King Kaufman's Sports Daily

You think luck isn't powerful? Behold: Knicks win in 3OT. Plus: The alterna-Gold Gloves.


Salon Staff
November 2, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

We've been talking lately about the role of luck in baseball, about which I've become kind of fascinated, but of course it plays a role in other sports too.

Maybe not quite as much of one because the quality of teams in any one league isn't likely to be as even in other sports as in baseball, and the things that lead to wins -- shooting the basketball or puck or soccer ball, good goaltending, completing passes and tackling in football, that sort of thing -- are repeatable skills.

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There are equivalents to the seeing-eye grounder in other sports, the tipped pass that leads to a touchdown, for example, but they tend not to come up nearly as often.

Basketball strikes me as a sport where luck doesn't play a huge role. Those seven-game series that are crapshoots in baseball rarely provide surprises in the NBA, or do I have to bring up the numbers about first-round playoff series again?

But Wednesday night's triple-overtime game between the New York Knicks and the Memphis Grizzlies shows that it can still be a pretty huge factor.

And I don't mean the tough luck of someone who had no other game to watch than Knicks-Grizzlies, or the good fortune that person encountered when that game had an exciting finish. Four of them.

The Knicks won 118-117 in triple overtime despite blowing a 19-point fourth-quarter lead. New Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, charged by ownership with showing "evident progress" lest this be his only year on the bench, declared himself satisfied that with one down and 81 to go, progress has been made.

Know why? Because the Grizzlies missed a bunch of free throws, something over which the Knicks had no control. What the Knicks did have control over -- protecting a 19-point lead with 9:14 to go and a 13-point lead with 5:07 to go against a mediocre team that's missing its best player -- they failed at.

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"It feels good to get Isiah and the team started right," Jamal Crawford said.

"It was nothing we did wrong," Thomas added. "It was everything they did right. They were making shots and taking it to the rim."

If the Griz had made their foul shots in the first overtime, the Knicks wouldn't be patting themselves on the back for a job well done. They'd be shaking their heads over blowing a huge lead.

If Thomas blew off coughing up a 19-point fourth-quarter lead after a loss, saying, "It was nothing we did wrong," he'd look like a lunatic. If Crawford talked about getting started right, he'd look like a fool. They don't look that way, unless you think about it a little, because the Grizzlies couldn't make their key foul shots. Dumb luck for the Knicks.

At the end of the first overtime, Grizzly Mike Miller missed a pair of free throws with Memphis down one. Miller is a career 76.5 percent free-throw shooter, and he hit 80 percent last year. The Grizzlies got the rebound -- there was something the Knicks had control over -- and then a few seconds later Hakim Warrick got fouled and missed one, made one. Warrick shot 66.1 percent his rookie year, so going 1-for-2 is in line with what you'd expect from him.

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Crawford had a shot blocked at the end so the game went to a second overtime. If either Miller or Warrick had made one more free throw -- and given Warrick's average I'm really talking about the 80 percent shooter Miller making one of two -- the Grizzlies win by making 2-of-4 free throws in a crucial situation. Not a tough assignment. The Knicks just dodged a bullet. They got lucky.

The Knicks are probably good for about 20 wins on their own this year. If they can get as lucky as they did Wednesday about once a week for the rest of the season, they should make the playoffs.

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Panel of experts alert: Gold Gloves [PERMALINK]

Some panels of experts are more expert-y than others. My currently active one, which picks NFL games, has been stumbling of late, with a 3-year-old topping every expert on it for most of the season.

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But Bill James and John Dewan have assembled one to pick the best defensive players in baseball for 2006. Dewan is the author of "The Fielding Bible," which I think represents the most interesting advance in baseball studies in the last several years, so I'm inclined to listen.

The alternate universe Gold Gloves are a publicity stunt for the "Bill James Handbook 2007," where they'll appear. But I think it'll be interesting to see how the picks of Dewan and his impressive panel, listed below, differ from the real Gold Gloves. I wish they'd picked the best fielder at each position in each league, like the awards, but for some reason they just went with the best in the majors.

Here they are:

Albert Pujols at first base, Orlando Hudson at second, Adam Everett at shortstop and Adrian Beltre, just beating out Scott Rolen, at third. Carl Crawford, Carlos Beltran and Ichiro, left to right, though the real Gold Gloves generally go to three center fielders, which is dumb. Greg Maddux and Ivan Rodriguez as the battery.

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I asked Dewan if anyone other than he used fielding metrics like his, that is, those beyond the ones easily found on numerous baseball-stat sites.

"Statistics, both old and new (for example, fielding percentage and plus/minus numbers), were provided to the panelists for their reference along with this note: 'Feel free to use it, or not use it, as you see fit,'" he wrote in an e-mail. "One of the main purposes of having an award and a voting procedure was to consider the non-statistical aspects of evaluating defense. While 'The Fielding Bible' puts a lot of emphasis on the numbers, I feel that visual observation and subjective judgment are very important parts of determining the best defensive players."

By the way, I don't know Dewan and before Thursday morning had never even exchanged e-mails with him. It just sounds like I'm shilling for a pal when I write about "The Fielding Bible."

He said his first-place votes matched the consensus except twice: Rolen and center fielder Andruw Jones.

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The James-Dewan panel comprises those two, plus the scouts from Baseball Info Solutions and BIS data collection supervisor Nate Birtwell; Hal Richman, who created Strat-O-Matic; Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski; Seattle Mariners consultant Mat Olkin; Chicago radio host Mike Murphy; ESPN baseball writer Rob Neyer; and the results of a fan poll taken by researcher Tom Tango at his Web site.

Previous column: TNT and the Heat's ring ceremony

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