Kiwi Steve in the NBA #6: Rusty’s Return

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at PHOENIX SUNS (W 110-100):

37 MINS | 26 PTS (11/15 FG, 4/5 FT) | 10 REB (5 OFF) | 1 STL | 2 TO | 5 PF

at SACRAMENTO KINGS (L 117-113):

37 MINS | 11 PTS (5/10 FG, 1/4 FT) | 15 REB (7 OFF) | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PF


33 MIN | 20 PTS (9/14 FG, 2/2 FT) | 11 REB (7 OFF) | 2 AST | 2 STL | 2 PF


vs CHARLOTTE HORNETS, Saturday at 2pm (NZT)

vs DENVER NUGGETS, Sunday at 2pm (NZT)

vs CLEVELAND CAVALIERS, Thursday at 2pm (NZT)

at PHOENIX SUNS (W 110-100)

As it happens, this was the final game the Thunder would play without Russell Westbrook, who wasn’t with the team for this game due to undisclosed ‘personal reasons’… which would soon be cleared up as his wife Nina gave birth to twins. Shot Russ and Nina.

It also completed what was a pretty interesting experiment of the Thunder playing without its best player. More on that in a second, but first to the game. The Thunder had laid the beat down on the Suns a couple games earlier with a 118-101 win in OKC that got the treatment in the last KSITNBA so a return clash against the same opponents was a tasty one. Particularly from a Steven Adams perspective after he scored a cool 18 points on them that time.

Now, this game was not a runaway by any means. It was back and forth all first quarter and while the Thunder pulled away by as much as sevens late in that quarter, the Suns fought straight back to tie it in the second and briefly take the lead. If you want a good reason for that then the twelve first half turnovers probably had a lot to do with it, because it did sorta feel like OKC were in control, they just couldn’t pull away.

What they did do was feed Funaki. Adams feasted on DeAndre Ayton last time and he did the same here, going up with the first couple baskets for the Thunder. Paul George also brought some offence, although it wasn’t really ‘til Adams sat that they found a little fluency. Probably as much to do with the overstretched Suns going to their bench at the same time, to be fair. What’s interesting is that Adams is usually a guy who does his damage early, he was 5/9 from the field with three turnovers in the first half… which includes making his last two shots. Solid impact but he’d not been hugely involved after the early flourish… so good thing that on this day he was a force in the second half too. “The missing flow provided an opening, and Phoenix got back into it with an 11-2 run that spanned the quarter break. Deandre Ayton, the Suns rookie center, started fronting Steven Adams in the post, denying the Thunder’s bread and butter from the first quarter when the Kiwi center scored 6 points in the opening minutes. The disruption of a major offense generation method resulted in another wave of turnovers, as the Thunder ended up with 12 in the first half, all within the first 18 minutes of action.”

Fifteen points in the second half, not missing a shot or a free throw. Add that to what he’d already done and we were looking at 26 points – a season-best and only one point of his career high, achieved against the Timberwolves last season. Old mate sure loves a game against the Suns, doesn’t he? 44 points on 20/28 shooting across two games in the space of six days. DeAndre Ayton must be sick of the sight of him.

Suns coach Igor Kokoskov: “That's a tough matchup. As we know, Steven Adams is one of the most dominant five-men in the league right now. ... I think he (Ayton) competed in every play, he was more vocal, he was better than the first game, second game.”

Fair call on Ayton there. He did score 21 points on this occasion so that’s nice for the first overall selection, and Adams spent a lot of time in foul trouble. In truth, despite the points tally it wasn’t Steve’s best game as he ended up a -2 on the court, the first time all season he’s had a negative +/- in a win. Adams spread his second half chaos out across the 24 minutes but it was the beginning of the second half where OKC finally got on top. Began the third on a 17-4 run including scoring eleven straight. Shout outs to Paul George.

That was pretty much it. Phoenix barely got close again and OKC moved to 5-1 without Westbrook. PG13 missed 13 shots but also scored 32 points with 11 rebounds. Adams had 10 boards to go with his 26 points. 15 points from Dennis Schröder too, if you’re interested in that kinda thing. TJ Warren topped for Phoenix with 23 points.

Grant Hughes/Bleacher Report: “Behind a defense that looks more elite by the day, the Oklahoma City Thunder won two of their three games this past week—albeit against one of the softest schedules imaginable: at Dallas and then home for Phoenix and New York. Still, for a club that’s operating without Russell Westbrook, who’s sidelined with a sprained ankle, any win is a good one. Steven Adams has been terrific, hitting the Mavs for 20 points and 13 boards, then following that with 18 points, seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks against the Suns. On Wednesday, he put up 19 points, six rebounds and five assists on 9-of-13 shooting. It just doesn’t stop with this guy. Adams’ rebound, assist and steal percentages are all at career-best levels, and this makes it five straight seasons in which Adams has increased his scoring average and player efficiency rating. OKC ranks second in defensive efficiency, and this recent tightened-up stretch shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Thunder have defended better without Westbrook on the floor all year.”

