Oklahoma City Thunder: 3 Takeaways From Game 4 Loss

Apr 23, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket against Houston Rockets guard James
Harden (13) during the fourth quarter in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder succumbed to the Houston Rockets 113-109 in Game 4 Sunday, falling behind 3-1 in the series.

The Oklahoma City Thunder certainly had their chances, but were unable to convert Sunday against the Houston Rockets.

After leading the majority of the game, the Thunder gave up 40 points in the fourth quarter, led by Nene Hilario‘s 28 points on 12-of-12 shooting, tying an NBA playoff record. Oklahoma City’s attack was more balanced in Game 4, as four starters scored in double figures for the Thunder.

And yet, it still wasn’t enough as Houston hit tough shots down the stretch, captured every loose ball and made the plays the Thunder did not.

Though it was ugly basketball down the stretch by both teams, Houston was able to manufacture enough offense and stave off Oklahoma City to take a 3-1 lead in the series, heading back home with a chance to close out the series.

The Thunder improved some facets that were plaguing them, but there certainly is still room for improvement. Let’s dive in to what Game 4 told us about Oklahoma City.

Apr 16, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Andre Roberson (21) shoots the ball during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Use Andre Roberson As A Screener

Down the stretch, James Harden went into full NFL safety mode, playing center field in an attempt to muck up any Oklahoma City offense. Harden more than ignored Andre Roberson, who was unable to make him pay.

However, after a few possessions, head voach Billy Donovan wised up to the strategy and began using Roberson as a screener for Russell Westbrook drives. The move not only put a weaker defender on Westbrook, but forced “The Beard” to be pulled away from his zone around the rim.

In addition, Westbrook is devastating enough in 1-on-1 situations, let alone with a head of steam and attacking an off-balance defender. Roberson also is a phenomenal cutter, so rolling to the rim or attacking off the catch is a modified version of those straight line cuts.

This move opened up the floor wider for Westbrook dump-offs to Steven Adams and Taj Gibson, as well as weak side 3-pointers. Don’t be surprised to see this much more in Game 5.

Apr 23, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson (3) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant (9) fight for a loose ball during the fourth quarter in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jerami Grant Is Going To Get More Minutes

Because of the Hack-A-Roberson strategy that was implemented late in Game 4 and that it worked so splendidly, the Rockets will be sure to come back to that any time the Thunder begin a semblance of a run.

In Roberson’s place on Sunday, Donovan chose Jerami Grant off the bench, placing Victor Oladipo on Harden and welcoming switches that put Grant on Houston’s leader.

Grant played well in Game 4, going 5-for-5 from the field for 10 points in 14 minutes, but his struggles on the road for the Thunder are well chronicled. His spark was noticeable in both Games 3 and 4, but that’s going to have to carry over if the Thunder stand any chance in Game 5.

When Houston goes back to the strategy in an effort to get Oklahoma City’s best defense against Harden, Grant will be called upon. Hopefully he’s ready to bring it on both ends.

Apr 23, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Doug
McDermott (25) during the second quarter in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Feed Abrines and McDermott

Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott were on the floor for a combined 34 minutes in Game 4 and shot a combined 2-for-5 from deep.

The jarring statistic is not the makes or percentage, but the lack of attempts. The two most accurate shooters on Oklahoma City, placed on the floor for the exact purpose of shooting the ball from range managed five attempts in the game.

Floor spacing remains the Thunder’s biggest Achilles heel, but if McDermott and Abrines play a similar minutes total, they should each hoist up a minimum of five treys, with the potential for many more.

McDermott is shooting an astounding 58 percent on 3-pointers this series, a signal he should be fed more. Abrines is lower at 30 percent, but the threat of him still warrants a hard closeout and his defender staying home.

The Spanish rookie has shown the potential to rain shots from deep at a high volume, with two games this season of five or more made 3-pointers.

If the Thunder use Roberson as a screener and get funky with him on the offensive end, Jerami Grant plays in Houston like he does in Oklahoma City and Abrines and McDermott bomb away from deep, the Thunder just may steal Game 5 and stay alive. Stay tuned.

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