In a constant effort to build out the best basketball simulation engine in the world, a Shaq-sized amount of testing is done every day here at Swoops. One of the most fun ways we test the Swoops Simulator is by recreating NBA games, series, seasons, and even individual possessions. How often does the starting line-up of a team perform equally as well in the Swoops Simulator as it does in real life? How many times does Tracy McGrady pull off 13 points in 35 seconds? How often does Bill Russell win all five of his NBA Finals Game 7s?
Although the structure of a single Swoops game is more of an "open gym" format, where only five players play for each team and nobody can foul out, these recreations can still give us a ton of valuable insights as to how accurate the Swoops Simulator is. It allows us to compare the results of a games and performances in the NBA to the ones that we run, and in doing so, determine accuracy of things like how our player ratings are calculated, the corresponding defensive and offensive tendencies that come from those ratings, shot charts of those players, how those players and function in relation to each other, and so much more.
For the most part we have pretty strict and narrow guidelines for what we're looking for in testing. A change to a decimal here, a percentage tweak there, and repeat that process one-million times to inch closer to a proper result. But every now and we step out of the strict testing environments and come up with ideas that can still help us do that, but are also way more fun and we don't have an exact indication of what we should expect the result to be. For instance, how would a team of five 1979 Dr. Js fair against a team of five 1994 Scottie Pippens?
Some of the best experiments are when we pit two teams from different eras against each other. Our most recent time doing that, and the subject of this mini breakdown, is who ends up winning a seven game series between the 2012-2013 Miami Heat and the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors. Two powerhouses who just barely missed the window where they would have overlapped with each other. LeBron at the height of his powers vs. Steph Curry at the height of his. Similar stylistically in some regards, at least compared to something like the 1965 Celtics vs. the 2017 Houston Rockets, but still separate enough to cause some real internal debates about what the expected result is. AKA shouting back and forth about which team is going to win and betting lunch over the outcome.
When deciding to run a project like this, first we have to do the player building. In sparing you the boredom of the intricacies (and our legal team the trouble of me releasing proprietary information) it's essentially a process of loading a blank A.I. with our machine learning algorithm and allowing it to read through a ton of data (box scores, game logs, stats, advanced stats), absorb playbooks, watch the game tape, and then generate a banana boatload of ratings for itself based on all of that.
Those are then condensed into the player card ratings you see on our Swoopsters. This is the exact same process we use for building out our Swoopsters, but we let each Swoopster go on it's own path and ingest whatever data it chooses to rather than specifying what player(s) they need to emulate.
While I can't reveal all the ratings to the players, both 2012-13 LeBron James and 2015-16 Steph Curry are expected to take a lot of shots. On their own, outside of team context and defenders, they both top out on expected usage in those years. As you can imagine, those two are both top class in their respective #1 scoring strengths - 3PT ratings across the board for Curry and inside scoring attributes across the board for the LeBron. I'm sure as much was expected from these two, just wanted to reassure everyone that's the case.
Without further ado, let's take a peek into the results of the first of many historical battles on the blog!
Game 1 ended up being an absurd roller coaster type of game. Huge peaks and valleys, loops, corkscrews, all of that. The Heat were up by 18 at the end of the half, 57-39. However, in classic Golden State fashion the Warriors were able to erase the deficit and take the lead with 13 seconds remaining in the 3rd, 76-74. Even more notable than the Warriors 3rd quarter comeback was that it came on the back of a Klay Thompson heater where he put up 18 points in the quarter. How's that for accuracy?
The 4th was back-and-forth the whole way. There were seven lead changes in the quarter, the last of which came with 31 seconds left in the game. The Warriors were leading 100-99 as Draymond Green dribbled the ball up the court after pulling down a rebound off a Mario Chalmers miss from three. Super Mario, supercharged from the fear he had of what LeBron and Wade were going to do in the next huddle after he took and missed that shot, swiped the ball from Draymond and kicked it ahead to LeBron who drained a pull-up three to put Miami up 102-100 and the Heat would hold on from there.
We can only take away so much from a single game, but it was good to see that LeBron was getting to the line a ton, the Warriors 3pt shooting was elite from a percentage standpoint, and Draymond was doing Draymond things all game. Some initial notes we want to keep track of were Klay Thompson taking 16 two-point shots, Shane Battier getting 12 threes up, and RoboSpoelstra letting Chalmers shoot 9 times.
Unlike the first game, Game 2 was a complete and total slaughter.
Golden State put up one of their primetime beatdowns by shooting the lights out from downtown and opening up the rest of the floor for easy buckets. They hang 101 on the Heat who can only muster up 82 and tie the series up.
