Kiwi Steve in the NBA #4: Back To Winning Ways

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BOX SCORES

at CHARLOTTE HORNETS (W 111-107):

34 MINS | 5 PTS (1/5 FG, 3/4 FT) | 12 REB (7 OFF) | 3 STL | 3 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PF

at WASHINGTON WIZARDS (W 134-111):

23 MINS | 15 PTS (6/7 FG, 3/4 FT) | 3 REB (1 OFF) | 1 AST | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PF

vs NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (W 122-116):

37 MINS | 18 PTS (9/12 FG, 0/2 FT) | 8 REB (3 OFF) | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PF


NEXT WEEK

at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS, Thursday at 1pm (NZT)

vs HOUSTON ROCKETS, Friday at 2pm (NZT)

at DALLAS MAVERICKS, Sunday at 3pm (NZT)

vs PHOENIX SUNS, Tuesday at 2pm (NZT)


at CHARLOTTE HORNETS (W 111-107)

A couple wins had eased the pressure after a 4-0 start but midway through the third quarter against Kemba Walker and the Hornets it looked like the momentum had stalled. The Thunder were 19 points down and shooting up a train wreck. Paul George in particular, he just couldn’t do bugger all once the ball got in his hands (although he was excellent getting that ball into his hands, with 10 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks). Malik Monk was doing things for Charlotte. It just wasn’t going the right way.

As for Steven Adams, he’d had a few injuries to begin the season and clearly that was affecting his shooting touch. Prior to this game he was shooting 54.5% but that doesn’t tell the full story of some simple misses that he’d had, lacking that midseason finesse. Well, this game was the worst of the lot and he didn’t even attempt a shot until more than seven minutes in and he didn’t make one until… actually not until 6:41 to go in the third quarter. Yeah, he shot 1/5 in this game. He had an offensive goaltending call against him getting his timing wrong in the strongest area of his game. Just didn’t get it going. Still had some big plays defensively though with three blocks and three steals.

But despite what it sounds like the Thunder went on to win this game. They won it thanks to Russell Westbrook being the absolute man in the fourth quarter and they won it thanks to 21 points off the bench from Dennis Schröder and a career-high 25 points off the bench from Alex Abrines. Abrines made five triples and, credit where it’s due, it was he who got the game swinging back in OKC’s favour. Good on that lad.

Kemba Walker had overcome a poor first half to go crazy in the third. But for the most part OKC had done pretty well switching on him and making it tough. He’d been lighting it up to that point this season so a quality plan working there, then the fella Paul George called afterwards the “baddest man in the game” – Russell Westbrook of course – closed this sucker out. From that point in the third, OKC went on to outscore their opponents by 64-41 over the final 20 or so mins.

Associated Press: “With 1:12 left, [Westbrook] drove and found an open Dennis Schroder with a crosscourt pass for an open 3-pointer. After a Charlotte miss, Westbrook used a screen from Steven Adams to get by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for a layup to push the lead to 108-102. Westbrook punctuated the win with a ferocious dunk with 13 seconds left off a fast break before stopping to glare at the crowd.”

NBA.com: “The 56 bench points were certainly a boon to the Thunder’s chances in this one, but the wind at their back all night that carried the team through and gave it a chance was the defense. Stifling Hornets point guard Kemba Walker in the pick and roll was no easy task, but repeatedly the Thunder got the ball trapped out on the wing and down towards the corner, forcing the ball back out to a secondary playmaker. “We defended at a very high level. The job Steven Adams did in pick and roll coverage was terrific,” said Donovan. “Our guards fought over as best they could.””

29 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds for Russell Westbrook hitting ‘em at 50%, he was the star. Walker and Monk each had 21 points to lead the way for the Hornets. Adams’ 5 points made for his first single-figure scoring game of the campaign and the fewest points since he also had 5 in a game against Philadelphia last December. But tell you what, he’s a master on the ol’ mop.

The Oklahoman: “Steven Adams was one of five Thunder players to score double digits (15 points), but Adams is battling nagging issues with calf tightness this season. When Adams goes back to the tunnel during games, it's typically been to ride a stationary bike in order to keep loose. During Friday's game, between battling with Washington's Dwight Howard, Adams was getting treatment on both calves from trainer Mike Davis. Adams has already missed one game this season with left calf soreness. It's something to monitor with the Thunder's defensive anchor.”

at WASHINGTON WIZARDS (W 134-111)

It’s always nice to play teams that are in a worse mess than yourself. Not as much when they have a returning Dwight Howard to take away at least some of the rebounds that Steven Adams had turned up to claim but a little more so when your team is coming off a scintillating finish to their game the night before and picks up immediately where they left off from the beginning.

Okay, not quite the beginning. Start of the second quarter and it was 35-30 to the Thunder, having overcome an early ten-point deficit – Howard scored 13 points in the first despite missing all basketball since training camp – but once the Thunder got it going, mate, it was all over. They scored 44 points in the second quarter and blew the goddamn lid off this thing.

If the Charlotte game the night before was Kiwi Steve’s worst game of the season then this was one of his better ones. He came out and he couldn’t miss. There was a block on Markieff Morris in there as well as he shot 4/5 in the first quarter and then came out to bag a few more before resting up for the entire fourth quarter. He did appear to strain his calf again and he left the court for treatment in the locker room at one stage but it wasn’t too serious, more just piled on minutes so a good thing for the blowout giving him some rest on the wrong end of a back to back. Also foul trouble in the third quarter didn’t go astray as far as putting the feet up went.

