TORONTO — A local statistician gives the Toronto Raptors a 51 per cent chance of winning the NBA Finals over the Golden State Warriors.
Jeffrey Rosenthal, a professor at the University of Toronto, created a mathematical model at the start of the playoffs to figure out the team’s odds of winning. He predicts their home-court advantage will give them an edge.
The first game of the finals is set for Thursday night in Toronto and, should the series go to seven games, the last game will be played on the Raptors’ home court as well due to their marginally better regular season record.
"The little advantage comes with the extra home game and home court gives an advantage," Rosenthal said, admitting he’s a fair-weather Raptors fan who is now fully on the bandwagon.
Rosenthal said he based his "simple" model on the teams’ regular season performances, taking into account how the two sides fared at home and on the road.
"I only spent a couple hours creating it, I’m not spending days behind a computer," he said.
FiveThirtyEight, an American data-crunching outlet, ran its own mathematical model and came up with results similar to Rosenthal’s.
It gives the Raptors a 54 per cent chance of winning the finals, which the outlet says is due to an injury to Warriors star Kevin Durant and the up-in-the-air status of DeMarcus Cousins, who also plays for the American team.
Money laid down on bets in Las Vegas tells a different story, showing the Warriors as heavy favourites.
Despite that, Rosenthal gives the Raptors a 54 per cent chance of winning Game 1 on Thursday.
The Raptors have already beat his odds to make the finals. His model gave the team a 46 per cent chance of winning when they opened their semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks, which had the league’s best regular season record.
After the Raptors lost their first two games, his odds of the team winning plummeted to 19 per cent. But when the Toronto team went on to win the following three games, Rosenthal’s model saw their odds of securing the series skyrocket.
"By the time they won three games, I computed they had a 74 per cent chance to win the series and sure enough they won the next game," he said.
Earlier in the playoffs, Rosenthal also tried to compute Raptor star Kawhi Leonard’s now-iconic buzzer-beating shot to win the series against the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round.
He calculated that there was a one-in-400 chance to get to that moment, where the game comes down to one shot in the seventh game of a series. Leonard’s shot bounced on the rim four times before falling in, sparking pandemonium in the arena and across Toronto, including in Rosenthal’s house over "that crazy shot."
"I couldn’t find actual stats for a shot that bounced four times. I couldn’t calculate it," he said. "I don’t think anyone keeps track of how many times a ball bounces on the rim before going in or missing."
The stats professor said he often gets asked, because he’s a probability guy, whether a given situation is lucky or not, which is one of the reasons he wrote a book, "Knock on Wood," published last year about "luck, chance and the meaning of everything."
When asked if Leonard’s shot was the result of skill or luck, Rosenthal said it appeared to be pure luck.
"Once the ball is up in the air and it’s a nice swish, that’s skill, but it bounces so high, so many times and then goes it, at that point, it’s just luck," Rosenthal said. "But go Raptors!"