Carlson: Dennis Schröder is the ice man as OKC Thunder evens up NBA Playoff series vs. Rockets
Dennis Schröder sat inside an interview cubbie doing a postgame interview Monday afternoon when a familiar voice started echoing around the backstage area.
"What's up, Dennis Schröder?" Chris Paul hollered.
Schröder kept talking.
"Two-two!" Paul kept hollering. "Hell yeah!"
Finally, Schröder stopped, turned calmly, high-fived his teammate, then carried on.
Ice in that guy's veins.
He's showing it on the court, too. On an afternoon the Thunder faced another need-to-win game, Schröder was masterful. Two days after tying his playoff career high, he was even better and so was Oklahoma City in evening up this best-of-seven playoff series.
Thunder 117, Rockets 114.
Schröder scored a team-high 30 points in Game 4, and he did it largely with speedy, aggressive drives to the basket. He attacked the paint. He got past defenders. Then, he either put the ball in the basket or got to the line.
Never was that more important than in the fourth quarter.
All three of his field goals in that frame were on drives, and with Houston's constant switches on defense, Schröder took advantage when bigger, slower defenders ended up on him. Robert Covington. Then Covington again. Finally Jeff Green.
We heard the first couple games of this series how the Thunder was learning about the Rocket defense, figuring out ways to adjust.
Schröder going into attack mode when the one of those big guys ends up in front of him is a huge change these past two games.
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"I think it all comes down to our spacing," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "Earlier in this series, our spacing was not great, and it allowed their physicality and length to really shut off things.
"But for us, playing against all the switching, if you don't have good spacing, it makes it very, very difficult."
And now, Schröder is making it very, very difficult on the Rockets. They aren't going to stop swtiching on defense. That's what they do. But when Schröder gets a big — or at least, a big on the Rockets' roster — he is going to drive.
When he hits the afterburners, guys like Covington and Green don't stand a chance of staying in front of him.
That's a problem for the Rockets.
"He always causes problems," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's a good player. He's crafty."
But Schröder is attacking now. That wasn't the case in the first couple games of the series.
"The first game (in the series), I wasn't myself," he said. "Second game, I just tried to figure it out. What I'm known for is bringing energy, attack the basket, shoot my open shots."
Now that he's doing that, the difference between the first couple games and the last couple is stark.
Game 1: six points.
Game 2: 13.
Game 3: 29.
Game 4: 30.
Now, don't misunderstand — Schröder hasn't stopped shooting threes. He was 4 of 7 from behind the arc Monday, the Thunder's most efficient deep threat. And he hit a couple big threes late in the third quarter when the Thunder was erasing a 15-point deficit.
His three at the buzzer at the end of the third quarter elicited a little slide dance step.
"That is one of my favorite teammates ever," Paul said. "We got a lot in common. We're both emotional players."
"I always know he's gonna fight. I don't care what night it is, who we're playing against."
Remember, too, that Schröder missed a huge chunk of the Thunder's seeding games. He left the bubble for the birth of his second child, a daughter. He wanted to be there. He needed to be there. But maybe we all should've expected him to take a few games to round back into form.
"Not gonna lie," Schröder said, "the six games I missed, I felt them.
"But there's no excuses."
No one's looking for any now.
"There's no question he could be a starting point guard in this league," Donovan said, "but he's such a team guy. Winning and the team is the most important things. Whatever you ask him to do he's going to do."
What he's doing is attacking. And shooting. And changing the temperature of this series right before our eyes.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.