Kiwi Steve in the NBA #5: An Old Mate & More Assists

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BOX SCORES

at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (W 95-86):

34 MINS | 9 PTS (3/6 FG, 3/6 FT) | 13 REB (5 OFF) | 2 AST | 2 STL | 2 TO | 2 PF

vs HOUSTON ROCKETS (W 98-80):

32 MINS | 19 PTS (7/12 FG, 5/9 FT) | 10 REB (6 OFF) | 4 AST | 1 STL | 1 TO | 2 PF

at DALLAS MAVERICKS (L 111-96):

37 MINS | 20 PTS (8/11 FG, 4/8 FT) | 13 REB (7 OFF) | 2 AST | 3 PF

vs PHOENIX SUNS (W 118-101):

33 MINS | 18 PTS (9/13 FG) | 7 REB (5 OFF) | 1 AST | 4 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 1 PF

vs NEW YORK KNICKS (W 128-103):

30 MINS | 19 PTS (9/13 FG, 1/2 FT) | 7 REB (2 OFF) | 5 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 1 PF


NEXT WEEK

at PHOENIX SUNS, Sunday at 3.00pm (NZT)

at SACRAMENTO KINGS, Tuesday at 4.00pm (NZT)

at GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS, Thursday at 4.30pm (NZT)


at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (W 95-86)

And so began a week without Russell Westbrook. A week which wasn’t going to offer anything new on the strengths and weaknesses of this team, though maybe getting some minutes in without their franchise leader wouldn’t be the worst thing in the long term. Also, it’s not as if Russell Westbrook would ever voluntarily miss any games at all, not even pickup games, but as far as games to miss go… this was a very soft week on the ol’ schedule.

Beginning with a Cavs side that is missing its best player, Kevin Love, and which has already sacked its coach. This game was rarely pretty and it took a late run just to hold on for victory, this despite George Hill being ruled out half an hour before tip-off and Cedi Osman leaving with back spasms in the first quarter. The Cavs ravaged with injury… though OKC obviously weren’t at their smoothest either.

The game began with Steven Adams drawing a foul on Rodney Hood and splitting a pair of free throws. It was same old plan despite Dennis Schroder starting in place of Russell Westbrook, the idea was still to get Steven Adams his touches early and lay down the battle to the Cavaliers. Adams copped a charge call before dunking after a Jerami Grant miss and then being unable to finish from close… four big touches within three minutes.

But he wasn’t really a huge offensive presence after that. Relying on his offensive boards to get involved, mostly just chilling with some quality defence while Schroder did the scoring for himself. Adams was on the court as the Thunder scored 17 straight beginning late second and ending mid-early third quarter and it seemed this game was headed for a steady and predictable finish.

Yet the Cavs had some fight in them still. Collin Seton scored 15 points in his first career start, while the veterans took over at the end. OKC were up 78-67 early in the final quarter when JR Smith and Kyle Korver started making buckets, leading the home team on a 13-0 run to take the lead with seven minutes left. But an Alex Abrines triple put OKC up 87-84 and it ended up a nine-point Thunder win. Wipe that sweat off the brow, mate, they got there in the end.

Tristan Thompson had 15 rebounds for the Cavs, but shot only 5/13 for 10 points. JR Smith also had 13 points and Hood and Korver added 11. For the Thunder it was 28 points from Scroder, a season-high for that lad, which led the way. Probably telling that the stand-in point guard didn’t have a single assist though, especially when you consider that Adams only had six shots and half of them were from his own offensive rebounds. Paul George also added 18 points and Grant had another 12.

