A Season Bucking for Four Quarters

Brian Shaw seems less than excited by whatever he's seeing in Game 82 - Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Digging into a few numbers in a lost and barely-complete Denver Nuggets season. A plea from a closet data geek.

A confession. I'm a geek. A numbers/data geek. Now, I don't always pore over advanced sabermetrics or Pythagorean records, but the idea of going to the MIT/Sloan Sports Analytics Conference makes me giddy, and my daily gig has me spending half of my time in spreadsheets and data tools (gleefully). Half of you just nodded off, or are considering dumping out of the data article. But give me just a little while to show you why numbers can tell a story if you're willing to read between the lines. See? A numbers geek. And have always been one. Let me give you a not-so-brief example. If you hate my stories, skip down to "THE POINT", demarcated by several asterisks*****

I'm in second grade, Baldy View Elementary School, Upland, California. We're on a yearly field trip to McDonald's, and all my classmates are talking about on the bus ride over is all-you-can-eat burgers and fries, and the 40-ish gallon jug of orange Hi-C which sat at the end of one of the picnic tables outside (Less than 40 kids in the class. We could have used it as a hot tub.) . You could see all of these goodies being carried out to the neighboring park as your bus pulled up. The primary goal of every child there was to endure the "educational tour" of the restaurant, always given by a sullen teen who may or may not have recently been bobbing for french fries, given his complexion. Safe to say, every participant wanted this section over.

I was personally excited because I'd saved up some money to buy myself a QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE... h-h-h-h. I loved that burger like I love the Nuggets. Both occasionally a mess, neither one particularly good for your heart. But you could get excited about them both. Just get through the damned tour, Michael, and you can have your burger from the counter, before finishing off with far too many lukewarm semi-wrapped cheeseburgers from the fiberglass picnic table. Let's get through this stupid tour.

As we wander through the kitchen NOT TOUCHING ANYTHING, Sullen-Teen-Boy tells us about the menu items between stops to see things like the fryer and the mop bucket. We hear about amazing fries, and gross Filet-O-Fish, and the QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE (I beamed during that part, much to my chaperoning mother's dismay), and Sullen-Teen has his script pretty well nailed. We get to the back door of the restaurant in near-record time, and Teen is telling us about the stupid Big Mac, wrapping up with the words (as his hand hits the door handle), "And that's what makes the Big Mac our largest hamburger." He actually turns said door handle.

Um, wait...

"Sir?" I said. Let the record show that I did address the Teen as "sir". I noted that he'd said the Big Mac was made with two of their regular patties, like are in the hamburger and cheeseburger. He agreed. I reminded him that he'd said the hamburger and cheeseburger were made with patties weighing one-ninth of a pound. Also agreed. So, with only two patties in the Big Mac, that was two ninths. Which is less than one quarter. Which is why they, shockingly, call it the QUARTER POUNDER. Teen stares blankly. My mother, at 5'2", seems to be hiding behind one of the other adults.

I try another way. We can resolve this. I seem to have lost track of the ULTIMATE GOAL in my quest to defend my burger. (I still exhibit this losing-track behavior in the threads on Denver Stiffs.) I explain that a quarter is equivalent to two eighths. And the Big Mac has two ninths. Ninths would be smaller. Turns out that Teen is possibly not so good at fractions. Or possibly multiplication. He opens the door, and says very quietly, "...and that's what makes the Big Mac our largest hamburger...". Everyone files slowly out the door.

I didn't really have too many friends through the better part of grade school. Or the larger part of Junior High.

******THE POINT******

Thank God. Let me show you a couple of tables, and then tell you what you're looking at:

Loss Differentials

Win Differentials

Game #

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q4

OT

Total

Game #

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q4

OT

Total

1

-3

0

5

-4

-2

4

0

3

-3

2

2

2

-1

-13

-6

5

-15

6

-6

7

1

17

19

3

3

6

-3

-14

-8

7

5

1

-2

8

12

5

-6

-11

20

-14

-11

8

9

-13

9

-1

4

9

-10

-7

2

4

-11

11

-1

3

6

2

10

10

11

-8

6

-11

-2

12

13

-1

-6

-4

2

18

-7

3

-2

-4

-10

13

5

0

3

6

14

19

-24

4

10

2

-8

14

1

8

-2

0

7

22

-5

-4

11

-12

-10

15

10

-4

2

-6

2

24

-5

-3

-2

-2

-12

16

-6

8

2

10

14

25

8

6

-4

-14

-4

17

-2

10

16

0

24

26

-10

-3

-6

-2

-21

20

-2

-2

4

11

11

27

-8

4

6

-10

-8

21

-4

-1

3

3

1

28

-9

-4

-2

-1

-16

23

-3

3

7

2

9

29

2

-1

-14

-8

-21

32

5

5

-8

1

3

30

1

8

-4

-8

-3

33

-3

2

11

12

22

31

6

-18

-2

2

-12

34

8

15

2

6

31

37

-4

-10

-2

1

-15

35

1

8

14

-10

13

39

3

-14

4

-1

-8

36

9

13

4

0

26

40

-9

3

1

-9

-14

38

3

4

2

-2

7

41

3

5

-3

-10

-5

42

4

15

-9

3

13

44

-11

10

1

-3

-3

43

-1

7

-4

6

8

45

-4

-3

-9

6

-10

46

4

-4

1

0

1

48

6

-12

-9

-12

-27

47

6

-7

13

-2

10

49

-1

-3

-7

-6

-17

53

9

-1

3

0

11

50

-11

-10

-8

-10

-39

60

7

10

-11

-1

5

51

-12

-8

-5

-2

-27

61

7

4

8

-11

8

52

-6

5

2

-1

-5

-5

64

-4

6

9

-3

8

54

-13

-10

-2

-3

-28

65

-10

15

9

-10

4

55

0

4

-21

3

-14

67

-2

5

-3

10

10

56

-11

4

-6

8

-5

68

-1

-6

8

8

9

57

-21

-2

-10

10

-23

70

-8

6

6

-1

3

58

-8

0

-3

5

-6

75

14

4

6

6

30

59

-15

-2

2

11

-4

78

12

-2

7

-10

7

62

12

-1

-11

0

-4

-4

79

-13

3

8

3

1

63

-3

-3

-5

4

-7

80

-5

-5

9

8

7

66

-13

-3

10

1

-5

69

3

-11

-4

-4

-16

71

-17

3

-3

-4

-21

72

-6

-14

3

12

-5

73

-8

-11

-4

-8

-31

74

-9

7

-5

5

-2

76

-6

10

-8

-4

-8

77

5

-22

17

0

-5

-5

81

-12

-5

9

-4

-12

82

-9

-5

6

4

-4

I've been repeatedly looking for a theme through this season, and feel as if I may have stumbled across one in numerous examples of Brian Shaw preaching consistency and accountability throughout the course of this year. Early on in the season, he repeatedly stated the need to not take quarters off nor have such long lapses in effort (especially defensive). The other night, I wrote up a game recap explaining the simple math behind winning all four quarters equating with winning a game in total. Which reminded me of Shaw's "take quarters off" theories, and left me wondering...

How do the Nuggets fare when they lose (or win) a quarter BIG. Well, to measure that, you have to decide what BIG is. I'll tell you how I did it, you can parse the data above as you see fit for wherever your line of a "meltdown quarter" was. I was pretty generous, and only color-coded quarters in which the Nuggets won or lost by double digits. Quarters colored in red are deficits (my accountant buddies just fist-bumped), and blocks shaded in green show where we did a little ass-whuppin. The seven columns on the left show the season's losses, the same on the right for wins. The left column shows the game number, the subsequent five columns are quarters (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, and OT), and the last is the final game differential. Frighteningly, this was originally done on two sheets of paper by hand with highlighters, arts and crafts be damned. The data itself is pretty "fresh", as I'm writing this paragraph as Shaw wraps up his coaches' interview in Game 82's post-game report. Some observations from the data above:

The left column set is longer than the right. Huh. We lost more than we won. This had better get more interesting quick, Olson.

How about those double-digit "meltdown" quarters? In 46 losses, Denver had a meltdown quarter in 32 of those. That's 70% (69.56%) of their losses. In four of those losses, they had two meltdown quarters, and... in a horrific Game 50 performance against Indiana, the Nuggets had three meltdown quarters, and came terrifyingly close to having that be all four quarters. Ugh, that game. Still, now we know that having a bad quarter makes you lose games. Still maybe not shocking you. Let's keep going.

In 36 wins, Denver had seven games in which they had a "meltdown quarter". SEVEN. 81% (80.55%) of the Nuggets wins came in games in which they just didn't blow a single quarter by double digits. Even more shocking, through the first 59 games of the season, the Nuggets had won only two games in which they had a meltdown quarter. Ninety-freaking-seven percent of those 25 wins (at that point in the season) were meltdown-free. Oh, and interestingly, the Nuggets did have a game in which they had two meltdown quarters and won, in that insane 111-107 win (Game 65) at Miami. What a damned roller coaster.

How does that same measure equate to big wins? What the heck am I going to call those? Meltups? Double Digits Wins? Double D. Huh. Let's stop.

Regarding Double D wins (come on, it will be ok), the Nuggets 36 total wins had 17 games with double-digit leads, a 47% clip. Huh. Less than half the Nuggets wins had HUGE quarters. In fact, the Nuggets had 12 games out of the 46 LOSSES in which they had a double-digit surplus. Nothing sparkly, but still over a quarter of those total losses (26%) had a GREAT quarter for the Nuggets.

Those four categories (meltdowns in wins and losses, D-D surpluses in wins and losses) would lead at least one casual observer to think that eliminating our huge deficits is far more important than worrying about blowing out an opponent. In fact, looking at what I'd call "one of each" games, in which Denver had both a fantastic and horrific quarter, things seem even clearer. In four of their wins, the Nuggets had a "one of each" game. But in their losses, they had 11 of the "one of each" games. The positive quarters just didn't outbalance the negative ones as often, even when they were blended. Interesting. A couple more observations...

During a losing stretch during games 48 through 52, the Nuggets lost 16 consecutive quarters. Jehoshaphat. During those five consecutive losses, the Nuggets lost four of the games by differentials of 17, 27, 27, and that colossal 39-point stinker at Indiana in Game 50.

And although the Nuggets enjoyed a seven-game win streak this season, you might have to argue that the five-game winning stretch during Games 32 through 36 was their best, with four of those wins coming in at 13, 22, 26 and 31 point differentials respectively. The 31 point win was a home laugher against Boston in Game 34. Also interestingly, we won all four quarters of that game, a feat we accomplished only twice all season. Conversely, Denver had eight games in which they lost all four quarters.

Looks to me like we have to stop the big bleeding, and it felt as if we were getting closer to that to end the season. But then I look at the data above, and the red unfortunately runs pretty much all the way to the bottom, and yes, huge caveat for injuries, etc. But I still believe this tells a tale. What do you see above, Nuggets Nation? As my Christmas albums say... Do you see what I see?

(Oh, and two eighths is bigger than two ninths... damnit.)

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