Thunderous Intentions Player Grades: STEVEN ADAMS (A+)

“For most of this season questions centered on whether Steven Adams was playing injured. Tonight Adams put those thoughts to rest as he dominated the Suns first overall pick. Steven Adams posted 26 points in 36 minutes. Adams went 11-for-15 from the floor and even posted a great 4-for-5 from the charity stripe. And, of course, he dominated the glass. Adams grabbed ten boards and divided them evenly, five coming on offense and the other five defensively. Another great night, and I am sure a fun night for him as he frustrated Deandre Ayton all night.”

So yeah, the end of the No Westbrook thing. They played six games without him and won five. They then lost immediately after he returned… but that’s not fair to blame him in any way, as you’ll see when we come to that game. Let’s just throw some numbers out for the six games he missed…

  • STEVEN ADAMS: 18.5 PTS (67.1% FG) | 9.8 REB (5.0 OFF) | 2.3 AST

  • PAUL GEORGE: 26.1 PTS (45.5% FG, 38.9% 3PT) | 9.5 REB | 4.5 AST

  • DENNIS SCHRÖDER: 18.5 PTS (43.8% FG, 35.0% 3PT) | 5.5 REB | 6.0 AST

Then as a team they averaged 107.5 points per game while conceding 96.8, opponents shooting 32.8% against them from deep and 44.5% from the field. Pretty bloody awesome, really.

But honestly all of that has to be kept in the context of the opposition they played. Cleveland, Houston (at their stuttering worst, Melo’s last game), Dallas (who they lost to), Phoenix times two and New York. Only one of those teams is going to make the playoffs, most likely. Cleveland and Phoenix will be battling for top five picks. The thing about Westbrook is fair, he does need to adjust the way he plays if he’s going to maximise the guys around him… but he’s been doing that this season for the most part. This was kinda the perfect time for him to get injured, if he had to get injured.


And then Russ returned. Initially still out but then the twins arrived and he had a run in shoot-around and, yeah mate, good to go. Just in time for a trip to California to play the Kings, that traditional laughing stock of recent years the Kings. Except that these Kings are surprisingly, somewhat incredibly, decent this season. At least they have been so far. And after one quarter here they were up 37-24.

How exactly did that happen? Quick start by the Kings, jumping out to an 8-0 lead, that was the initial step. Then there were the seven first quarter turnovers from the Thunder that enabled SAC to get up by as many as nineteen in that opening frame. Chuck in some strangely off rhythm defence and a lack of ball movement and, frankly, that’s what happens. Even before you get to Iman Shumpert scoring 23 points in the first half.

When the ball’s not moving, Steven Adams is not touching it. He’s not a ball-handler and unless those offensive rebounds are falling his way then it’s difficult to get involved on the scoresheet. The way Adams has begun this season though, we should never see him struggling to get to five or six field goal attempts in a game again outside of complete anomalies. And with Russell Westbrook back, the best creator on the roster, things like this were still possible…

OKC got back into it in the second and a strong start to the third led by the defence made a real game of it. Hamidou Diallo played the best ball of his young career in the third quarter, getting involved in a variety of ways. With the Kings shooting 5/34 in the 3Q, the Thunder went into the last quarter up 85-84.

By the way, Westbrook was insane here. Only just welcomed twins into the world and coming off an ankle injury that cost him several games. Enough to have anyone feeling tired and rusty (no pun intended)… but Ol’ Russ came out and scored 29 points on 48% shooting with 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. Paul George also scored 27 points, albeit at a worse clip from the field. And that was sort of the issue. The Kings burst out of the gates in the final quarter to retake the lead and then threes started falling like rain in Auckland. OKC tried to keep up and they failed. 12/41 from deep. No real reason to shoot that many threes when you’re this trash at ‘em. Patrick Patterson was 0/5 from deep. Dennis Schröder was 0/6 from deep (including taking a couple crucial late attempts for no discernible reason – DS scored 6 points off 17 shots). The bench, still missing Alex Abrines and Terrance Ferguson while also without Nerlens Noel, had a pretty rubbish night and Sacramento held on to win by four.

Bit of a stinker, to be honest. Shooting 29% from deep while your opponents hit them at 42% is a damn fine recipe for disaster in this day and age. Steven Adams scored an underwhelming 11 points, missing three of his four free throws and shooting 5/10. Nothing terrible, just not quite at the level he had been over the previous week. 15 rebounds though, just in case anyone thought Westbrook would turn up and immediately swamp all his boards.

Hey but big drama in the third quarter. Double technical on Steve and Willie Cauley-Stein after a scuffle between WCS and Russ, a shove or two and some words involved under the basket, with Kiwi Steve zooming in to get the bear hug going and shut down any escalation. But he pushed the dude into the crowd so he got a technical for it… kinda silly, tbh. Breaks up a scrap and gets punished for it. Check out the replay though and note the point where WCS tried to push Adams off him and only manages to push himself further away.

This was a little more embarrassing though. The old nutmeg. Ole.