Steph puts up 43 points on a cool 71.5% true shooting, Klay pours in 26, 18 of those from deep, and their defense constricts Miami like the invasive pythons overtaking the everglades.
LeBron gets to the line at a team high rate again but struggles from downtown. Wade has a good game but the volume isn't quite there, as Golden State was doing their best to contain the superstars and force them to pass out of traps and doubles, hence another 20 shots combined from Chalmers and Battier. The Heat didn't shoot terribly all things considered, though the 3PT shot wasn't there as they tried to climb out of a 20 point hole entering the 3rd.
All-in-all if a team shoots 53% from the floor, 52% from three, 88% from the line, and is a +12 on the boards, they're going to win the game.
The Heat get one back in Game 3 to retake the series lead in a reversal of roles with 92-81 victory.
This time it was the Heat who were doing their best to force the ball out of the stars hands as they doubled Curry on nearly every possession. That resulted in him taking only 14 shots and having to offload the ball to the other guys most of the night.
Klay did as well as you'd expect him to do with those open opportunities and put in a game high 28 on great efficiency, but the same can not be said for Harrison Barnes who was 1-9 for 2 points and Draymond Green who was 5-15 on the night.
The Heat didn't have their best offensive game and struggled a bit with turnovers, Bosh was getting steamrolled on the boards, and LeBron was settling for threes a bit too much, but Battier and Chalmers more than made up for their Game 2 by combining to go 10-17 from distance.
What's really interesting here is that the Heat roleplayers are sort of adapting to the more modern playstyle of Golden State. Chalmers and Battier were both guys who were taking the majority of their attempts from three during these years, but in matching up with the Warriors they're really adhering to the pace-and-space principles and almost solely taking shots when they're behind the arc. Battier has yet to attempt a two point shot yet! Very interested to see if that continues and if their shooting is good enough that it warrants sticking with that.
Sure enough, Chalmers and Battier have become 2015-16 players (or 2023 maybe) by Game 4 and all 19 of their shots were from downtown. They didn't shoot terribly, but the same can not be said for the rest of the Heat, as they lose Game 4 91-73.
LeBron has one of his worst scoring games in recent memory, putting up 14 points on a horrendous 26% shooting. He did account for 33% of their assists and was Moses Malone on the boards, but with Wade going 7-17 and Bosh 4-11, the Heat were in the Bay without a paddle this game.
Interestingly enough, Steph Curry also struggled pretty mightily from the field here in Game 4. 26 points on 32% shooting would all but secure a loss for the Warriors most nights, but Golden State got the quintessential "Klay Game" and rode that to victory lane.
Klay had 42 points on 62.5% shooting, 9 threes on 15 attempts, and even did a little playmaking for good measure, as Golden State cruises to an 18 point win and ties the series back up.
The Warriors kept it rolling in Game 5 and completely extinguish the Heat 114-89 to take their first lead of the series, 3-2.
Steph Curry said anything you can do, I can do better, and explodes for 44 points while mirroring Klay's 15-24 from the floor and 9 threes from last game, just barely besting Klay's 42 after a foul at the end of the game put him on the line.
Everyone on the Warriors played fantastic this game, super efficient, great defense, and we even got to see a monster 16/16/11 playoff triple double from Draymond. Most notably was the fact that as a team they shot 20-30 from three. I mean, what is anyone supposed to do against that?
The Heat got a good game from LeBron who had a nice little 30/6/5, but there was simply not enough 3pt shooting to keep up with the Warriors pace this game. Had Golden State shot a little bit worse maybe the Heat could have continued to get into the paint and score as they were doing in the first half, but as the GS lead widened it wasn't just tenable.
Just when you thought Miami may be getting outclassed here, that the torrential rain that Curry just brought was going to put the flame out for good, from the embers back come the Heat to win Game 6, 101-81.
How did they do it?
For starters, they were outrageously efficient in the paint.
The Big 3 of Bosh, Wade, and LeBron combined to go 24-37 (64.8%) on two-pointers and killed the Warriors on the glass. This was absolutely the Heat flexing their South Beach muscles and exhausting all efforts to keep this series going. Not to mention Shane Battier with the ultra-nice 6-9 from three, his only attempts for the game once again.
That physical play from Miami bothered Golden State mightily, as Draymond and Bogut combined for 5-20 from the floor and were not as effective on the offensive glass as they were in prior games. Klay and Steph were excellent from deep, shooting well over 50% in the game, but the Heat's paint presence held the two to a combined 4-21 (!!!) once they stepped inside the 3PT line. Talk about a firewall!
Game 7. The two sweetest words in sports.
Who will take home a win that breaks the boundaries of space and time? Who will go home, through the digital wormhole, defeated and dejected? Who will have to pay for lunch?
