Three things that will determine the Houston Rockets-San Antonio Spurs series

Rockets deep three Sam Dekker, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams

A few weeks into the playoffs, we’ve hardly seen anything surprising yet. The 7th seeded Grizzlies giving the perennial playoff veterans that is the San Antonio Spurs all they can handle? That’s kind of expected, given that they’ve always matched up well with them, and they did pull off a stunning upset just a few years ago with virtually the same line-up. Also, despite the herculean season of Russell Westbrook (largely for his “triple-double” average, a feat only accomplished once and several decades ago), the sport ultimately is still a team game – as the stacked Houston Rockets predictably coasted past the rather thin OKC Thunder.

You want to know what IS surprising, though? The fact that these two first round winners will be meeting only for the first time since 1995. Yes, that infamous series that had Hakeem Olajuwon running circles over the reigning MVP David Robinson was the last one! It’s hard to believe considering that the Western Conference is virtually ruled by the same teams and they’re bound to at least cross paths.

Here are some other cool facts about the Rockets-Spurs series:

Two MVP Contenders Go Head To Head

Back in ’95, both teams met in the conference finals wherein the MVP has already been decided. As of this writing, there is no official winner yet… however, Westbrook is the clear-cut favorite – but at some point, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard of the Rockets and Spurs respectively – were close behind.

Both players also lead the league in different disciplines. Harden is renowned derisively for his defensive inadequacies but makes up for it with his elite scoring ability with 29.1 points per game, first in assists with 11.2, and third in three pointers made with 262. Statistically, Leonard is barely in the top five of the core defensive categories (rebounds, steals and blocks), but he’s not the back to back Defensive Player of The Year for nothing, and it shows in his advanced defensive metrics – he is one of the few players in history to have more steals than fouls, just to cite a key statistic.

Offense VS. Defense

Ever since they entered the league, San Antonio has always been known for their defense – and the trend continues even with the departure of franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan, with defensive ace Leonard taking over. The Spurs are 3rd in the regular season with just 96.3 points allowed, 4th at opponent FG% forcing other teams to shoot only .443, and 6th at opponent assists per game with 21.4 (the stat Coach Poppovich hails with high regard since it shows that you’re forcing teams to play a lot of isolation). In addition, they’re also second in blocks with 5.9 per game.

On the other side, Houston is just coming into its own this year mostly as a scoring juggernaut – thanks in large part to the hiring of head coach Mike D’Antoni, the continuing rise of Harden, but also their pair of “Sixth Man of the Year” favorites in Eric Gordon and Lou Williams putting up 16.2 and 17.5 points respectively.

The bulk of their points come from beyond the arc with a combined 368 three point field goals made – although to be fair, Williams played half the season with the Lakers. Still, with an average of 14.4 3-pointers made a game, Houston’s reputation for draining (and taking a bunch of) treys, is unparalleled. As such, it comes as no surprise that they’re just a few statistical points away from leading the league in points with a whopping 115.3 per game.

The series really comes down to how the Spurs defend Harden’s forays into the paint and how they rotate to Houston’s three-pointer shooters.

Bench Depth

Both teams boast some of the deepest rosters in the league with Houston’s bench putting up a whopping 39.5 points per contest, while San Antonio isn’t too far at 38.5. Unfortunately for Houston, that’s where they mostly shine – with San Antonio being much more well-rounded, snaring 17.6 boards (good for sixth) while Houston lags considerably at 13.6 (bottom five), leading in assists with 10.1 and fourth place in Steals and Blocks.

As you can see, this matchup is indeed full of surprises. We can also dust up the term “I-10 Rivalry” that’s usually reserved for their college basketball interstate counterparts because we can certainly expect an awesome series and years of competitive and exciting battles between these Texas juggernauts.

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