Tuesday night's 121-112 Dallas win over Oklahoma City in Game 1 of the teams' NBA Western Conference final series featured quite a bit of streakiness-related matter, the kind that revs up my brain thinking of what kinds of analyses to do.
Most notably, the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki went a perfect 24-of-24 at the free-throw line and made 10 of his first 11 field-goal attempts. The perfect night at the stripe -- which set a new NBA playoff record for consecutive made free throws -- might not have been as unlikely as one might expect.
Nowitzki's lifetime postseason free-throw percentage (as of this moment) is .886. Just as the probability of rolling double-sixes on a pair of dice is the probability of a six on one die (1/6) raised to the second power (for two dice), yielding 1/36, the probability of Nowitzki making 24 straight free throws given his long-term average is .886 to the 24th (assuming the outcome of each shot is independent of all other shots). That yields .05, which while not large in an absolute sense, seems pretty large for a probability of achieving something that would be a new NBA record!
Further, Nowitzki had hit 15-of-16 free-throw attempts in the previous round against the L.A. Lakers (for whatever reason, he didn't get to the line much in that series). And in a famous 2003 playoff game against San Antonio in which the Mavericks made 49 straight free throws, the 7-foot German contributed a perfect 17-of-17. Enough on Nowitzki.
The Mavericks-Thunder opener also featured a number of team runs, in which one squad outscored the other by a wide margin over a relatively short stretch of time (play-by-play sheet). Below, I have charted these spurts (you may click on the graphic to enlarge it).
Across the top of each panel are running score totals that either team could have, during selected stretches of the game. In the darker shades of color (blue for Dallas, orange for Oklahoma City) are the major spurts. The Mavericks had two during the early-mid phases of the game, outscoring the Thunder 9-0 to erase an early deficit and 21-4 to turn the game around. Oklahoma City had a late 10-0 run to make the game closer, but ultimately there was no Thunder Road to victory.
[Updated Wednesday afternoon, May 18.]