OKC Thunder lose fourth seed due to 3-way tie and divisional winner caveat

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets is guarded by Dennis Schroder #17 of the OKC Thunder. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets is guarded by Dennis Schroder #17 of the OKC Thunder. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The OKC Thunder fall to the fifth seed courtesy of an oddity in typical tiebreakers when three teams are tied.

A busy week of seeding games led to seven series being set prior to the last matches tipping off. Eight teams had to finish the process though to lock-in where each team would be seeded. The OKC Thunder were one of those teams as they played their final 2019-20 regular-season game against the LA Clippers.

On the surface, it seemed like there was nothing left to play for other than pride but a closer look at the standings revealed every match would play a factor in seeding.

The Raptors win versus the Nuggets meant Toronto would move ahead of the Lakers as the second-best seed overall.

In the second game of the day, the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers met for the second time this week and were set to meet in the first round. The winner of this match would determine who held the higher seed. Indiana claimed the fourth seed with the victory.

Tie-break oddity pushes OKC Thunder to fifth

The final two matches of the day would play a role in determining who would nab the fourth and fifth positions in the West. Although the Thunder and Rockets knew they would play each other that was the one thing left to decide prior to the series tipping off on Tuesday.

The Thunder played first and came close to pulling out the win needing overtime to decide the victor, but eventually lost the match. Houston closed the day’s events in a loss to the 76ers. This meant both OKC and Houston would finish the season with a 44-28 record.

As Tim Bontemps had adeptly outlined in his ESPN article, win percentage was the primary method used to break ties, and afterward, the typical tiebreak methods would be utilized.

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Since both teams had identical records the thinking was the Thunder would get the fourth seed.  In following Bontemps noted ‘typical tiebreak’ methods are used after win percentage. Those typical methods are:

  • Team with a better head to head record (Thunder won season series vs. Rockets 2-1)
  • Division winner (regardless of division teams are in)
  • Win percentage in division (if teams in the same division)
  • Win percentage in conference games

What we failed to realize is the order used as ‘typical tie-breakers’ switches when a third team is involved. That team was the Utah Jazz who also finished with a 44-28 record.

Throughout the process of figuring out seeding, we looked at the fact the Thunder had won the season series versus the Jazz and also had a better divisional record of 8-5 versus Utah’s 5-7.

Here’s where the funky switch occurs. When three teams tie at season end the second point on the list above moves to the top of the list. Therefore, the Rockets who won the Southwest Division win the fourth seed.

Ultimately, home court doesn’t mean anything — it was just something to brag about. That and the fact no one expected the OKC Thunder to be a playoff team, let alone a top-four seed.

OKC will take the fifth seed and as we tweeted out after figuring out why the Rockets got the higher seed —

“The only number that matters now is FOUR– the number of times the Thunder will beat the Rockets!

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