Lakers Won With Defense More Than Kobe Power

I think the post-game commentary on Game 1 of the Finals reflects a lot of the typical basketball myopia about defense and scorers. Basically, Kobe Bryant scored 40 points (which is a lot) and the Lakers won by 25 (which is a lot) so the commentary is all about Kobe scorching Orlando. Meanwhile, the non-Kobe Lakers scored 60 points. And teams often score 100 points and nevertheless lose games. Indeed, in the regular season the Magic averaged 101 points per game. Had Orlando scored 101 points last night, I think we’d be hearing a lot less about the brilliance of Kobe Bryant even if Kobe had played exactly the same.

The real story of the game, I think, isn’t that a Lakers team that averaged 106.9 points per game in the regular season put 100 on the board. It’s that an Orlando team that averaged 101 points per game during the regular season only scored 75. Or to put it another way, Orlando giving up 100 is somewhat worse than their regular season average of 94.4 points surrendered, but LA giving up 75 is way better than their average of 99.3. And, yes, in an ideal world I would be expressing all of this in terms of scoring rates adjusting for pace rather than in pure volumes. But I don’t have the time to do that, and it’s easier to read off the raw point totals. And either way you do it, the basic conclusion will come out the same—LA offensive performance was not that far off from average while Orlando’s performance was much worse than usual.