The Improbability of the Nuggets Playoff Run

Last Tuesday, the Nuggets completed their second comeback from down 3 games to 1 of this postseason as they beat the Clippers 104-89. The event was one of several of the Nuggets’ post season this year. Their journey has consisted of a 3-1 comeback against the Jazz, a second 3-1 comeback against the Clippers, and a crazy offensive explosion by Jamal Murray– each of which had an extremely low probability.

The Nuggets comebacks were crazier than you thought– here’s why

Coming Back

The Nuggets won two consecutive series from down 3-1 games this postseason, a feat that has never been accomplished. Since the shot clock era, only 9 series have resulted in a team coming back from down 3 to 1 games. To illustrate the likelihood (or lack thereof) of this happening, let’s compare the chance of what the Nuggets did to other events in life.

First, the Nuggets came back against the Utah Jazz. Using the probabilities from the beginning of the game for the Nuggets’ final three games against the Jazz (all a little less than 50% using ESPN’s BPI), the chance of winning all three games was 11%, which is about a 1 in 9 chance. However, what made the Nuggets run all the more surprising was how they kept on coming back from deficits in elimination games. Using their lowest in-game probability in games 5-7 against the Jazz, the Nuggets only had a 0.97% (1 in 103) chance of advancing. (Lowest probabilities: Gm5: 8.2%, Gm6: 35.4%, Gm7: 33.5%. However, this was even more improbable in the Clippers series, where the Nuggets were both the underdogs and in large deficits throughout the series.

The Nuggets winning against the Clippers was about as unlikely as seeing a Double Rainbow

The Nuggets’ comeback against the Clippers was very, very improbable. Being down as much as 16, 19, and 11 points in games 5, 6, and 7 of the series, respectively. The probability of winning 3 games in a rwo with these types of deficits was less than 0.1%. (at about 0.03%) To get an idea of just how unlikely the Nuggets’ comeback was, the chance of the Earth being hit by a meteorite (1 in 3000) or being drafted into the NBA (1 in 3333) were more likely than the chance of the Nuggets coming back from their deficits (1 in 3600).

Jamal Murray

The emergence of Jamal Murray’s offensive superstardom has catapulted the Nuggets into the Western conference finals against the Clippers. Murray had several 50 point games in the Nuggets-Jazz first round series, while maintaining a high scoring average to help lift the Nuggets over the Clippers. Jamal Murray’s points per game average made a monumental jump from 18.5 to 27.1, a difference of 8.6 points per game.

One of the primary reasons for Jamal Murray’s crazy postseason has been his 3 point efficiency. His 3 point percentage jumped a whopping 14.5 percentage points, up to 49.1% from a regular season average of 34.6%. Using his total number of 3 point attempts made and attempted in the regular season and playoffs, the probability of this happening was 0.76%. That is about a 1 in 1311 chance. Let’s compare with some other events that have a similarly low probability.

A pepper inside a pepper

You have a better chance of finding a pepper inside of a pepper than witnessing Jamal Murray’s 3 point percentage jump 14.5 percentage points in the playoffs! It is also more likely to be born with 11 fingers than to see this kind of performance!

Now comes the most insane event from the playoffs. As previously stated, Jamal Murray’s points per game jumped by 8.6 from the regular season to the playoffs. To find the probability of this happening, I used the regular season points per game average over the last 2 years for Jamal Murray (18.34), his regular season points per game standard deviation (8.22), and his playoff average this year (27.07). The formula for the z score of this happening is (27.07 – 18.34)/(8.22/sqrt(14)). This formula is similar to finding a p-value, since I used the square root rule on the standard deviation since the playoffs have been a sample of 14 games. The z score came to be 3.974, which is a probability of 0.0035% chance, meaning it had just a 1 in 28,237 chance.

You had a better chance of being struck by lightning and surviving than seeing Jamal Murray increase his playoff points per game by so much

Jamal Murray’s playoff performance was a truly amazing experience. The likelihood of this happening is lower than flipping a coin and having it land on the side, getting a perfect game in bowling, getting struck by lightning and surviving, getting a hole in 1, and hitting a bullseye on a dartboard when blindfolded. I doubt you have seen any one of these events on this list other than Jamal Murray’s playoffs.

The performance of the Denver Nuggets and Jamal Murray in the first two rounds of the playoffs this season has been truly astounding. Even though an 8.6 points per game jump may look like a lot for a player, you never would have thought that it was more unlikely than being struck by lightning and surviving! The Nuggets playoff run should be greatly appreciated, because it is going to be the most unlikely thing you have seen in your entire life.

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