With a battle for the universe and sandwiches on the line, the first two quarters were wildly competitive and the Warriors took a 40-39 lead into the half. That one point lead would soon balloon to nine, and from nine to fourteen by the end of the third, and when the final buzzer sounded the 2015-16 Warriors had bested the 2012-13 Heat by 16 points, 93-77.
A hell of an effort from LeBron James who came with 27/12/3 in the closeout game, but Bosh and Wade were held to 8 and 14 points respectively, and that's just no good. The Heat scored okay as a team, shot well from three, got to the line, and continued their physical play with some serious bullying on the offensive boards - but it simply wasn't enough.
Klay had finally cooled off, but by the 4th quarter was more than content to be chillin' on the bench Klay this game. Intriguingly, Bogut and Draymond played an unusual amount of of two-man game. That's not particularly common for them in the real world, nor this series, but in a critical Game 7 they ran high pick-and-roll with each other with Draymond as the ball handler eight (!!!) times in the second half. Certainly worked out as Bogut was the recipient of 6 of Draymond's 8 assists, and they combined for 14-20 from the floor.
As nice as that is, the man of the match and the likely Historical Blog Battle Finals MVP was none other than Steph Curry with an electric 36/6/5 on 54/50/100 and only a single turnover to win the game and close this series out. What a performance.
Looking into the series stats, it is actually absurd that the Heat were able to get this to a Game 7.
The Warriors as a team shot 49/51/86 splits and knocked down just about 15 threes a game. For comparison, in this team's eventual loss to the Cavs in the 2016 Finals their shooting splits were 43/37/74.
In their 4-1 and 4-0 2017 and 2018 Finals victories, even with Kevin Durant, their splits were "only" 48/38/82 and 51/38/85 respectively. In fact there is no team that has averaged over 50% from three on volume like that, though the 2013-14 Championship Spurs came close as they shot 53/47/75 for their series.
This would have also made Steph and Klay the 3rd and 4th players to have a TS% over 67 while attempting 100 or more FGAs in the Finals. Steph's 31.8 PPG (67.3% TS on 156 FGAs) and Klay's 26.6 PPG (68.8% TS on 126 FGAs) join their future/past teammate Kevin Durant (69.8% TS on 108 FGAs) and none other than LeBron James in 2019-20 (67.1% TS on 115 FGAs).
Those are some remarkable performances by those two and the team as a whole, and most likely indicate an outlier event. We will need to dive deeper into that.
As for the Heat, even though it was a bit of a down series from Bosh and Wade, the team still shot a respectable 47/38/79 for the series. That's pretty darn solid in general, let alone against a defense like Golden State that really stifles their rim attacking playstyle.
There are some incredible wrinkles here for us to look at on our end outside of the Warriors once in a lifetime shooting performance. Most notably was Shane Battier not taking a single-two point shot the entire series. I know that Draymond and Bogut probably look like Mark Eaton and Hakeem Olajuwon to a 35 year old Shane Battier, but still man, couldn't get a back door cut for a lay-up once?!
Another thing to bookmark is the amount of 2PT shots Klay was taking and how many blocks he had. Generally speaking, even if the Heat were really running Klay off the line, he's probably not taking that many two-pointers. He's not likely to average over a block per game either, considering Chalmers and Battier weren't diving to the rim and allowing Klay to snag some as a help defender. Very much doubt he was meeting the Big 3 at the rim.
But, and this is critically important to note, in a single series anything is possible. That means running a fun series like this is great to decide who is paying for lunch, great to start establishing a baseline expectation for whatever we're looking for out of it from a Swoops Simulator perspective, but not enough data to point to a specific thing for good or bad. Not definitively at least. That means we have to run this series over again, not once, not twice, not even seven times.
No, we'll be running hundreds of iterations of this series to collect more data and figure out how many times 2015-16 Golden State shoots over 50% from three for the series, or how many times does Shane Battier run away from the paint like me when I stick my toesies in a cold pool.
Once those are all run, the data will be attached here for everyone to take a look at, and we can get a better idea of this series, the players, and the Swoops Simulator once it all regresses to the mean. But until then feel free to run with, "The Golden State Warriors would definitely beat the Miami Heat and are way better."
If you enjoyed this and would like to see more, take a few seconds and tweet us @PlaySwoops and tell us what series you'd like us to run next! We would love to highlight your dream matchup and break it down on the blog.
While you're at it, feel free to look at some much more in-depth breakdowns on this blog from our game that these series are helping us build.
In Swoops, you are able to create your own team, buy, sell, and trade your players, and compete vs. other teams 24 hours a day. The Robellion vs. The GlobeTRONers had an incredible seven game series that was played earlier this year and is a great entry point to seeing how special the Swoops Universe is already.