Erik Horne/The Oklahoman: “Adams, per usual, was everywhere, and is defending the pick-and-roll about as well as you can at his position (granted the Cavs aren’t the Golden State Warriors, but two nights ago, Adams conducted a masterclass against a very good Pelicans pick-and-roll combo of Anthony Davis and Holiday). On a single possession in the first quarter he was a wall. First it was with George, then with Schroder. Each time, Adams met guards coming around screens, giving them time to recover, but he was positioned to where he could drop quickly to pick up the rolling screen setter. And he’s great at combining with Schroder to trap a ballhander and create a deflection when defending pick-and-roll. Adams makes watching defense fun. His poke-away deflection on Sexton as the rookie was trying to turn the corner on Schroder in the fourth was massive.”


vs HOUSTON ROCKETS (W 98-80):

So many storylines going on as the Thunder hosted the Rockets. Several more in the wake of the result. Russell Westbrook not being able to play meant no head to head with his old mate James Harden, the two most recent MVPs and spearheads along with Kevin Durant of the OKC team that went to the NBA Finals that famous time. There was a brief reunion of another OKC3, though…

Yeah, poor Carmelo Anthony. Copped a lot of blame for the way the Thunder’s season drizzled out in the playoffs and was promptly moved on to the Rockets (by way of the Hawks) where he’s now copping a lot of blame for the way their season is stumbling out of the blocks. Losing two of their best defenders in free agency (Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza) as well as injury to James Harden and suspension to Chris Paul sure didn’t help. But an atrocious defensive rating with Melo on the court hasn’t exactly done his prospects any favours. And how fitting then that this might prove his final game for the Houston franchise?

Melo scored 2 points, shooting 1/11 from the field. Compare that to Steven Adams, the man many including the entirety of Aotearoa believe should have been the official third man in the OK3 tag, who scored 19 points on 7/12 shooting. Different positions, different situations, sure. But this was the final straw for Houston brass, who called Melo in for personal crisis meetings about how to move forward with this situation, Melo then ruled out with ‘illness’ for the next few games. Melo was a game-worst -22 in his 20 minutes on the court while every OKC starter was at least +22.

Nick Gallo/NBA.com: “Starting on the first three possessions of the game, the Thunder exploited Houston’s play to switch every screen from the point guard to center spots. The result was three consecutive post ups for Steven Adams, isolated on Houston’s James Harden, who could do little to deter the hulking Thunder center. First Harden had to foul, then Adams spun and attacked the rim for two. On the third, Adams waited for a predictable double-team to come over and found a cutting Terrance Ferguson on a backdoor cut. “It just put them in a bit of a bind,” explained Adams. “With offensive rebounding, cutters. It’s just different. We’re able to attack them and give them different looks. It started off with me early, and then they started double-switching which puts them back two steps. It’s pretty hard to defend after that, when you’re making those sorts of rotations. The more you get them to rotate, mate, the better off you are.””

You can pretty much guess which way this one went on the basis of that. Kinda hard to overcome a -22 player in your rotation, woulda had to outscore the Thunder by 28 points across the other 28 minutes and, guess what, they did not. James Harden only managed 19 points while Chris Paul had just 10. Paul George was the best guy out there, continuing some quality form with an easy 20 points. Terrance Ferguson scored 14 with four triples too, he really needed a highlight reel game like this after a poor start to his second season. OKC were up 10 after one and somehow kept last year’s record-breaking leading offence to just 80 points.

What we also saw was the beginning of a scoring streak for Steven Adams. 19 points, a season high that would last for all of two night, achieved without Russell Westbrook playing. He and Schroder in particular, really getting at that connection. You get the feeling that Adams is a guy who makes it easy for a player like Schroder so to see them clicking is bloody lovely. Especially as it’d continue for the rest of the week.

Dennis Schröder: “He's a good screener and great roller. He puts so much pressure on the rim. It's easy for Russell (Westbrook) and me and Ray (Felton) to attack the basket, but then when somebody pulls over he's always ready. Whenever I pass the ball he's ready and catching them and finishing.”


at DALLAS MAVERICKS (L 111-96):

Win streak are there to be broken though. After a decent first quarter in which KC led most of the way, though never by more than six points, but then a rubbish second quarter let it slip and that was that, bro. Trailed by double figures almost the entire rest of the way. To be fair it was a third game in five nights for the Thunder so maybe they were just gassed. Also the Mavs are starting to get into some decent form lately after a junk start of their own (Harrison Barnes is back, so that helps). No Westbrook again, of course. There were reasons why a sudden end to the seven-game win streak.

