Kiwi Steve in the NBA #8: Twenties Up

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BOX SCORES

at BROOKLYN NETS (W 114-112):

31 MINS | 15 PTS (7/11 FG, 1/6 FT) | 8 REB (5 OFF) | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PF

at CHICAGO BULLS (L 114-112):

30 MINS | 21 PTS (9/17 FG, 3/7 FT) | 10 REB (9 OFF) | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 4 PF

vs UTAH JAZZ (W 122-113):

29 MINS | 22 PTS (7/13 FG, 8/10 FT) | 7 REB (6 OFF) | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 TO | 1 PF

at NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (L 118-114):

37 MINS | 20 PTS (7/9 FG, 6/10 FT) | 6 REB (1 OFF) | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PF


NEXT WEEK

at DENVER NUGGETS, Saturday at 4pm (NZT)

vs LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS, Sunday at 3pm (NZT)

vs CHICAGO BULLS, Tuesday at 2pm (NZT)

at SACRAMENTO KINGS, Thursday at 4pm (NZT)


at BROOKLYN NETS (W 114-112)

With three quarters gone it felt like it was all over. The Nets were up by 18 points and the Thunder were doing nothing much. The Nets, with seven straight defeats, had led by as many as 23 points. How did we get here? What happened next? Strap yourself in, friend…

OKC were bad in the first and even worse in the second. Brooklyn began the 2Q on a 15-2 run. Adams, who had a couple steals and a couple buckets in the first, was on the bench for that whole run, sitting down at 21-all and returning down 44-28. It’s been a pretty impressive bench for OKC, certainly better than last season (the six players they released in the offseason are all no longer in the league, Carmelo Anthony included), but this was flashes of old.

It wouldn’t last the week, but coming into this game the Thunder were 12-0 against teams with a losing record. Another trend of the OKC of the last two seasons was the odd clunker against stink teams. That hasn’t been the case this season but it felt like that was what we were in for here. Again, it felt like it was over after three quarters when OKC didn’t make that run out of the sheds in the third.

Oh no mate, you got it all wrong! You forgot about PG!

I won’t describe what happened, just watch the video and see. It has to be experienced with the emotion of the game. Paul George scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to lead Oklahoma City to their biggest ever comeback. He scored 47 points all up. OKC won it on a PG triple. You’ll hopefully be relieved to hear that this was rock bottom for the Nets. Sean Marks’ lads have won three in a row since this game. Also since TNC published this article. But they never even had a choice here, not with Paul George playing like that.

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Welcome to Loud City: “The Nets scoring was led by Allen Crabbe, who went 7-13 from behind the three point arc. In order to score, Brooklyn took advantage of the Thunder switching on every on ball screen. That’s why late in the fourth quarter, Billy Donovan made the adjustment of taking Steven Adams out the game. With Adams off the court, there was no more advantage when the Thunder switched on screens. The strategy led to Brooklyn struggling to get the same open looks and being unable to score on their final possession of the game.”

Russell Westbrook also bagged his 108th career triple double with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 17 assists. Took him 23 shots and he was 2/9 from deep but you may recall they were crap for three quarters which is why that happened. The TD takes him past Jason Kidd for third all-time. Steven Adams added 15 points and was a game-best +16 on the court. Only 1/6 at the free throw line which cost him another 20+ scoring day, so lucky there was no shortage of those this week, as you’re about to find out.


at CHICAGO BULLS (L 114-112)

The Thunder don’t lose too many games these days. Since starting 0-4 they’d won 12 of their next 15 games and here they were in Chicago against a pretty trashy Bulls side, one which had already sacked Fred Hoiberg as coach amidst injuries and repeated defeats. Only the Phoenix Suns had fewer losses than the Bulls as the Thunder rocked up to the Windy City.

And in the first quarter we got all that we came for. Opening possession of the night and it was Steven Adams with the ball in the paint, throwing down the one-hander from a few feet out on the spin. So they kept on going to him. It was pretty astounding, Steven Adams scored the Thunder’s first 12 points in this one. A couple times he had to get back up for his own rebound and regathered a miss from Jerami Grant in there too. Then there was this beauty from the Westbrook dish.

But OKC weren’t pulling away. Like, it wasn’t that Adams was taking every shot, he was just the only one making them. And when other dudes finally got something going, Adams started losing turnovers, three of them in a about a minute mid-1Q as the Bulls double teamed him in the post to try make up for their lack of any semblance of being able to cover him individually. With the benefit of some free throws Kiwi Steve scored 14 points in the first quarter alone, shooting 6/9 with 5 rebounds, all offensive.

