FiveThirtyEight shows the Rockets' historic shooting collapse was a 1-in-72,000 anomaly

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAnyone watching Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals between the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors could tell the Rockets shooting was atrocious, but FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers to prove just how unlikely their collapse was.
  • The Houston Rockets lost to the G0lden State Warriors, 101-92, in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, missing out on a shot at the NBA Championship.
  • Houston’s strategy of outshooting opponents backfired spectacularly at the worst possible time, with the Rockets going an abysmal 7-for-44 from beyond the arc during the game, including a stretch of 27 consecutive misses.
  • FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers on the unbelievable cold streak and concluded that it was a 1-in-72,000 chance occurrence that cost the Rockets their season.

The Houston Rockets fell apart on Monday night, losing to the Golden State Warriors 101-92 in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.

The win was earned by the Warriors, who once again relied on an overwhelming performance in the third quarter to erase a first-half deficit and take a lead that they would never give up, but the game still felt as though it was the Rockets who beat themselves.

Houston’s strategy all year had been to outpace and outshoot their opponents with the help of a barrage of three-pointers. But the style of play that had helped them to the best record in the NBA backfired spectacularly at the worst possible moment, with the team going 7-for-44 from beyond the arc in Game 7, including an unbelievable stretch of missing 27 straight shots from distance.

The cold streak was bizarre to anyone who had watched the Rockets drain shots all season, but Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers to conclude that the stretch of misses was even more unbelievable that one might’ve imagined.

Here’s the breakdown:

FiveThirtyEight leaned on quantified Shot Probability (qSP) data – used to weigh the likelihood of a shot going in depending on who’s taking it, how close the nearest defender is to the shot, and how quickly that player is closing out – from Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats, which use high-level cameras to track on-court movement.

By using that metric – and looking at the probability of each individual shot’s chance of going down, from Harden’s 33 per cent hoist that began the drought to the 31.6 per cent chance he had on the one to end it – we can conclude that the Rockets embarked on an approximately 1-in-72,000 cold spell from deep at the worst possible time, with a trip to the Finals on the line.

A 1-in-72,000 occurrence and it meant the end of the Rockets season.

Making the matter all the more heartbreaking is the fact that Houston was able to keep the game as close as they did despite their horrific effort from beyond the arc. With a final score of 101-92, just two or three of those shots going down could’ve swung the entire game.

The Rockets didn’t need to be lights out shooters to win on Monday – they only needed to avoid their worst shooting performance of the season.

Instead, they fell to a statistical anomaly.

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