Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder are two of the biggest reasons behind the Oklahoma City Thunder's surprising run to the playoffs this season.
Their struggles were a big part of why the Thunder fell behind 2-0 to the Houston Rockets in their first-round Western Conference playoff series and now, their resurgence is a major factor how OKC has tied up the series entering Wednesday's Game 5.
Paul and Schroder, the Thunder's starting and backup point guards, often were not on the floor together this season. But late in the last two games, Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan has elected to go to a small lineup, with those two being the primary beneficiaries.
Houston has leaned heavily on a small lineup since the trade deadline, making up for what it lost in rim protection by switching relentlessly and wearing opponents down on the perimeter.
That's what the Rockets did in the series' first two games.
But in overtime of Game 3 and in the waning minutes of Game 4, Donovan took out center Steven Adams and went with a lineup where 6-foot-10 Danilo Gallinari, the best 3-point shooter on the Thunder, was their biggest man on the floor.
"I think it all comes down to our spacing," Donovan said after Monday's 117-114 win. "Earlier in this series, our spacing was not great, and it allowed their physicality and length to really shut off things."
In the first two games of the series, Schroder and Paul combined to average 26.5 points and 39.7 percent shooting from the field. The last two games, the duo has combined to average 55.5 points, shooting 52.6 percent.
Schroder, who missed six seeding games for the birth of his child before returning for the finale, has scored 29 and 30 in the last two games.
"He always causes problems," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's a good player. He's crafty."
Twice in the series, the Rockets have set a playoff record for most 3-point attempts, shooting 58 from behind the arc in Monday's loss to break the record they set with 56 tries in Game 2.
"A lot of them were good shots," Houston's James Harden said. "Those are shots we normally take. Maybe there were some that we could have played off the catch and got a better shot. But I think for the most part we took some pretty good shots as far as catch-and-shoot."
Without Russell Westbrook to help create space for shooters, though, Houston has at times struggled to convert from distance.
After going 6-for-13 from behind the arc in the opener, Harden is just 11-for-39 from behind the 3-point line in the last three games.
A big part of that has been the defense of Oklahoma City rookie Luguentz Dort.
"Lu is special," Paul said of Dort, who kept Harden in check in the fourth quarter of Game 4 despite playing most of the quarter with five fouls. "Unbelievable how he accepts the challenge."
Westbrook (strained quadriceps) was upgraded to questionable Wednesday afternoon after a positive workout in the morning. He has played in just one game since Aug. 4 and has missed the last six.
--Field Level Media