Kiwi Steve in the NBA #1: Getting It All Underway Again

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35 MIN | 17 PTS (6/12 FG, 5/8 FT) | 11 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 2 TO | 3 PF


at LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS, Saturday at 3.30pm (NZT)

vs SACRAMENTO KINGS, Monday at 12.00pm (NZT)


Yes, the old foes. A somewhat unfortunate way to begin the new campaign - having to sit in the locker room for ages trying to avoid seeing, hearing or knowing anything while the Warriors had their ring/banner ceremony pregame for the latest championship within the dynasty. All those shiny, heavy rings. Kevin Durant. Draymond Green. Not really much fun… but plenty of motivation.

Questions abound for the OKC Thunder this season, who’ve restocked in the right ways as they try to get back to being a team that others take seriously in the playoffs. Paul George is back and Carmelo Anthony is gone. Dennis Schröder is in town. The bench has had a workover. Andre Roberson will be fully fit soon enough. But they do have to ease their way into things as Russell Westbrook recovers from offseason knee surgery – a development that was breezed over by the organisation but which has caused some unease amongst fans. Even just in this single situation, it meant facing the defending champs without two of their starting five including their top scorer and best defender.

It was almost three. Steven Adams was unexpectedly listed as a game-time decision with a lower back stiffness (we’ve all been there) when the injury report was released. He’d been excellent in preseason and always enjoys a battle with the Dubskees but back injuries are tricky ones. Especially for centres. He’d started experiencing pain two days earlier in training and it was only an hour before the game that he was cleared to play.

NewsOK: “Adams is coming off a dominant preseason in which he averaged 11 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists in fewer than 25 minutes a game. Adams played in all four preseason games for the Thunder with no signs of pain. Adams was a problem for Golden State last season, as the Thunder outscored the Warriors by 9.9 points when the 7-footer was in the game. Adams averaged 12.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 62.5 percent shooting against the Warriors last season in four meetings.”

It was a handy game to play, handy for a few reasons. One is that if he didn’t play, with Russ and Dre already out, it would have pretty much been a walkover, Paul George notwithstanding. Two is that obviously his old nemesis Boogie Cousins is still out for at least a few more months which meant going head to head with youngster Damian Jones, who was starting at the five for the Warriors. Jones is still a useful player, he scores at a brilliant FG% and doesn’t have to do much but guard the rim on defence, but considering the other Thunder starters were tasked with guarding Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green… safe to say that’s the longest of the short straws.

You never quite know how serious to take those ‘questionable’ diagnoses but there was little sign of any distress in game one as Kiwi Steve threw himself all over the court. Then again, he’s a tough bastard so you never quite know if he feels pain or not either. Granted, he did lose the opening jump ball which is kinda rare. He also missed a couple early shots. The second was emblematic of his night in a way – got in a good position, looked to unleash his deceptively excellent post moves… then a help defender came over and snuffed him. Kevin Durant with a slippery block in this case.

Adams vs Jones was a mismatch, the only mismatch the Thunder had. But he was very rarely free to impose his will on lil Damian. Between Durant and Green there was usually another body in the way and roughing him around – a deliberate ploy from the Dubs not so much to stop him getting those layups and dunks as to stop him from getting those offensive rebounds. It worked to a degree, although he still grabbed four of them across the game. What worked a lot better for the Warriors was Curry and Durant on the offensive end, sinking buckets at ease.

OKC started off shooting 1/9 with a bunch of turnovers (Adams had a pass picked off by KD) and it was only free throws that kept them hanging around. Patrick Patterson was the unlikely candidate to score the Thunder’s first points of the new season, assisted by The Great Funaki. GSW got up as many as 14 points in the first half and with the dreaded third quarter on the way that was reason to fear.

Or not. Because Paul George, who’d started the new season the way he ended the last, suddenly remembered that he’s an All-NBA talent and scored nine points in the first two minutes of the third, cutting a 10-point lead back to just three. Not very long afterwards Steven Adams popped one off from a Schröder feed and OKC were up 69-66.

Steven Adams: “We just made a couple reads of what we were seeing on film. We started just exposing it a little bit and it turned out really well.”

Unfortunately it didn’t last and the Warriors’ bench dragged it back to lead at the end of the third and keep it at an arm’s length from. A couple ties – shout out to the hustle from Jerami Grant – but the Thunder never held a lead in the fourth and the Warriors took it by eight in the end. “After Adams pulled the Thunder to within two at 99-97 late in the fourth, the Warriors ripped off a 9-3 run to close out the game, as Stephen Curry got a frog-legged elbow jumper to go down through a foul call, Kevon Looney scored off a broken play and Kevin Durant hit a runner. On the other end, a combination of missed jump shots and turnovers did in the Thunder’s final hopes of a valiant comeback. Despite the result, the 0-1 Thunder can keep their heads high because of its effort and relentlessness and can carry that mojo into Friday’s second game of the season, in Los Angeles against the Clippers.”

Pretty much as you’d expect, as far as the result went, but some signs of positivity from Oklahoma City for sure. Adams had a big game with 17p/11r/4a, finding multiple ways to contribute. Those four assists are a very sneaky one as his best season average ever is 1.2 per game but he’s a quality passer considering his position and reputation and with a couple more knockdown shooters around him that might be an aspect we see a lot more of. Elsewhere Paul George scored 27 points and Schröder added 21 as Westbrook’s fill-in replacement starter. Steph Curry topped it with 32 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists and KD had 27 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.

Daily Thunder: “Steven Adams has still got it - Big Kiwi had the kind of night of night the Thunder need from him on a consistent basis if they’re going to make some noise in the Western Conference. Adams filled up the box score with 17 points (6-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks, all while nursing lower back stiffness. Despite the Golden State bigs (Kevon Looney and Damian Jones) combining for 22 points and 13 rebounds on 11-of-18 shooting, Adams’ ability to do a little bit of everything was present — along with his quarterbacking of the Thunder defense.”


The Oklahoman/Erik Horne: “Nerlens Noel's hair was a little taller. Steven Adams' hair was a lot shorter. Even in grainy footage from 2012, the contrast was clear. Noel was repping Tilton (New Hampshire) in a dark black jersey with yellow letters and numbers, Adams fresh from New Zealand but playing for Notre Dame Prep (Massachusetts) in an unfamiliar No. 24. jersey, pristine white with black lettering. Both were swimming in their baggy tops, teenagers not yet filled out or close to certain about what was ahead, or that they'd reunite as teammates seven years later. Or that Noel would be learning from Adams as a pro. Or that Adams would find NBA inspiration from his high school battle with Noel. Six years later, as the Thunder's regular season began Tuesday night against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Adams and Noel find themselves back where it started as high school players.”

Bleacher Report Top 15 Centers: Steven Adams #9 - We know about Adams' prowess on the glass. We're fully aware of his defensive abilities—skills that allow him to anchor the OKC schemes by shutting down the interior and switching onto some smaller assignments. We're not forgetting about his picking acumen, which let him sit behind only Rudy Gobert in screen assists per game. But Adams is more than those primary skills, no matter how much his skill set is curtailed by the Thunder's roster construction.”

Sports Illustrated/Rob Mahoney: “News that George had agreed to a four-year, $137 million contract traveled fast, though not to Thunder center Steven Adams. “I don’t keep up with that s---, mate,” Adams says. “I’m f------ terrible. I just show up and whoever’s on the team, cool.””

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