Chris Paul, Thunder Rally to Beat James Harden, Rockets in Game 4 to Even Series

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2020

Oklahoma City Thunder's Chris Paul, third from left, goes up to shoot against the Houston Rockets during the second quarter of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

The Oklahoma City Thunder evened their first-round series with the Houston Rockets in the 2020 NBA playoffs following a 117-114 win on Monday. 

Danilo Gallinari intercepted a pass from James Harden with 53.4 seconds remaining, which led to a layup by Dennis Schroder to put the Thunder ahead 111-108.


Clutch Schroder! @okcthunder 113 @HoustonRockets 108 18.4 to play on TNT, HOU ball. https://t.co/ipbdSn0vwe

Two free throws from Chris Paul gave Oklahoma City some much-needed breathing room. Although Harden hit a three with 16 seconds remaining to cut the lead to two, OKC followed with four straight free throws to secure the victory despite a Danuel House triple at the buzzer.

Defense was optional as the Rockets and Thunder shot 45.1 and 48.8 percent, respectively, from the field. Houston attempted 58 three-pointers, which still weren't enough to power the team to a 3-1 series lead.


Notable Performers

James Harden, SG, Rockets: 11-25 FG, 6-15 3P, 32 points, eight rebounds, 15 assists, four steals

Eric Gordon, SG, Rockets: 8-15 FG, 3-8 3P, 23 points, one rebound, three assists, two steals

Chris Paul, PG, Thunder: 10-19 FG, 26 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, SG, Thunder: 7-17 FG, 18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists

Dennis Schroder, PG, Thunder: 10-16 FG, 4-7 3P, 30 points, one rebound, three assists


Thunder Hold on in Tight Second Half

Things were looking bleak for Oklahoma City in the third quarter as the Thunder fell behind by 13 points. Then they closed the quarter on a 21-4 run to make it a one-point game.

Schroder ended the quarter with a three-pointer at the buzzer.


SCHRODER AT THE HORN! 🔥 Get to TNT for the 4th QTR! https://t.co/FIsi367Abr

The Thunder lack a singular scorer who's capable of putting the team on his back. That's not really Paul's game, and it's hard to envision Shai Gilgeous-Alexander doing what Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell did on Sunday night, when they each poured in 50 points.

Having said that, Paul was instrumental in the comeback. He scored 14 points in the quarter, and the rest of the team fed off his composure in the face of a sizable deficit.

OKC THUNDER @okcthunder

Staying with it. @CP3 with 2 of his 10 third quarter points thus far. https://t.co/B4CMDKJLb0

The Ringer @ringer

MasterClass with @CP3 https://t.co/jHWcMnRSBl

Schroder, meanwhile, showed why he's a finalist for the Sixth Man Award. Counting on the 26-year-old guard to be your lead guard is risky—something the Atlanta Hawks learned. On a given night, Schroder has the potential to go off.

That fact he had possibly the biggest shot of the game was fitting based on his performance.


Rockets Jekyll and Hyde Offense on Display in Second Half

The Thunder simply don't have the shooters to keep pace with the Rockets when Houston's long-range jumpers are finding the net. That became quite evident to open the aforementioned third quarter.

Houston exploded for 20 points in the first three minutes thanks in large part to six three-pointers. The Rockets quickly opened up a double-digit lead in what had been a tightly contested affair through the first half.

They didn't relent as they dropped 33 points in the third frame.

Jason McIntyre @jasonrmcintyre

If the Rockets shoot like this, they're beating the Lakers, Clippers, Celtics, whomever. 8-for-8 on three's in the 3rd 18-32 from deep in the game Obscene

#RingerNBA @ringernba

The Rockets in this 3rd quarter https://t.co/Os6252gW2A

Especially with Russell Westbrook out, the Rockets need somebody to be a consistent secondary scoring option behind Harden. Eric Gordon was going just that, particularly in the second half.

Houston Rockets @HoustonRockets

EG bringing the energy! 🏀 20pts https://t.co/T7EWuQFsWl

Houston Rockets @HoustonRockets

Gordon lighting it up in the 3rd https://t.co/wrSPpvICIT

Still, Monday's game simultaneously highlighted the Rockets' biggest strengths and weaknesses.

Houston can be untouchable when its three-heavy offense is working, but things can change drastically when the shots suddenly stop falling. The Thunder's bench also combined for 33 points—a large chunk of which came from Schroder—compared to 13 points for the Rockets.


What's Next?

The teams have one day off before they're back on the court Wednesday for Game 5. Tipoff is 6:30 p.m. ET with coverage on TNT.