Is Andre Miller's Strategy Smarter?
In this case, that something is a battle of egos, or at least festering frustration from two camps. But underneath that is the spark which set McMillan off in the first place, and that'd be Miller telling young teammate Jerryd Bayless to make a free throw down 106-104 with 4.3 seconds left. The coaching staff (and captain Brandon Roy, for what it's worth) had told Bayless to intentionally miss the attempt in an effort to get a sneaky putback to tie the game. Bayless did sink the free throw, bringing the score to 106-105. Miller immediately fouled opponent O.J. Mayo, who made his first and missed his second free throw. Unfortunately for the Blazers, they couldn't secure the defensive rebound. Zach Randolph iced the game with two more free throws.
Clearly, Miller should not be giving Bayless instructions which are the complete opposite of the instructions coming from the bench. But beyond that ... is Miller's strategy better?
Portland is sixth in the league in offensive rebounding, but is currently missing two of its best offensive rebounders (Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla). LaMarcus Aldridge was the only big man on the floor. Given the Portland line-up, on a missed Blazers field goal attempt, the team would have a 20 percent probability of picking up the rebound. Of course, on free throws, that shrinks. (Some studies have shown a proper 90 percent of reboundable missed free throws are taken by the defense.) But let's leave it at 20 percent.
If the Blazers do happen to get the rebound, they need to quickly score. Portland had shot 57 percent on two-pointers against the defense-light Grizzlies, so we'll use that conversion rate. The probability they rebound the missed free throw and score a two-pointer to tie the game, using these admittedly crude but fair number, is about 11 percent. But that gets you only to overtime. The team's played even to that point, so let's call overtime a toss-up. Now we have the Blazers a less than a 6 percent probability of winning using the "intentional miss strategy."
Here's the other angle, which unfortunately didn't work out for Portland. If Bayless tries to make it (as he did), there's a 78 percent chance it goes in. In that case, you foul immediately (as Miller did), leaving three seconds and change on the clock. Mayo, an 83 percent foul shooter, was sent to the line. The probability he makes both is 69 percent. If he does, the Blazers -- who have no timeouts -- need a three to send it to overtime, a tricky proposition. If he misses the first and makes the second, the Blazers are in a similar situation, except that a three-pointer can win the game outright. If he makes the first and misses the second, the Blazers need to secure the rebound and get a bucket fast -- a terribly difficult occurrence. If he misses both ... well, the Blazers still need a bucket fast. Let's be positive and say the Blazers could hit threes at a normal clip despite the harrowing time circumstances. If Mayo hits both, you'd give Portland an 18 percent probability of winning. If Mayo misses one, it'd be 36 percent. Those are both far too high, as the Blazers would struggle to get a quality shot off without a time-out (which would have moved the ball to the frontcourt).
It was for naught, as the Grizzlies secured the rebound once Mayo missed his second free throw. The argument from there can go either way: how could McMillan rely on his tiny line-up to get a critical free throw offensive rebound when it can't even get a critical free throw defensive rebound, or couldn't Portland have done the exact same thing as Memphis and sent it to overtime? The odds were long either way. The unfortunate part is Miller, a player, going to another player with instructions instead of making the case to his coach that a different strategy would be appropriate. Given the simmering discontent, it's no wonder the Blazers are frustrated with Miller's insubordination. They should be.