2021 NBA Playoffs Action: Backing Suns in Conference Finals, off Surprise Game 3 Loss
Updated: Jun 26, 2021
Flat Night for Phoenix aided 'Playoff P' last out, but Suns' offense should revert in game 4: Phoenix Suns +1.5
The Clippers averaged better than 122 points per 100 possessions this post-season, through game 4 of the second round series versus the Utah Jazz, with Kawhi Leonard leading the charge. Quite notably, since Leonard went down with what is speculated to be an ACL injury, L.A.'s offensive output has not diminished. The Clips have mustered 125 points/100 possessions through the last two contests of the matchup with Utah and the first three against Phoenix...thanks to "Playoff P"!
'Playoff P's' post-season pursuits have looked almost tragic at points since PG13 instituted the infamous moniker before the start of the 2017-18 NBA post-season. George, then a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was gearing up to face a budding Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. As it turned out, the Jazz breezed past OKC 4-2. The following year, Dame Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers eliminated the Thunder five games into the post-season proceedings. Last year, as an L.A. Clipper, George and company managed to survive into the second round of the playoffs before being bounced by the Denver Nuggets.
Consistent with Paul George's string of post-season disappointments, 'Playoff P' became a mocking reminder of the hubris a talented, but immature player once exhibited...that is, until this season.
But the truth is, after posting a humbling -7.5 median post-season plus-minus just after rolling out the 'Playoff P' brand, George has shown consistent improvement in the playoffs by this measure (plus-minus represents the difference between George's team's total scoring when he is on the floor, minus the opponent offensive output). In 2018, George's median plus-minus improved to -5, to -1 the next year, to +2 last year, to a respectable +6.5 so far this post-season.
While we applaud the effort that has been regarded as George exorcising his playoff demons, we are not convinced P can deliver the cover here. We deem it highly likely Kawhi Leonard's roughly 2.5 spread points per 100 possessions of worth will be missed at some point, even if 'Playoff P' manages to hang around. In fact, game 4 strikes us as a solid spot to sell 'Playoff P' and the Clippers high (after a 16-point win as slight underdogs). Accordingly, we are taking the short chalk and backing the Suns for the bounce-back cover Saturday.
In game 3, the Suns offense was pretty terrible. Phoenix mustered 98 points per 100 possessions Thursday, a far cry from the Suns' post-season norm of about 116 points per 100 possessions. Justifying this poor showing, Phoenix's two best players (Devin Booker and Chris Paul) were both ineffective with the ball two days ago.
Some of this lack of productivity owes to great Clippers defense. For instance, the Suns, generally a very judicious team with regard to long two-point attempts, were forced to settle for an inordinate amount of long mid-range attempts Thursday. On the other hand, some of the poor offensive effort owes to shooting variance -- sometimes teams miss shots they generally make. We do not expect the Valley's stars to remain quiet two games in a row, and we are betting Phoenix's offense reverts toward its mean today.
Supporting our thinking, we observe historical context that likewise points to the Suns cover, as top seeds off post-season losses have proven great playoff bets.
The simple system of backing the top-two teams in the playoffs (from either conference) after post-season losses has generated a 16% return on investment back to 2004, and is 6-2 ATS so far this year. This profitability proved statistically significantly different than the breakeven cover rate at the standard vig.