If styles truly do make fights, no 2017 National Basketball Association playoff series to date has offered a greater discrepancy of stylistic integrity than what we just witnessed in the Western Conference semifinals between the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz.
Of course, for you to buy into this notion, you first need to understand the criteria we are employing in regards to our aforementioned assertion.
Professional sports are about one side imposing its will on the opposition by dictating the tempo and controlling the action. Floyd Mayweather did it in the ring with the most exceptional defensive approach the sport of boxing has ever witnessed. The Chicago Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2010 thanks to a blinding display of speed and agility spearheaded by 2015-2016 Hart Memorial Trophy winner Patrick Kane. The Alabama Crimson Tide find themselves at the top of the polls every year, in part, due to a grueling rushing attack and stringent defense that wears the opposition down by halftime.
In the NBA, a team’s style is determined, in large part, by its pace.
Pace is a rather simple metric to understand, but it’s one that carries with it great insight towards predicting the outcome of specific matchups. By definition, pace is the number of possessions a team uses per game. In essence, the more possessions a team averages per game, the faster they move. The faster they move, the more shots they take. And the more shots they take, the more points they tend to score.
Which brings us back to Golden State/Utah, a playoff series that saw the biggest discrepancy in pace so far this postseason.
Before we continue, take a look at the below rundown, which lists each 2017 playoff team by its regular season ranking in the pace metric.
2017 NBA PLAYOFF TEAMS RANKED BY REGULAR SEASON PACE
3. Houston Rockets: 102.5
4. Golden State Warriors: 102.2
8. Oklahoma City Thunder: 100.5
10. Atlanta Hawks: 99.8
11. Washington Wizards: 99.7
12. Boston Celtics: 99.3
t-13. Portland Trail Blazers: 99.1
16. Cleveland Cavaliers: 98.4
17. Los Angeles Clippers: 98.2
18. Indiana Pacers: 98.1
20. Chicago Bulls: 97.7
t-22. Toronto Raptors: 97.1
26. Milwaukee Bucks: 96.7
27. San Antonio Spurs: 96.4
28. Memphis Grizzlies: 94.7
30. Utah Jazz: 93.6
For starters, you have no doubt already noticed that when a fast-paced team like the Warriors squares off against the league’s slowest-paced team in Utah, Golden State imposed its will and swept the Jazz right out of the playoffs. This isn’t to suggest that fast breaks have an edge over set plays, as San Antonio seems to be holding its own quite nicely against Houston, but the next paragraph is exactly why you came to Covers.com in the first place.
Entering Thursday night’s Game 6 showdown between the Rockets and Spurs, the playoff team with a higher average pace during the regular season was 41-21 straight-up (.661) and 33-28-1 against the spread (.540) this postseason. Perhaps that’s not as bullish a winning percentage as you would like, but here’s where it starts to get interesting:
Of the ten postseason series that have already been completed, eight have been won by the franchise that posted the higher average pace during the regular season. Only Utah (30) over Los Angeles (17) and Washington (11) over Atlanta (10) bucked the trend.
And despite the fact that it’s relatively small sample size, pay attention to the following two trends for the rest of the postseason:
2017 NBA PLAYOFFS
Faster-paced team when playing on road: 19-11-1 ATS (.633)
Faster-paced team when playing at home: 19-11-1 TO THE OVER (.633)
Remember, pace isn’t a be-all, end-all kind of metric. But it’s definitely one that should be taking up a permanent residence within your arsenal of handicapping weapons.