Or maybe it was all a devious and devilish punishment for Steven Adams trying to initiate a new big bang with an attempted dunk on Maxi Kleber which, for the sake of humanity, thankfully did not go through. Would’ve been a thumper, that’s for sure. But ultimately a poor performance, with the Thunder only really hanging about because they won 26 offensive rebounds – Steve with seven of those. Poor shooting night meant they didn’t make the most of it. No reason to dwell on a stinker of a game. Funaki did get some good offensive touches thanks to everyone else’s misses though, both with his rebounding and because Billy Donovan seemed to call his number wanting to grind out some post-up play when nothing else was working. Sorta like what Enes Kanter used to do with the bench unit back in the day.

Daily Thunder: “The Mavericks led 23-22 after the first quarter, but blew the game open with a 34-point second quarter. Dallas led by as many as 24 in the second — taking a 57-33 advantage at the 2:02 mark on a free throw by Doncic. Though the Thunder would close the half on a 12-0 run, trimming the deficit to 12 at the break, it never really got much closer than that at any point moving forward. The damage was done there in the second frame.”


vs PHOENIX SUNS (W 118-101):

The Suns actually beat the Mavericks on opening day… but they’ve only won once since, hitting up this game already with double-figure losses. So Westbrook or no Westbrook (I know, even in his absence his name is still the first one anybody talks about with this franchise) this was a game from which the Thunder expected to experience victory.

And they did. A nice, routine win to get straight back on the horse. Paul George was still sizzling with 32 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists here. Steven Adams scored a mean 18. Dennis Schroder with 20 points and 9 assists did a wonderful job as the fill-in starter… TJ Warren and Devin Booker scored some points but nothing special.

There were some sketchy moments later on when the Thunder had to step it back up to make sure they didn’t get sloppy and make a game of it but early on they were magical, shooting 46.9% from the field in the first half while Paul George made five triples in that pair of quarters alone. There was a 22-0 run in the 1Q and it was like men against boys. Adams made a mess of rookie DeAndre Ayton who was kept scoreless in the first and limited to just 2/6 shooting in that half… compared to 14 points from Adams in the same amount of time.

Suns coach Igor Kokoskov: “He's an elite center. He changes a lot when it comes to physicality and his presence. His frame is different, and we're going to feel it. So he's got to feel us, too. It's not just on Deandre, it's everybody.”

The Oklahoman: “When it came to defending Adams' post moves, however, Ayton was often on his own. The Thunder got the ball to Adams with a chance to put OKC up 12-5 in the first quarter. He bent at the waist and looked to his left. Ayton was on his back, but Adams liked his chances against the talented rookie. He spun to his right, wedging himself between Ayton and the rim, and dropped the ball into the basket. So went much of Ayton's first quarter. Adams made five of his first six shots. On the other end of the court, Adams joined Paul George in double-teaming Phoenix guard Devin Booker in the first half, while also defending Ayton. The Thunder allowed a season-low 13 first quarter points, with none from Ayton, who finished the night with 14 points, and 7 from Booker. Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson matched up with Booker in the second half.”

NBA.com: “Two key players in the Thunder’s effort were Steven Adams and Terrance Ferguson, each of whom contributed in different ways. Adams (18 points on 9-of-13 shooting) was a featured member of the offensive gameplan early, putting Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton in a blender on a few occasions with his rolls to the rim and finishes around the bucket. “I’m just doing my role, same with every other play. It ain’t just me,” Adams demurred. “All the small things, if you do them at a high level, the team will benefit. All of us doing that kind of contributes to that.””

Welcome to Loud City: “Steven Adams was a man among boys in the first half, completely dominating Deandre Ayton, practically toying with the Phoenix front line throughout. Which is why it was so perplexing that Adams barely got a shot up in the 2nd half, even as OKC’s offense turned dumb for a lengthy stretch. Adams finished with an impressive 18 on 8-13 shooting to go along with 7 boards, 4 steals, and 2 blocks, along with several smirks and head rubs for every time Dennis Schroder blew another layups off of Adams’ attempted assist.”