So… pretty frustrating then that OKC sorta wasted that effort by allowing the Bulls to have their highest scoring half of the season, shooting 57.4% from the field as they built a 70-62 lead at HT. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen were the main destroyers, working their way around what’s usually a superb OKC defence at will. Three fouls in the third quarter then limited Adams’ effect though the Thunder did come surging back, limiting Chicago to just 17 points in the frame. Russell Westbrook booked his triple-double with 16 minutes left in the game and the Thunder led into the fourth… where Chicago looked to slow it down and be more careful with their shot selection.

It worked. The Bulls went back in front with a LaVine triple and Steven Adams took a seat with Oklahoma City trying to speed up the tempo again. That didn’t really work and he was back in soon enough with this game very much in the balance. Last game Paul George stepped it up in the fourth with an unbelievable performance to get the Thunder over the line there. On this occasion he was somehow kept to just two shot attempts in the final frame and he missed them both, including a shot at the buzzer after Lauri Markkanen had given the Bulls the lead with five seconds left.

The Bulls then lost by 56 points at home to the Boston Celtics the very next night.


vs UTAH JAZZ (W 122-113)

You may recall a distant past when the Thunder played the Jazz in the playoffs and were bundled out in six games. A lot has changed since then, even though it was only about nine months ago. This was the first time the two teams have met since that playoff series and, let me tell you, it was not close. Not even if the Jazz bench made it look a lot closer than it really was with a late flurry.

It began, as most Thunder games seem to these days, with Steven Adams getting the ball in his hands to lay down a little law. Except he missed from eight feet. No worries because even with that the Thunder still took a 6-0 lead after just 68 seconds. Adams with the middle bucket in that trio. He then went on to miss his next four shot attempts with a turnover in there (two misses were put-back attempts on the same shot) but the Jazz didn’t seem like they could get much done and Adams bounced back to score nine points in the first frame.

Donovan Mitchell was a superstar in that playoff series but here he mostly just hung out in foul trouble. That’s enough to limit most dudes and Spider Mitchell was no different. As for Rudy Gobert… yeah that was a fun one. A real clash of the titans with Steven Adams. Those two guys came into the league in the same draft and as a pair of international old fashioned centres they love a bit of physicality. Safe to say that’s what they got.

Billy Donovan Pre-Game: “[Gobert]’s going to be back there. There's not a lot necessarily you can do. Obviously, Steven with his passing can facilitate and create some offense, but in terms of getting him out of the paint, he'll get out when Steven's away from the ball. But when Steven's got the ball or pick-and-roll, those kind of things, he's going to try to stay in the paint. So, it's not about necessarily trying to get him out of there. That's what he does, that's what they do. And they will do that to try to utilize his shot blocking.”

Gobert is one of the best rebounders on the planet but Stevie was beating him to the loose ball here. The scrappiness of what he was doing seemed to get under Rudy’s skin, though to be fair the French Rejection had a point with a few of those calls. Can’t let your frustration show like that though. Gobert was called for a couple quick fouls as this one got away from the Jazz in the third and Gobes was not happy. See if you can spot the foul on the second instance…

… nah, can’t really see it either. But the refs are calling the game based on the overall flow and Steve was doing his work slyly while Rudy was just getting stroppy. Dunno if I’d call this next one dirty so to speak… Steven Adams has an unfair reputation in that regard already… but he definitely got away with one.

Rudy Gobert: “Tonight, someone grabbed my arm, pulled me down — that was a very dangerous play, and I got called for the foul. So if I gotta do justice myself, I’m gonna do justice myself. And it’s gonna get ugly. Hopefully I don’t have to do that. I just want to play basketball.”

Yowza, old mate’s really fired up about that one! He had five fouls and a technical in 21 minutes on the floor so that’s probably why.

The reason the game slipped away from Utah in the third was Paul George. Whatever happened in the Chicago game, that was gone now. PG bagged 17 points in the 3Q to push the lead out as far as 29 points and neither he nor Steven Adams were required in the fourth. Get in, son. The Jazz had six dudes in double figures, led by Mitchell’s 19. Obviously not enough.

Thunderous Intentions Player Grades: STEVEN ADAMS – A

“He leveled Mitchell on one screen which resulted in Donovan’s head snapping back. It was a clean, HARD screen and left me wondering how many players curse Adams the morning after playing the Thunder for the bruises they collect thanks to the big Kiwi. At the end of the third Adams and Gobert landing on the ground as they both had elbows locked. Adams had enough of all the “little things” Gobert does to get advantages and they tumbled to the ground. Gobert however, picked up the foul and then a tech as he left the court. Advantage – ADAMS!”


at NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (L 118-114)

It’s always a bit of fun when Steven Adams goes head to head with Anthony Davis, who is probably the best player in the NBA who he matches up well with. Let’s be honest, he’s not sticking with LeBron or Durant or Steph or Harden but AD he can kinda hang with. Probably because AD’s a power forward playing up one, so he can’t really deal with the pure size and strength that Adams leaves out there, although his overall skillset and shooting ability tends to make up for that. It sure bloody did this day.

