Monday, June 10, 2013

Fair Play: Playing the numbers game

Sportswriters love stats and some of those who really know what they are doing can bat out significant ones on the fly, while some can spot intriguing stats after checking their notes or memory.

And last Saturday, thanks to these writers, I learned that Maria Sharapova has lost 12 straight matches to Serena Williams going into the French Open finals.  And I kind of thought no. 13 wasn’t far off when the defending champion was down love 40 on her serve in the first game.  But she saved all four breakpoints then converted on the lone breakpoint she got to go up 2-0.

But even if I could sense some desperation when Serena shouted “come on!” as her forehand went wide, I thought that if Serena gets that break back, it’s all over for my Maria.

This is not the same Serena Williams who lost in the first round last year, this is the current No. 1 who is 75-4 since that exit, and who owned 12 straight wins against the Russian.  And of those 12 wins, only twice did the match go to a third set, and they were pretty one sided too with Serena winning the third, 6-1, in Charleston and 6-0 in Miami.

Of course I thought, well Maria fought back after losing the first set, 6-0, to Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals to win, 0-6, 6-4, 6-3, but just a couple of games into the second, I was reminded that Serena is Serena, she isn’t like the former No. 1 whose form has been erratic, so I promptly shifted to National Geographic’s feature on one scientist quest to clone the wooly mamooth. 
Well, there’s always a next time for Sharapova and who knows, perhaps she’s going to end that 13-match losing streak to Serena next month?

17-0.  You have got to really love how the NBA writers came up with that number and though I encounter stats daily, I had to think quite hard what they meant by that.  That’s supposeldy the record of the Heat in the Big 3 era when they are trailing in a series, but that’s not really true, isn’t it?  
They led 2-1 and trailed 3-2 in the 2011 series to Dallas before losing, 4-2. 

Still even if we disregard that one, that Heat’s record is really impressive because there’s another way to look at this 17-0 streak.  Whenever the Heat finds itself trailing in a series, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (always the last to be mentioned in the Big 3) have never lost a single game.


Not once.

The Heat lost Game 1 in the 2011 East Finals to Chicago and won, 4-1. Ditto in the finals series with Oklahoma and they scored a repeat against Chicago in the second round this year to win, 4-1.  That’s 12 straight wins after Game 1 losses.  

Where did the other five wins in that 17-0 streak come from? Three from their 4-2 win against Indiana after trailing, 2-1, and two came against Boston when they won, 4-3, after trailing 3-2.

Impressive numbers, again.

But the Spurs also has an impressive stat and you only have to get to one other series—and not lots of others—to check it.  It’s a stat, too, that fans don’t need sportswriters to point out for them.

5-0.  That’s the record of the Spurs in NBA finals matches against LeBron James’s team.

5-0 vs. 17-0.  Which streak continues on Monday?

Let’s find out.  Just don’t watch a wooly mamooth feature if you don’t like what you see.


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