Thunderous Intentions Player Grades: STEVEN ADAMS (A-)

“If Billy Donovan wanted to stop the fast break the first thing he should’ve done is given the Kings a steady diet of Adams touches either for easy buckets or via Adams initiating the offense. By not going to the Big Kiwi early it resulted in missed long bombs which equated to long rebounds. The only thing missing was the starter’s whistle as the Kings grabbed the boards and took off simulating runners in 100 meter events. To that end, (and I wrote the above portion prior to the second half) OKC tweaked their scheme on both ends with Adams touches increasing and the team recognizing success because of it. He registered a double-double of 11 points and 15 rebounds (7 offensive) with a single assist, block and steal as well. Although it won’t show up on the stat sheet (and wish I had counted these) Adams was responsible for several hockey assists.”


Ah now what do we have here? Thunder against the Warriors? Westbrook against Durant? Adams against Draymond… okay Draymond was injured so we didn’t get that battle (out with a sore toe, presumably injured it kicking somebody in the nuts) but the rest of it was all in place. The timing couldn’t have been much better for OKC really, what with Westbrook back from injury and the Warriors going through the closest thing to a crisis they’ve had in years – you don’t need me to tell you about the Draymond vs Durant beef the other day. Not to mention the trash form the Dubs have been showing in losing three in a row. Three losses in a row has happened before under Steve Kerr but never has he lost four in a row.

Thing is, you take two all-NBA talents out of this team and they still have two more. Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. Can’t feel too sorry for them… but you do have to admit that they’re below full strength. One thing Steve Kerr did to adjust to that was starting Damian Jones at the five in place of Kevon Looney who’d gotten the last couple starts. Probably because he matched up well with Steven Adams in the season opener. He did not matchup well with him here. See, even this guy agrees…

It was the lowest scoring first quarter of the season for the Dubs. It wasn’t too far off from the Thunder, 23-18 after one in which the teams combined to shoot 36.5% from the field. How do you spell defence? (Oh yeah that’s how). Which is not to say that there weren’t highlights, Paul George’s banked three at the end of the frame was one. Steven Adams scoring six of the first 12 points was another.

And he picked it up in the second to finish the half with 16p & 9r. An absolute menace off the boards, Damian Jones’ starting gig didn’t go so well as he ended with a grand total of zero rebounds. Klay Thompson stepped it up with a few triples early in the second as the Dubs and Kevin Durant was a threat all night as he is every night. But OKC pulled away again as Dennis Schröder, of all people given his stinker the game before, started throwing it down from all areas. OKC up 60-46 at the half.

The Warriors went on a 13-2 run to make it funky in the third, Durant again the deadly messenger, but then the bench did crazy things and OKC pulled away again early fourth. Schröder popped a few more threes on his way to a career high five of them, and a 14-0 run pretty much ended it. OKC locked it down on defence and grabbed a victory to take home.

Only issue was the rising injury count. Terrance Ferguson didn’t make it out of the first quarter as he rolled his ankle. Nerlens Noel needed five stitches to his face in the second, although he did return with a bandaged cheek. Then Hamidou Diallo, who’d been looking so promising all season off the bench as a rookie, went down in huge pain and next thing the stretchers were out. ESPN didn’t even wanna play the replay, it was a horrible moment.

And, yes, of course Steven Adams was there with him as the stretcher was carried away. Always a teammate who puts his mates above everything else.

The relief there is that early reports have ruled out anything serious. No broken leg or busted ACL. They reckon it might only be a sprain. Phew. Hey, and Schröder ended with 32 points off the bench, what a ledge. Paul George had 25 with 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Adams was next with 20 & 11. Meanwhile Russell Westbrook only scored 11 points from 15 shots but his 11 rebounds and 13 assists meant a first triple-double of the season. Durant and Thompson each had 27 points on 22 shots.

Daily Thunder: “Despite him slowing down in the second half, Adams dominated the Warriors’ frontcourt tonight by recording 20 points and 11 rebounds on 9-of-14 shooting. Adams’ disruption was felt on both ends of the floor, as Damion Jones and Kevin Looney were limited to a combined 9 rebounds. If Adams keeps this play up, the rest of the NBA needs to take notice with All-Star consideration. He’s putting together his best season yet.”

Steve Kerr: “Yeah I mean Steven was dominant down there, just taking two people with him no matter where he was. Seven offensive boards… I give them credit, they played a great game”

Thunderous Intentions Player Grades: STEVEN ADAMS (A+)

“Adams continues to put together an All-Star season and this game is a great showcase for his skills. He shot efficiently. He played great defense (as usual). He got ANOTHER double-double. What more can you ask from this man who honestly looks like the guy playing Aquaman… I mean, what more can you ask from the third option in the Thunder’s Big Three?”


DeAndre Ayton on Steven Adams: “He’s a funny guy. He’s so strong, but he has so much fun playing the game. Just rebounding down there with him and wrestling with him, he sometimes wants his teammates to miss. He’s begging for the ball not to go in so he can outmuscle you to get the board. I hear him talking to himself, saying, ‘Please, please, please,’ multiple times. Over and over when he can see a rebound coming.”

Steven Adams responds: “It was directed at him, but if he’s not receiving it, guess I was bloody talking to myself. I was telling him we are about to engage, but guess I was talking to myself apparently. It was like, ‘Come on bro, let’s play, let’s bump’. I’ll keep it to myself next time.”

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