OKC did so much in that second quarter that it inhibited all the stat-lines. Adams only had to play 23 minutes, for example, which did his rebounding numbers some damage. But the rest is never a bad thing and ten different Thunder players scored at least seven points. Jerami Grant was awesome with 22 points on 9/11 shooting. Westbrook had 23 with 12 assists. Even Paul George with the dead foot came out and, after going most of the first half without a bucket, drained a bunch of threes in a row and left with 17 points. Bradley Beal did scored 27 for the Wizards and John wall had 19 points with 9 assists and 7 turnovers. Dwight Howard had some highlights, this clip is one (sorry Steve), but he didn’t do much after that first quarter. It was all a bit shell-shocking and the Wizards ended up getting booed off their home court.

Thunderous Intentions Player Grades: STEVEN ADAMS - A

“Steven Adams did not have a monster game, but he did everything right. He consistently made Dwight Howard look small and converted his shot at extremely efficiently as he usually does. Adams looks ready to have another All-Star caliber season and this game just provides even more evidence for his case.”

vs NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (W 122-116)

The Pelicans are another team trying to figure out who they are, trying to figure out how to play to their potential and maximise Anthony Davis. As far as Anthony Davis goes, that’s an area that Steven Adams had to have a lot to do with. He’d be guarding the lad for most of the game, after all. He’s had his good ones and bad ones against Davis in the past – Davis’ shooting range is a struggle for Adams but Adams’ size and strength is a struggle for Davis – so this is one of those battles that you circle on the calendar.

First possession of the game, Westbrook found Adams for a couple. Second possession, Westbrook found Adams for a couple. Third possession Westbrook went and did it himself. Fourth possession, Westbrook found Adams for a couple. It’s what kiwi NBA fans are often demanding and plenty over in OKC feel the same way – gotta get Funaki involved early. Set the tone. Against the undersized Julius Randle and the somewhat brittle Anthony Davis, there’s no doubt it was a deliberate tactic.

Adams ended up playing all but 16 seconds of the first quarter, scoring 8 points with 3 rebounds and a steal. The exertion meant he needed some treatment on the ol’ dodgy calves again but nothing to slow him down. The Thunder dropped 36 points in that frame and things were sweet, not quite the rapid blowout start of the Washington game but close e-bloody-nough, mate. Except a long stint in the first means an extended break in the second and when Steve checked back in halfway through the lead which had gotten as high as 10 was down to two points, before the Pelicans led 63-62 at HT.

Basically the Pellies started hitting some shots, Julius Randle in particular was finishing sweetly. But this game was destined to keep swinging back and forth and OKC blitzed the third. Came out and played with energy, Adams again getting early touches, and they were leading 84-79 with 4:25 left in the third, looking like they were on their way to victory… when disaster struck. Russell Westbrook came down on his ankle and left the game. Didn’t return. Had scans which came up negative but that doesn’t mean he won’t miss time. It certainly looked a nasty one.

What that means in the mid-term will be a question for tomorrow. What it meant in the short term was the OKC Thunder with a five point lead and more than seventeen minutes to hold onto it. How did they manage that? Main thing was Dennis Schröder who stepped up and scored 11 points in the final frame on his way to a season-high 22. Then there was some much-improved work off the glass after letting NOP grab 11 offensive rebounds in the first half and a grand total of zero in the second. Then there was some rough defence that allowed the Pelicans to stay in the game with free throws but also kept it tough for them. Adams on Davis was a flippin’ marvel. Adams was +22 on the court, best in the game, Davis was -18, worst in the game. Davis had 20 points with 8 rebounds but shot just 7/20. After all, who can possibly withstand this assault…

Daily Thunder: “Aside from Westbrook’s injury, the story of the night is the job Steven Adams and the Thunder bigs did defensively on Anthony Davis. The Brow put up 20 points and 8 rebounds but shot just 7-of-20 from the floor, and — dare I say it — was thoroughly outplayed by Adams (18 pts, 8 reb). Big Kiwi and Jerami Grant (13 pts) deserve a lot of credit for making life incredibly difficult for the MVP candidate. Julius Randle had 26 and 8 off the bench — so it wasn’t all good down low — but this was a win for the bigs considering they didn’t allow Davis to beat them himself.”

Paul George had 23 points to go with DS’s 22 and Adams’ 18. Westbrook had 17p/8r/9a before he got hurt. On the other side it was 26 pts from Julius Randle that led the way, he was a perfect 10/10 from the field. Davis got 20 points. Jrue Holiday had 22 points and 14 assists.

Thunderous Intentions Player Grades: STEVEN ADAMS – A

“Steven Adams looked the way Steven Adams should. That is something rare this year. The big man has dealt with a few different injuries that have contributed to his slow start to the 2018-19 campaign. Adams poured in 18 points and hauled down 8 rebounds.”

That’s five wins in a row for the Thunder now (and six defeats in a row for New Orleans), though it does feel like the win was overshadowed by the Westbrook injury. Steven Adams sure didn’t rate the circumstance.

NBC Sports: “The Thunder are 7.7 points per 100 possessions better when Westbrook is on the court and have won five straight. They are not the same team without Westbrook and will now have to ask a lot more of Dennis Schröeder. The good news is they move into a relatively soft part of the schedule for a couple of weeks (Cleveland, Dallas, Phoenix twice, the Knicks) so they should be able to hold their ground. However, if this is a Grade 2 sprain, if the Thunder have to go a month or more without the former MVP, it could alter the shape of the West playoff chase. It’s watching and waiting now with Westbrook’s ankle.”

Bummer, man. Here’s another reason to celebrate so we finish on a happy note…


SLAM DUNKS

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