score from 49 points on 30 shots and 10 free throw attempts, six rebounds and eight assists. Of course, his stats weren't the big story from that game.

  • Jason Richardson made an unexpected appearance in the Top 10 when he dropped a playoff career-high 42 points on 19 shots and 10 free throw attempts with eight rebounds and three steals for the Phoenix Suns against the Portland TrailBlazers in Game 3 of their 2010 first round series.
  • The most infamous appearance for Heat fans is Jordan at No. 16 with the 26 Win Score he produced in Miami to sweep the Heat out of the first round of the 1992 playoffs.
  • I prefer the performance that comes from the player tied with Jordan at No. 16 — Allen Iverson. The Answer produced a 26 Win Score from 52 points on 32 shots and two free throw attempts with seven assists and four steals in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Raptors.

  • Dwyane Wade makes his first appearance at No. 45 with Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals when he produced a 19.5 Win Score from 42 points on 26 shots and 18 free throws with 13 rebounds. It's about quality, not quantity, Dirk.

Original data taken from

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