LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Dennis Schroder scored a career playoff-high 30 points, and the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied to beat the Houston Rockets 117-114 on Monday and even the first-round Western Conference playoff series at two wins apiece.
Oklahoma City trailed by 15 points in the third quarter and was down a point heading into the fourth. But the Thunder led the league during the regular season with 17 wins after trailing heading into the final quarter. And they trailed going into the fourth on Saturday before winning in overtime.
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“I always believe we can turn it around,” Schroder said. “Just bring a little bit of energy, get stops as a team, take the good shots and we’ll be in good shape. We’ve been doing it all season.”
Chris Paul scored 26 points and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Thunder, who won despite allowing 23 3-pointers.
James Harden had 32 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds for Houston. Eric Gordon scored 23 points and Danuel House Jr. added 21 for the Rockets.
The Thunder shot 49% from the field.
“This game, we needed better individual defense,” Gordon said. “They really had it going, and they just tried to spread us out and go one-on-one. We scored enough but they just continued to keep scoring and that was really the name of the game.”
Former Thunder star Russell Westbrook sat out for Houston again with a strained right quad. The All-Star point guard has not played in the series.
The score was tied at 60 at the half. The Thunder shot 47.8% and the Rockets 47.7% before the break.
Houston made its first eight 3-pointers to start the third quarter. The Rockets led 93-80 before Schroder made a 3-pointer and Houston’s Austin Rivers was called for a foul away from the shot. Oklahoma City’s Nerlens Noel made the free throw, and that sequence sparked a 12-0 run for the Thunder. Schroder hot a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer, and the Oklahoma City climbed within 93-92 at the end of the third.
“I think our team all season has dealt with adversity really, really good,” Paul said. “We just tried to keep playing, keep fighting and stayed in the game.”
Harden made a 3-pointer with 16.3 seconds to play to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 113-111, but Schroder made two free throws with 15.8 seconds to go to give the Thunder control for good.
“Teams are going to make runs, but it’s the way they made their runs,” Harden said. “We weren’t getting our shots offensively, and defensively, we weren’t sticking to our principles. So it was a disaster on both ends.”
Rockets: Ben McLemore was called for a Flagrant 1 in the second quarter for hitting Schroder in the head when Schroder drove to the hoop. … Made 8 of 15 3-pointers in the first quarter.
Thunder: Shot 61% in the first quarter. … Paul scored 14 points in the third quarter. … Outscored the Rockets’ bench 43-13.
After being asked about Kobe Bryant’s birthday being Aug. 23, Paul described a shift in his pregame routine out of respect for Bryant’s No. 8. “Before the game, I used to hit the stanchion three times. Three times before the jump ball. I do eight now. I do eight, and I look up and say, ‘Let’s go Bean.'”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan on his team’s confidence that it can rally: “I think a lot of these guys understand now, there’s so many possessions in an NBA game. There’s so much time and people are playing so much faster. Leads that years ago may have seemed like a really, really difficult hill to climb are certainly attainable to get back in the game.”
Game 5 will be played on Wednesday.