The Thunder flipped the script on Houston in Game 3 on Saturday as their offense came to life after two straight smothering performances from the Rockets. Monday continued Oklahoma City's offensive progression.
Oklahoma City rode its dynamic three-guard lineup to victory on Saturday as the trio of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder combined for 78 points. Monday featured a similar showing, with Schroder pouring in 30 of the trio's 74 points. Paul remains the Thunder's leader and late-game catalyst. But in this specific series, Schroder may be the most dangerous weapon.
"[Schroder] always causes problems, he's a good player," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said after Monday's Game 4 loss. "He's crafty, scores a lot of points. We'll try to do a better job, but again, they got us."
The Rockets' defense underwent a serious facelift in February as they effectively swapped Clint Capela for Robert Covington. Houston morphed its defense into a switch-everything scheme with a collection of wings and guards, opting to value versatility over sheer size. Daryl Morey's gamble raised Houston's ceiling by a significant margin. But the Rockets still aren't infallible defensively.
It hasn't been the Rockets' lack of size that's been an issue against Oklahoma City. Steven Adams' impact has been muted, and the Thunder aren't exactly bullying Houston in the post. The reality is quite contrary. The Rockets have consistently struggled to contain Oklahoma City's guards, allowing a stream of free runways to the rim either in isolation or pick-and-roll situations. James Harden was roasted on an island against Paul down the stretch in Game 3, leading to a game-tying triple from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With a 3–0 lead firmly in sight, Houston's defense couldn't make one final stand.
It was Schroder's turn to deliver the key bucket on Monday. Oklahoma City regained possession up one with 53 seconds left following a Harden turnover, and Schroder isolated against Jeff Green on the wing. The Rockets were then hit by a dose of deja vu. Schroder blew past Green en route to an easy layup, and P.J. Tucker missed a three on Houston's subsequent possession to seal the contest. The series is now tied at 2–2, with dribble penetration dooming the Rockets in each of their last two contests.
"They just went at us 1-on-1," Rockets guard Eric Gordon said postgame. "They used their guards to penetrate. They were just coming down and scoring. We've just gotta be better and be held accountable."
The Rockets shouldn't be hitting the panic button after dropping Game 4 on Monday. Houston was one minute away from winning each of the last two contests, and Russell Westbrook's potential return can change the tenor of the series. But there's no guarantee a personnel change will ensure a Houston victory. The Thunder's offense is beginning to hum, and there's no better crunch-time attack in basketball. If the Rockets keeps allowing free runs into the lane, their season could end far earlier than expected.
Houston will look to take a 3–2 lead over the Thunder on Wednesday. Tip-off from Orlando is slated for 5:30 p.m. CT.