Rockets Over Spurs: What A Difference 22 Years Makes
Through one quarter, the Rockets counted up 34 points to the Spurs' 23. According to Basketball Reference, this was just the fourth time since 2008 that the Spurs allowed at least 34 points in an opening quarter of a playoff game.
The second quarter wasn't any better -- actually it was worse. In the next 12 minutes of play, Houston scored 35 points as they got out to a 69-39 advantage going into halftime. Their 69 points are the most points the Spurs have allowed in the first half of a playoff game since 1990 (allowed 72 to Portland in the second round).
By game's end, the Rockets had crafted a 126-99 victory, marking the second-largest Game 1 road win in NBA postseason history and the most substantial home playoff loss in San Antonio history.
This victory is also the third of three straight playoff wins for the Rockets over the Spurs. But the last two are separated by 22 years and, as such, were accomplished in two entirely different fashions.
For the sake of both fun and differentiating between NBA eras, let's compare the last two playoff games between the Spurs and Rockets.
The Dream to The Beard
The mid-'90s were full of great players. Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, John Stockton and Karl Malone all graced the NBA hardwood. Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson were two of the era's top players.
The two bigs were the unquestioned leaders of their respective teams in the 1994-95 season and went on to meet in the Western Conference Finals. In Game 6 of that series, with the Rockets up three games to two, the two clashed in what turned out to be a classic elimination game.
While "The Admiral" totaled 19 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks in 42 minutes, Hakeem "The Dream" put up 39 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 blocks in 47 minutes of his own. Robinson was complemented by Avery Johnson's 19-point, 10-assist performance. On the other side, Robert Horry supported Olajuwon to the tune of six three-point makes and 22 points.
Between the two squads, they were just 10 of 37 (27.0%) from three-point land as the Rockets attempted 37% of their shots from three compared to the Spurs' rate of just 9.5%. However, Olajuwon was the dominant force down low -- he finished the game 16 of 25 from the field with one attempt from long range.
That is in stark contrast to James Harden's big performance a night ago. On 6-of-13 shooting from the floor and a 3-of-8 mark from three, Harden racked up 20 points and 14 assists in just over 31 minutes. In the losing effort, Kawhi Leonard had with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists.
For some perspective, at the time of the last meeting, Harden and Leonard were three and five years old, respectively. And that just speaks to the length of time between the two games.
Inside to Outside
Overall, the Rockets and Spurs scored a total of 225 points last night with 31 threes in 79 attempts. They had just 40 two-point makes compared to 63 back in 1995. The Rockets alone had more three-pointers (22) than two-pointers (18) and attempted an NBA record 50 three-point attempts.
As for the advanced metrics, they tell the story about how style of play has drastically changed in that same span of time.
At a glance, this is how the Rockets won the two contests, looking at three-point assist rate (3PAr), effective field goal percentage (eGF%) and offensive rebound rate (Off Reb%).
As a result of head coach Mike D'Antoni's pace-and-space system, Harden's Rockets played at a pace exactly 16 possessions faster per 48 minutes of action and attempted 57.5% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. In making 44% of their three-pointers, they earned an effective field goal percentage (which accounts for threes being worth 1.5 times as much as twos) 8% higher than 22 years ago.
Clearly, offensive rebounding rate wasn't a point of emphasis in last night's Game 1. Olajuwon's Rockets nearly doubled up this version of the team, with 14 offensive rebounds to 7 for Harden's cast.
The 1995 Spurs also tallied 14 offensive rebounds, however, so it's probably safe to say that three-point shooting was the difference even in a time where three-point shooting wasn't so prevalent. Thanks to Horry's effectiveness from the perimeter, Houston had 5 more made threes and 22 more three-point attempts as they pulled out a five-point win in an otherwise evenly-matched conference finals showdown.
In spite of a Game 1 blowout, we should expect more of the same from the Spurs and Rockets in terms of long-range attempts and pace.