Okay but the Thunder won so all goods.


vs NEW YORK KNICKS (W 128-103):

Then there are those games where you blitz out to an early lead and literally never once trail in the entire contest. Such was the case as the New York Knicks came to town and met the full wrath of Paul George, who scored a season-high 35 points on the way to a comfortable win, OKC outscoring the New Yorkers in each quarter.

Looking resplendent in their City Edition uniforms, the Thunder shot 65.2% from the field in the opening frame. Steven Adams was straight into it with the first points, polishing off an alley-oop pass from Dennis Schroder, before going on to scored 10 points in the quarter while playing the entire twelve minutes. His layup with twelve seconds left in the first ensured a 37-22 lead. It only got more drastic from there.

ESPN: “George scored 18 points in the first half and Adams added 15 to help the Thunder take a 65-49 lead. Oklahoma City shot 56.5 percent from the field before the break. The Thunder put the game out of reach in the third quarter. Adams threaded the needle to find a cutting Patrick Patterson for a dunk, then Patterson lobbed to George for a jam that put Oklahoma City ahead 85-61. George scored 17 points in the third quarter, and the Thunder led 100-80 at the end of the period.”

It ended up a 25 point win as both teams went through the motions in the last quarter. Steven Adams coudla taken his shoes off and put the feet up at the end of the third when he subbed out for the final time, already having bagged 19 points on 9/13 shooting as well as absolutely stacking the box score with 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block.

Those five assists tied a career high for him, something he’s only ever done once before and that was in a defeat against Denver back in March, where he had 7p/10r/5a/4s. In his entire career he only has 27 games with 3+ assists and a mere 8 with 4+ assists… however this was the third time already this season that he’s had four or more assists in a game so you can see the trend beginning to emerge. Steven Adams with his big physical presence, sucking in defenders and then just palming the ball off to his shooters. We know he can inflict damage upon the rim but seeing him dishing dimes as well… b-e-a-utiful.

Here’s the compo of assists from this game…

… notice how easy he’s doing it. This is a guy who can pass the ball, we’ve seen that from him in flashes before, but it doesn’t have to be crazy Rondo passes to set a guy up. It’s all about vision and decision making. Steven Adams is a player who is aware of his surroundings. This is how he’s up to 1.8 assists per game this season, easily on track for a career best.

Ah yes but what about the Stache Bros reunion? New York Knicks in town, that means Enes Kanter, right? Sure does friend. Enes scored 19 points off the bench, perfectly matching Steven Adams’ total. They didn’t overlap on the court for as long as we woudla liked to see, first and second units and all, but Enes got a huge ovation when he first subbed in and there was more than enough to savour here…

Erik Horne/The Oklahoman: “Steven Adams wasn't trying to be mean. He was speaking with the confidence of a player who knows his opponent and the Thunder's capabilities. The Thunder was at the free throw line on its way to a season-high for points in the first quarter against the Knicks. During the stoppage, Adams walked straight toward Knicks coach David Fizdale and offered a suggestion. “Sub him out,” Adams repeated with a stone-serious face. “He can't play defense. He can't defend pick-and-roll.” The confidence of Adams' statement permeated through the Thunder's 128-103 rout of the Knicks, OKC's ninth win in 10 games. The physical battles between Adams and Kanter weren't hateful. During the National Anthem, the two former teammates smiled at each other from across the court. After the game, Adams said he was trying to get Kanter out of the game because he's such a “bloody good player.” Adams isn't bad himself. He posted 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals in 31 minutes. Kanter was efficient (19 points, 8-of-11 FGs), but the Knicks were outscored by eight points with Kanter on the floor.”

That could’ve been a whole article of itself. Love those two.

Also, this was the first time in Adams’ career that he’s scored 18+ points in four straight games. chuck that in the CV, mate.


SLAM DUNKS

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