Unbalanced Games

Photo by JC Dela Cuesta on Unsplash

What does it take to win an NBA basketball game?  The simplest answer would be: score more points, by making more shots – make more shots by taking more shots.

Yet these teams won games by taking fewer shots than the opponent – WAY fewer shots.  These teams found entirely new ways to win an NBA game, even though they took at least 35 fewer shots than their opponent.

December 27, 2006 – Knicks vs. Pistons

This game was a three-overtime shootout, with the Detroit Pistons shooting an unbelievable 123 shots (37 from Richard Hamilton alone).  In contrast, the Knicks took only 87 shots (a difference of 36), were outrebounded by nine, and had seven more turnovers than the Pistons.

And yet they won, with a combination of lights out shooting (56% compared to Detroit’s 44%), and making 48 free throws.  The Knicks finally pulled out the win in the third overtime by doing what they did best – shooting shooting and more shooting.

February 1, 2003 – Spurs vs. Heat

Basically the exact opposite of the Knicks/Pistons game, the final score of this one was fewer combined points than either the Knicks or Pistons.  Both teams tried to lose this game with all their might, but someone had to win.  That winner was the San Antonio Spurs.

It wasn’t for lack of losing effort, however.  The Spurs shot an abysmal 38%, were outrebounded, and gave up 27 turnovers!  They scored 67 points, there is no reason they should win this game.

But somehow the Heat played even worse.  They shot 28% for the whole game, almost completely negating the 36 extra shots they took.  When the dust settled, the Heat had successfully lost this terrible game, 67 to 65.

November 17, 2007 – Suns vs. Rockets

Steve Nash‘s SSOL Suns teams were masters of the offensive game. And this day was no exception.  Even though they took 38 less shots than the Rockets (69 to 107), the Suns made 43 shots compared to the Rockets’ 42.  That means the Suns shot an unbelievable 62% on this game, including 10 for 19 from three!

When you shoot like that, it doesn’t even matter that you missed 10 free throws or had 25 turnovers.  You’re probably winning that game.  Which the Suns did in convincing fashion.

February 4, 2002 – Jazz vs. Rockets

The Rockets were also involved in the most extreme example of this type of game, but this time, on the other side.  They took just 54 field goals in this game, while the Jazz took 97 shots – a difference of 43!  It would seem impossible to take that many fewer shots and even have a chance to win the game, especially because the Jazz only turned over the ball six times, and outrebounded the Rockets by nine.

How did they do it?  Free throws and accurate shooting.  The Rockets shot 61% from the field, and were awarded 41 free throws, compared to just 16 for the Jazz.  Steve Francis, by himself, made 18 free throws, while the Jazz entire team only made 10.

It’s definitely not a usual way to win a game, but these teams somehow made it work.  For man does not win by chucking alone.


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