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Clippers-Jazz box score: dissecting an unlikely win

How is it possible that the Clippers could win a game in which they were outshot by 10 percentage points? It's very rare, but this is how it happened.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

In Monday night's game in Salt Lake City, the Utah Jazz shot 57% from the field to the Los Angeles Clippers 47% and the Jazz also won the rebounding battle 41-36. At first glance, it seems almost impossible that the Clippers could have won a game with those characteristics. And indeed, such wins are extremely rare. A quick check of the basketball reference database indicates that winning a game in which you are outrebounded, while shooting under 50%, while allowing your opponent to shoot better than 55% happens less than once per season (this is the third such game since 09-10 for instance). A season consists of over 1200 games -- so yeah, it's rare.

So how did the Clippers do it? Let's tear apart the box score and see.

The short answer is that the Clippers got 15 more field goal attempts and 9 more free throw attempts than the Jazz. All of those extra chances to score made up for the shooting discrepancies (not only did Utah shoot better from the field, they also shot a higher percentage from three point range and from the line, so the field goal percentage gap and then some had to be made up in additional attempts).












By taking 15 additional shot attempts, the Clippers were able to make the same number of field goals as the Jazz, leaving the final margin of victory to the three pointers and the free throws. The Jazz got that extra point on five additional threes, but the Clippers nine extra free throws resulted in six more points -- final tally, one point victory for the red team.

But where did all those extra shots come from? That gets more complex. Those 15 additional field goal attempts are clearly 15 additional possessions, and the nine free three seem like about four more possessions (though free throws are not as cut and dried). So that appears to be 19 more possessions for the Clippers.

Where do extra possessions come from? Primarily from turnovers and offensive rebounds. Each turnover takes a possession away from a team, while each offensive rebound gives them an extra possession.

And indeed, the box score does show that the Clippers had seven fewer turnovers (10 to 17) and four more offensive boards (13-9), so there's the majority of the story right there. Eleven of the Clippers 19 extra possessions were the result of low turnovers and decent offensive rebounding.

A quick aside about offensive rebounds: the more shots you miss, the more chances you have to grab an offensive rebound. The Jazz only missed 32 shots all night and chased down 9 of those -- 9/32 is .281. The Clippers missed 47 shots and got 13 of them back -- .277. A team will inevitably get more offensive rebounds if they miss a lot of shots, so this particular statistic is nothing to crow about. Both teams did about the same, with the Jazz being ever so slightly better on a percentage basis.

Here's where it gets tricky. Yes, we've accounted for more than half of the Clippers extra shots, but there are still eight additional shots unaccounted for, and in a one point game that's a huge number (statistically across the entire league, one possession is equal to just over one point).

The box score won't do us any more good. We now have to dig into the play-by-play and maybe even the video in rare cases. So let's do that.

We'll start with free throws. I mentioned before that they are more complex than field goal attempts as they translate to possessions. That's because while most trips to the line are for two shots, not all of them are. There are technical free throws and and-ones and three shot fouls and a few cases of one shot fouls (a foul away from the ball during a made basket, which is essentially an and-one with two different players). League-wide, one free throw works out to about .44 of a possession, which is why I started with the assumption that the Clippers nine extra free throws represented four extra possessions (9*.44=3.96). That works great at the macro-level when looking at season stats for a player or a team, but at the micro-level of an individual game it can be way off.

In this game the Clippers had a surprising seven and-ones. More often than not, while being fouled in the act of shooting, the Clippers were able to score the basket. Three and-ones each from Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe (two athletic freaks who take contact and keep going) had a major impact on this game. The Jazz had only two and-ones compared to the Clippers seven, and when you work it all out the Clippers' free throw advantage represents only two extra possessions, not four. (Or conversely, if you prefer to look at it the other way, two of the extra possessions were the result of and-ones.) That explains two more, and we still have six extra possessions to account for.

We're really getting into the nitty-gritty now. Sometimes this things are the result of flagrant fouls, clear path fouls and technical fouls -- plays that result in free throws and possession of the ball. But there were none of those calls in this game, so we have to look elsewhere.

The next place to look is at the end of quarters. The game of basketball is designed to give both teams the same number of possessions. If Team A wins the opening tip, Team B gets the ball to start the second and third quarters. If Team B scores, Team A gets the ball. This isn't winner's outs, so it should end up being pretty even. But four times a game, at the end of each quarter, that can skew a bit. And because Chris Paul is one of the best in the league at managing the clock at the end of quarters, the Clippers tend to benefit here. Indeed, in the first three quarters, the Clippers got the final shot. In the fourth, Randy Foye's three pointer was the final shot, but then the Clippers had what amounted to a meaningless turnover on the final play with 0.7 seconds left. So by looking at the end of quarter plays, we can account for two more possessions -- the Clippers had one more shot, and their turnover total for the game should logically be 9 and not 10 since that last one had no impact.

We've now been through almost everything and we still have four possessions unaccounted for. Where did those come from? The answer: team rebounds.

First of all, let's define a team rebound. After a shot, if the ball goes out of bounds before any player controls it (say if it bounces over the backboard and out) the team is credited with a rebound. Team rebounds can be defensive (over the backboard and out) or offensive (a shot blocked out of bounds). A player fumbling a rebound out of bounds could result in either an offensive or defensive team rebound of course.

Box scores and play-by-plays do a poor job of reflecting team rebounds. The box score does not break them down to offensive or defensive, and strangely, when a player misses a free throw with another coming, his team is credited with a team rebound. Going through the play-by-play and looking at each team rebound (or reviewing the video) is the only way to figure out what happened. The bottom line is that the Clippers had, by my count, five offensive team rebounds while the Jazz had just one -- accounting for the final four extra possessions. And don't dismiss this too quickly -- consider that all three of the blocked shots the Clippers recorded stayed on the floor and the Clippers retrieved each of them, including the huge block by DeAndre Jordan in the closing seconds. In contrast, the Jazz blocked three shots out of bounds, giving the Clippers an extra shot.

And all those extra shots are the only reason the Clippers could win such a game. In the end, the biggest factors were low turnovers and the three point plays of Griffin and Bledsoe. The Clippers do not win this game otherwise.