Lots of people are fired up about the Golden State-Denver series in the NBA playoffs. For good reason. Two uptempo, high-scoring teams. Denver leads the NBA in scoring, 106.1 points a game. Golden State is seventh, at 101.2. That’s a combined 207.8 a game.
The Thunder and the Rockets combine for 211.7. Houston is second in the NBA in scoring, 106.0 points a game. OKC is third at 105.7.
By any measure, the Thunder and the Rockets are among the NBA’s best offensive teams. Offensive efficiency, which is points per possession, the Thunder ranks second, with 110.2 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets rank sixth, with 106.7 points per 100 possessions. True shooting percentage, which is field-goal percentage but factoring in foul shots and the extra benefit of making a 3-pointer: the Thunder is second, at 58.0 percent; the Rockets are fourth, at 56.4.
These are elite offensive teams.
But the difference in these teams is defense. The Thunder is fourth in NBA defensive efficiency, giving up 99.2 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets are 17th, with 106.7 points per 100 possessions. The Thunder is 10th in points allowed, 96.5 points a game. The Rockets are 28th, with 102.5 points per game.
The Thunder, of course, is an elite team. Second in offensive efficiency, fourth in defensive efficiency. Miami is first in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Clippers are fourth in offensive efficiency, ninth in defensive efficiency. The Spurs are seventh in offensive efficiency, third in defensive efficiency.
That seems a good place to start in identifying the teams capable of making a run at the NBA title. Being excellent on offense and defense would be a good way to forge a championship surge.
But among the first-round series, few should be as entertaining as the Thunder-Rockets. This seems like a series bound for a run of games in the 104-101 range. Unlike, say, Brooklyn-Chicago or Indiana-Atlanta, where first team to 90 almost always will win.