The Blazers are playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs, and all the signs are that it will be a very tight, competitive series. Tons of information and analysis will be flowing over the next few days, but here are five simple stats to watch for in this series, most of them focusing on OKC:
Stat 1: 28.9
28.9 is the percentage that Russell Westbrook shot on his threes this year. No, that’s not a typo. 28.9%. Not only is that Russ’ worst shooting mark from deep since the first two seasons of his career, but he also took them at the second-highest rate of his career, behind only his MVP season in 2016-2017. He launched 5.7 outside shots this season, an incredibly high number considering how many of them were bricks. It’s been a strategy to guard Russ since he came into the NBA, but it might apply now more than ever: baiting him into stupid threes is the best way to beat the Thunder. It’s incredibly demoralizing when those shots do drop, but more often than not, they won’t.
Stat 2: 17.1
The Thunder have a +17.1 Net Rating when Paul George is on the court compared to when he’s off: 8.1 on, -9.0 off. In the playoffs, PG will get played big minutes by Billy Donovan, so the Thunder’s numbers with him off the court matter less. But he will still rest at some point, and the Blazers HAVE to win those minutes, and win them big. The Thunder have been really good all season when George is on the court, and awful with him off. This is true even when Westbrook has played without PG – staggering hasn’t really helped. One strategy Terry Stotts could try is putting in his own star players if PG goes to the bench: if Dame or CJ isn’t out there already, put one of them back to try to punish the Thunder as much as possible.
Stat(s) 3 and 4: 30.8 and 29.8
These are the offensive rebounding percentages of the Blazers and Thunder, respectively. The Blazers rank 2nd in the NBA just a hair behind the Nuggets for best offensive rebounding team, while the Thunder closely trail in 3rd. This series could largely come down to which team is able to prevent the other team from getting too many offensive rebounds. For the Blazers, their accumulation of offensive rebounds is deadly, as it leads to open threes for their plethora of capable outside shooters. The Thunder, who are less potent offensively, need those second chances just to keep up with other teams, and their offense can be slowed considerably if they’re kept off the glass. The Blazers are down their best offensive rebounder in Jusuf Nurkic, so instead of trying to get their own misses, it might be wiser to get back and slow the Thunder in transition, especially Westbrook and George. If they can successfully keep Steven Adams and Jerami Grant from getting their hands on too many offensive boards, they could win this series.
Stat 5: 32.9
We’re back to three-point shooting! 32.9 is the percentage that the Thunder bench (Dennis Schroder, Raymond Felton, Markieff Morris, Abdel Nader, Patrick Patterson) shoot from three. Basically, while Russ is the Thunder’s primary purveyor of missed threes, the Thunder have plenty of other uninspiring three-point shooters on their roster. Add in the fact that one of their better shooters, Terrence Ferguson, doesn’t take all that many threes, and that their centers, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel, don’t take any at all, and you get a team that really only has one reliable threat from deep: Paul George. Again, this is where rebounding comes into play – the Thunder miss a lot of shots, especially threes, so they’re able to get a lot of second-chance opportunities. If those dry up, their offense can go into very dry spells, which should give the Blazers a chance to extend a lead, or cut into a deficit.
From the stats, my three keys to the series would be: stop Paul George from getting hot from three, instead forcing his less sharpshooting teammates into taking them instead; box the heck out of Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, and Nerlens Noel; and dominate the minutes when George is off the court. It’s a lot to handle, but the Blazers might be up for the challenge. This should be an entertaining, competitive series, and it will be fascinating to watch develop.