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I'll present a simple derivation. Start by observing there are about 50 scoring groups per team per game (scoring groups include all baskets and free throws that occur at the same time), with each scoring group worth about two points. Assume scoring events by team are Poisson distributed with parameter \(\lambda = \frac{50\cdot t}{48\cdot 60} = \frac{t}{57.6}\). Using a normal approximation, the difference of these two distributions is normal with mean 0 and variance \(\sqrt{2}\lambda\), giving a standard deviation of \(0.1863\sqrt{t}\).

Using this approximation, what is a 90% safe lead? A 90% tail is 1.28 standard deviations, \(1.28\cdot 0.1863\sqrt{t} = 0.2385\sqrt{t}\) scoring groups…