Rockets Thunder Basketball

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, left, and center Nerlens Noel, right, celebrate after defeating the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

NORMAN — Houston came out of the half shooting the lights out. Just absolutely shooting them out.

The Rockets canned eight straight 3-point attempts just as the Thunder found themselves mired in an 0 for 12 distance run of their own.

Though it led to a 15-point deficit Oklahoma City would have to fight back from, something the Thunder didn’t do during that stretch had everything to do with their ability to come back, post a 117-114 Game 4 victory and even the Western Conference quarterfinal series 2-2 with Game 5 tipping off at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday back inside the Disney bubble.

The Thunder didn’t quit playing defense. The Rockets were just scorching hot. They just weren’t missing. But they were expending full effort as they kept not missing.

That had lots to do with the 21-7 run Oklahoma City went on to close the third quarter, and it sure appeared to have everything to do with how Houston fared from distance in the fourth quarter, when it canned just 4 of 19.

The Rockets were tired.

So were the Thunder.

Yet, not as tired.

Also, not being a team that lives and dies from the 3-point arc, the Thunder had more arrows in their quiver as time wound down.

The Thunder led 103-102 just as the game entered “clutch” territory, the final five minutes.

As occurred two days earlier, the Thunder turned in some empty possessions. Also, as occurred two days earlier, the Rockets couldn’t take advantage, their possessions and attempts appearing strained and forced.

On Saturday, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a huge 3 that might have won it in regulation, but ended up getting the Thunder into overtime. On Monday, Gilgeous-Alexander missed from the left corner in the final minute. 

Yet, in a blink, Danilo Gallinari stole a poor and tired pass from James Harden and 18 seconds after that, with just 36 seconds remaining, Dennis Schroder took former Thunder forward Jeff Green to the basket, hitting one of those impossible way-high-off-the-backboard layups that only he and a few others guys in the league can hit.

That put OKC up 111-108, and from there all the Thunder needed was one more tired and off-target 3-point attempt from Houston and to hit its free throws.

P.J. Tucker obliged from the left corner, missing short and wide and Chris Paul and Schroder went 6 for 6 from the foul line over the last 20 seconds.

The Rockets tried to win the way they like to win, from 3-point land, taking an NBA playoff record 58 attempts and making a healthy 23, yet just 4 of 19 in the fourth quarter.

It was the Thunder who prevailed in another tight game, another game they trailed entering the fourth quarter, playing defense, getting to the charity stripe and making free throws — 22 of 28 to Houston’s 9 of 10 — winning by any means necessary.

Schroder led OKC with 30 points, making 10 of 16 shots and 4 of 7 3-pointers. 

Paul added 26, including 18 in the second half. 

Gilgeous-Alexander filled the boxscore with 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists over a game-high 43:54 of court time.

Harden led all scorers with 32 points, making 11 of 25 shots and 6 of 15 from 3-point range. Eric Gordon made 8 of 15 and 3 of 8 from distance to finish with 23.

“They came out wham, wham, wham,” Paul said of the Rockets’ third quarter 3-point barrage.

However, he added, “I think our team, all season, has handled adversity well.”

So it did again.

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