Is pace the difference in the Magic/Celtics series?

After Orlando came back to win the last two games in the Eastern Conference Finals, I’ve been hearing/reading a lot about how Orlando’s insistence in pushing the ball is giving the Magic the advantage in the series.

I wasn’t able to find actual pace statistics game by game, so I came up with a somewhat crude method to estimate the tempo for a team in any given game.

Tempo = FGA + FTA/2 – OR + TO

FTA/2 assumes that every time a player makes a trip to the line that he shoots two free throws. This is obviously not true for three-point plays, but those are the exception and not the rule. (Remember, I said this was somewhat crude.) I subtract offensive rebounds because those are additional possessions that show up later as additional field goals, free throws or turnovers, and have nothing to do with how quickly the team is pushing the ball up court. Finally, I add turnovers because those are possessions where the team fails to get a shot at the basket or a trip to the free throw line.

So, for the first five games, here is how Orlando’s “tempo” has looked:

G1: 93
G2: 94
G3: 88
G4: 89 (pre-overtime)
G5: 89.5

If anything, Orlando has slowed the pace a bit since Game 1 and Game 2. While I agree that the Magic should try to run, the tempo of the game hasn’t had anything to do with whether or not Orlando has won the game.

In the two wins, Orlando has shot at least 30 free throws (in regulation) and made at least eight three pointers. In the three losses, they failed to reach this benchmark in one or both of these categories. During the season the Magic were 17-5 in games where they shot 30+ free throws and made at least eight three pointers. In the postseason, they are 6-0 when those two criteria are met.

Tonight, I’m looking for the Magic to feature Dwight Howard early and often. With Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace banged up, the Celtics are suddenly very thin on the front line. Ideally, when Kendrick Perkins is in the game, the Magic need to run action that gets Howard the ball deep inside the lane. Perkins does a nice job keeping Howard at bay when he catches the ball on the block or the extended block. If they can get Howard the ball deep, it will put Perkins in a bad position and he’s more likely to get into foul trouble. If that happens, and Perkins is forced to the bench, Howard can pretty much have his way inside.

Other than that, the Magic just need to hit some threes. That means crisp passing and good shot selection.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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