Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets displayed their explosive offensive ability throughout the regular season. The Rockets finished second in the NBA in points per game at 106 and the Thunder finished just behind them in third with 105.7 points per game. Now these two high-octane offenses will meet in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
The notable thing about the Rockets’ offense is how they like to force the game to being up-tempo. On the season Houston had the fastest pace in the league at 98.64 possessions per 48 minutes. Though the common perception is that the Thunder play at an extremely fast pace, they actually ranked just 10th in the NBA in terms of pace, averaging 95.89 possessions per 48 minutes. Oklahoma City thrives more on efficient shooting than they do getting out in transition.
Given that, the Rockets game-plan is likely going to be the one that they’ve had for basically every game this season: get out in transition and push the ball. It seems that they have the advantage in that area because they are more accustomed to playing at that pace. The problem is that the Thunder should have no problem playing at that speed.
Because the Rockets like to get out in transition, they were second in the league this season in fast-break points, averaging 18.6 per game. The Thunder, however, were up there as well, averaging the fifth most fast-break points at 16.7 per game. The key to this, though, is how each team defends in transition. Houston allowed 14.2 fast-break points per game this season, while the Thunder allowed just 12.5 per game.
Oklahoma City is the stronger defensive team and the better defensive team in transition. With their superb athletes like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, they have no problem getting back on fast breaks and making stops. Meanwhile, the Rockets are a below-average defensive team.
Though the Rockets have found their success by pushing the tempo, that strategy isn’t going to work when they come up against the Thunder. One of the things that makes the Thunder so special is how versatile they are in terms of being able to adjust to almost any style of play. This series with Houston is going to feature a ton of scoring, but the Thunder won’t have any trouble adjusting to a high-possession type of game.