The Week In Sports: NBA Playoffs And A New Baseball Stat

NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Slate.com's Mike Pesca about the results of last night's three Game Sevens in the NBA playoffs, and an average for on-base plus slugging percentage.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last night was game seven Saturday for basketball fans. The Atlanta Hawks and the Indiana Pacers, the Golden State Warriors and those LA Clippers, and the Memphis Grizzlies - Grizzlies that is - and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Who made it? Who's gone? Why so many matchups went down to the wire? To answer all those questions, probably a couple more, Slate.com's, Mike Pesca joins us now. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: I - good morning. I understand your like, what's a grizzly doing in Memphis? They're not indigenous. You stumble over it. It's 'cause...

MARTIN: That's exactly, exactly what I was thinking.

PESCA: ...They started in Vancouver. You're smarter than the team name. Yes.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PESCA: It's their fault, not yours.

MARTIN: Always. So give me the stats 'cause I didn't stay up and watch these games. Shocking.

PESCA: Home teams won. So that means the teams that were supposed to win going in, even though it was odd that many of these series were even at a seven. So that means the Pacers beat the Hawks. And that means that the Oklahoma City Thunder beat those Grizzlies. And in a late game that ended around 2 o'clock on the East Coast - what a great game, though - but the Clippers beat the Golden State Warriors.

MARTIN: This was the first round of the playoffs where the best seeded teams played the worst qualifying teams. So because all these number one teams won, was this a sign of the dominance of those best seeded teams, or is it a sign of their weakness because they all went to game sevens? This is my question to you.

PESCA: Right, and then when you add in the fact that there are a couple other game sevens going on today, including the Raptors against the Nets, and oddly the San Antonio's - best team in basketball - have been taken to a team seven with the Mavericks, yeah, it is unusual. It's a record number of game sevens in the first round. So what usually happens is you usually have a couple of cake walks. As for the why, you know, I'm going to go to Tolstoy. So if he said that all happy families...

MARTIN: Sure.

PESCA: ...Are the same, all four game - all series that are sweeps or, you know, one in four or five games, those are usually the same. One team is dominant. But seven-game series have a whole bunch of reasons as to why they could go to seven games, even surprisingly. So to take a couple of the one seeds that have been pushed to seven games. The Pacers in the East are just a terrible team. How could they be terrible? They were so good in the beginning of the season. Then they fell apart.

And so now, they're bad and the Hawks, who don't even have a winning record, pushed them to the limit and at times looked a lot better. So that's one example of a team not being good. Another example - why have the Spurs been taken to seven? Well, the Mavericks are a 49-win team, you know. They're really good. Anyway, a whole lot of different reasons, but if you're saying it is unusual, you're right. It is unusual.

MARTIN: Ha. I knew it. Do you prefer a game seven as a watcher of the NBA?

PESCA: Sure. That's when the drama is hyped. I do have to say, though, that I have different rooting interests. I think that normally you want to root for the underdog, and isn't it great for an eight to beat a one. Not for me. I wanted the Spurs to win, and I wanted the Thunder to win. The Thunder are a really good team, and I don't - let's take them, even though they're not the top seeded. They're so good.

Why were they even in a game seven? You know, the Thunder's winning percentage against winning teams this year was about 57 percent. And if you win four out of seven games, that's about 62 percent.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PESCA: So it's not really that crazy or unusual that even a good team against another winning team would get taken to seven. So I wanted those good teams to win and survive. I did not want the Pacers to win. The Pacers have been so bad.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PESCA: They do not deserve - my sense of aesthetics are violated, especially when the whole arena shows up in yellow. But way to go Pacers fans. I hope you guys regroup.

MARTIN: OK. Curveball, you got one?

PESCA: Sure. Let's go to the sport of baseball where there is a statistical revolution going on. And this means that certain statistics that we all know and either love or just kind of know like, batting average have been deemphasized. The guys who love stats know that other statistics like, on-base percentage plus batting average, or OPS, though, a bit more complicated, much better indicator of how good a hitter is.

So to that end, the Houston Astros are now displaying the OPS of their players on the video screen at Minute Maid Park. And a guy - a member of the front office comes on before every game. He says no. Matt Dominguez doesn't have a 700 batting average, that's his OPS. Here's what OPS is. Come with us, Houston Astros fans, as we go into a brave new century of statistical sensibility.

MARTIN: It's a revolution. Slate.com's Mike Pesca is leading as host of their daily podcast, "The Gist." Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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