Adams bagged a couple early buckets, one a smooth looking hook on the turn, another of those mean baseline spins of his leading to a reverse layup and then a bit of one-handed glory that sent Cheick Diallo tumbling to the deck. New Orleans got 9 first quarter points from Anthony Davis to lead most of the way but a couple stunts from Paul George overcame four early turnovers from Russ (two aimed at Steve, one a miscommunication on the roll and the other some busy hands from AD poking it away). Not an especially dynamic game to begin with but an even one as you might expect. OKC up 27-25 after 1Q, shooting 65% from the floor.

The game fired up in the second though, Jrue Holiday throwing it down. Anthony Davis had gone into the locker room late in the first quarter with a sore foot but it turned out to just be a bit of bruising so he came back in and ended up playing 40 minutes – safe to say he wasn’t too damaged. This was a tricky game for Adams. He found himself with some heavy bodies on him in the paint, looking to take away his offensive rebounding and they pretty much succeeded. Julius Randle, like AD, isn’t really centre sized but he’s a tough lil bastard and he didn’t let up. Brought a bit of scoring to the table too. While the game was never tilted too far in either direction, the Pelicans did start to take the upper hand and that was helped in part by an offensively hesitant Russell Westbrook. Didn’t really look like he wanted to shoot too much and part of that had to be Davis’ presence on the defensive end.

Then Anthony Davis went and scored 18 points in the third quarter and the Thunder were left hanging on tight. The lead was never more than nine points but with The Brow scoring at will you knew which team was on top. The Thunder had a couple chances at the end to tie it up or go ahead and weren’t able to take it. Adams hit a couple clutch free throws with a few minutes left that left the door open (he’d gone 1 of 2 every other time he’d made it to the line). Alex Abrines took the last shot and missed.  

Ah well, can’t win ‘em all. Particularly not when Anthony Davis is scoring 44 points with 18 rebounds. Adams and Westbrook both scored 20 and Paul George had 25, Schroder also scored 24. On the other side Davis was ably assisted by 22 points for Randle (with 12 rebounds) and 20 for Holiday (with 10 assists). The Pellies comfortably won the rebound battle.

In other news… HEY-OH!

Buuuut yes. Anthony Davis won this matchup handily. It wasn’t even close. But just quietly Steven Adams has scored 20+ in four of his last five games. He has seven games with 20+ this season having done that only 20 previous times in his first five years in the league. Dude is becoming an every game scoring options and it’s amazing to watch. He’s without doubt the third best player on this roster. This season we’ve seen huge leaps for him in offensive consistency and also especially in his passing game, where he’s on course to shatter his assist record with dimes like this beaut.


SLAM DUNKS

Welcome to Loud City: “Personal story: do guys from New Zealand have a different way to articulate themselves or does Adams just carries a presence around him that makes others want to glean from? I recall being at a conference where there were a panel of speakers with one of them being a man from New Zealand. On several occasions throughout the session, he would articulate something so well that he was asked to rephrase it because it went right over everyone’s heads.”

The Ringer: “A frontcourt of Grant, Steven Adams, and Paul George stifles opposing teams, regardless of who the point guard is. That trio has a net rating of plus-13 in 373 minutes with Westbrook and plus-14 in 313 minutes with Schröder.”

SB Nation: “Adams is playing the best basketball of his career, and he’s only 25 years old. He’s averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds, five of which come on the offensive end. If he can maintain that, he’ll be the sixth player since the 1973-74 season (when o-boards were first tracked) to score 15 and 10 with at least five offensive boards. That list only includes Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Willis and Andre Drummond.”

The Oklahoman: “In recent years, the Thunder has done the Holiday Assist in the evening during the week when it's more low key. This year, a road-heavy December schedule landed the event on a weekend, with plenty of surprised Sunday shoppers scurrying to call friends and get cell phone videos of Russell Westbrook, Adams and Co.

So, don’t be offended if you were in Target and you heard Adams coming. “Excuse us, humans,” Adams said while pushing the shopping cart with Cody on the front. “Excuse us, humans,” repeated Hardee, an eager, human hood ornament having his best Christmas ever with an orange flip-flop wearing 7-footer.”

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