Saturday, January 21, 2012
Game 16: American Airlines Arena
Heat 113, Sixers 92
MIAMI — Every once in a while it’s the little things that amaze me. For instance, a few years ago I was covering the 2009 NLDS in Denver where snow and sub-freezing temperatures made for delays and bad baseball. It was so miserable and cold that on the day Game 3 was snowed out, I spent the afternoon shopping for winter gear.
But when the series ended, we climbed into a flying tube and were transported to Los Angeles where it was nearly unbearably hot.
I spent the off day shopping for summer clothes.
Anyway, I was better prepared for traveling from the snow and sleet in the northeast to the 80-degree climes of Biscayne Bay because my trip to Miami lasted less than 17 hours. Essentially, I flew in to watch a basketball game, wrote about what I saw and flew home.
It was as if I wasn’t even there.
And maybe in a sense the same thing goes for the 76ers. Though the team has been playing shorthanded without starting center Spencer Hawes for some time, nowhere was that exposed more than against the Miami Heat. In the game, the Sixers made just 9 of 20 shots at the rim and were 6 for 15 on shots from 3-to-9 feet, according to HoopData.com.
Meanwhile, the Heat were 18 for 32 on those same shots and simply hammered the Sixers on the boards. When rookie Nik Vucevic went out of the game with what was later revealed to be a hyper-extended knee, the Sixers had no chance.
Why are the Heat so good? Obviously, the quick answer is because they have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—three of the best players on the planet. You know, duh.
But what really makes the Heat tick is that they have Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem on the frontcourt and veteran Shane Battier as a defensive stopper on the perimeter. Certainly Anthony’s and Haslem’s contributions can be measured with rebounds, blocked shots and steals. Moreover, there are advanced metrics that can be used to also quantify the contributions of the frontcourt mates.
Much has been made of how advanced statistical analysis has changed baseball, but when it comes to the advanced metrics revolution in sports, basketball comes the closest to truly measuring the value of a player. Actually, when compared to baseball it’s not even close. After games in the NBA, coaches and players pour over the stat sheet, looking for nuggets of information that might offer an insight to performance. With the Sixers, Doug Collins lives by points off turnovers and second-chance points. He also talks about forcing the opposition to take shots “in the yard,” which is to say, no three-pointers and no shots in the paint.
Going old school, during my high school days at McCaskey in Lancaster, Pa., we determined a player had a decent game if he scored more points than shots attempted. I’m not sure that figures into the world of advanced metrics, but in terms of stats having a value, it worked for us.
However, Battier is one of those players that defies categorization and unlike the cultish reactionaries that subscribe to all mathematical data as a way to truly define a baseball player, even the devotees to basketball metrics look at Battier and just shrug. In fact, Battier must be seen to be believed. Against the Sixers, Battier had seven points and three rebounds in 30 minutes—not exactly eye-popping stats.
But Battier was often guarding the Sixers’ swingman Andre Iguodala and held him to just four points. During extended periods during the second half of the game, Iguodala rarely even touched the ball because Battier was hounding him so much.
If there were a number to go with guarding your guy so tightly that he can’t even catch the ball, then Battier would be an All-Star every year.
“I have the ultimate respect for Shane Battier. I think when you put him on your team, you’re automatically better.”
So if there is one reason why the Heat are better this season than last year, it’s because they have Battier, the guy who makes statistics nothing more than silly little designs on a piece of paper.