Last week, Ken Pomeroy put together a post detailing the 17 most impressive comebacks according to his win-probability statistic.
On Sunday, Kenpom took a look at the 18th most-unlikely comeback, the play-in game in which Mississippi State blew a 16 point lead to Western Kentucky in the final five minutes of the game. (Ironically, that game will likely be remembered by everyone watching it as the game that President Obama attended.) The interesting part of his post isn’t the discussion of that individual comeback, however; it’s his breakdown of the pros and cons involved with using a win-probability statistic.
The whole thing is worth a read, but the point that I want to discuss comes at the end, where he brings up the idea of anti-momentum. The data that he dug up shows that of the 21 times that a team completely erased (i.e. tied the score or took the lead) a double-digit deficit in the final five minutes of a game, only six times did that team end up winning the game.
I think there is a completely valid explanation for this that has nothing to do with momentum and everything to do with tired legs.
When a team is down ten points with less than five minutes left in a game, they begin to enter desperation mode. What that means is that instead of hunkering defensively and trying to earn a stop via a missed shot and a defensive rebound, the defense has to start to force the issue. Whether that manifests itself as a full-court press, a half-court trap or simply a more intense version of a half-court man-to-man defense, the bottom-line is that the defense needs to expend more energy in an effort to make up the difference.
The same happens on the offensive end of the floor. Instead of being patient and running offense to get a good shot, the pace of the game gets sped up. In simpler terms, it takes a lot of effort to make up a 10 point deficit in five minutes, especially if the reason that the other team is ahead by double-figures is that they are the better team.
Couldn’t it be as simple as making up that large of a deficit tires a team out?