Don’t Be Trip-ed Up

Needless to say, a lot happened on the courts of the NBA playoff weekend. Of the five postseason games that took place over the last three days, two ended with regulation spreads of five points or less, one had to go to overtime, and a fourth (appropriately enough) tied a league record by going to four overtimes.

Beside the nail-biting finishes, three of these results had something in common. Nikola Jokic and Draymond Green were proficient enough to effect their team's performances in profound ways, even though two of those three results ended in losses. So, were their efforts really that necessary?

In team sports, there's a heightened status for those type of players that use their individual abilities for a "collective" benefit. They are seen through the guise of the utility infielder, the scoring defenseman, or the dual-purpose back that can block the oncoming rush.

On the court, this can appear through the triple double. This individual stat line shows that a player can score consistently, in defense of possessions, create turnovers, and/or get teammates involved in the flow of a game. In a way, this set of stats can be viewed as the utility tool of the parquet floor.

Even though this achievement isn't as revered as it once was, when a player riches this accomplishment, it's still respected. And while we're seeing these particular feats more often, it doesn't happen every night. As we continue toward the end of the decade, there are a handful of active players that hold multiple triple-double score sheets in playoff games.


As shown by the table, it's one thing to amass a triple-double. However, that doesn't lead to automatic postseason wins for your squad. In the 61 times these players achieved this feat, 41 of them ended in victory (67.2%). When you combine the +/- factor, though, the correlation does increase. In the 41 instances where a triple-double married a plus-factor, the team benefited 35 times (85.4%).

Even with this being a factor, the way to titles may take a more "me" than "team" approach. An article from the website Interbasket lists the 20 players that have these stat lines most often in recorded history. As one may expect, Magic Johnson leads the list with 30 games where he reached double digits in three categories. But not all of the greats were expected to do so much. Larry Bird and Jason Kidd had 10 or more games themselves, but several others are absent. There's no Isiah Thomas ('80s Isiah, not now Isiah). There's no Karl Malone. There's no Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O'Neal.

In his illustrious playoff career, Michael Jordan had half as many triple-double games as his own teammate (Scottie Pippen). Jordan's came in 1989 and 1993 ... both against the Knicks. LeBron's first seven games with this highlight came before his first championship run in 2012. For many years, it was more of a knock against his reputation due to the thought that "he didn't want to take the last shot."

So, when can a triple-double be more beneficial than just a water-cooler moment? There could be a couple of scenarios where that ties in. First, look at the role of the player themselves. Most of these names on the list above are the stars of their respective teams. At some point of the game, it would usually be necessary for a Jordan, or Bryant, or Bird, or Harden, or James to become the Alpha Dog. Usually, that means taking over a bulk of the scoring responsibilities. A reason why Rondo and Green have such high success rates with these occurrences? They're more the "glue guy" type. When they play that well, they usually elevate all of the star players around them (Green took his first "L" in such a situation Saturday night).

This leads into the second added bonus. Most of these guys weren't playing in a vacuum. In the majority of instances, there was all-star, of not Hall of Fame, talent up and down the rosters. Stare into the makeup of most NBA championship rosters. You'll usually find at least one name, if not multiple, that ended up in Springfield. While points and rebounds rely on more solitary efforts, getting blocks or steals can be somewhat dependent on help from teammates. Assists are completely dependent on the efforts of others. The better the teammates, the better the chances for success.

So, yeah, I believe that triple doubles can be a key to a deep playoff runs. Not just for the sake of the oddity of it, like those tweezers or scissors on the utility tool. Other factors need to be figured into the mix to realize the complete abilities of the utilities at their fingertips.

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May 6, 2019


80’s Isiah only has one ‘A’ in his first name.

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