Kiwi Steve in the NBA #9: On The Rebound

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BOX SCORES

at DENVER NUGGETS (L 109-98):

37 MIN | 26 PTS (12/20 FG, 2/6 FT) | 14 REB (11 OFF) | 2 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PF

vs LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (W 110-104):

32 MIN | 16 PTS (6/14 FG, 4/6 FT) | 5 REB (3 OFF) | 2 AST | 1 TO | 1 PF

vs CHICAGO BULLS (W 121-96):

31 MIN | 19 PTS (8/14 FG, 3/6 FT) | 8 REB (5 OFF) | 1 AST | 3 STL | 2 TO | 2 PF

at SACRAMENTO KINGS (W 132-113):

34 MIN | 20 PTS (8/12 FG, 4/4 FT) | 23 REB (9 OFF) | 1 AST | 2 STL | 3 TO | 1 PF


NEXT WEEK

at UTAH JAZZ, Sunday at 3pm (NZT)

vs MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, Monday at 2pm (NZT)

at HOUSTON ROCKETS, Wednesday at 9am (NZT)

at PHOENIX SUNS, Saturday at 3pm (NZT)

at DALLAS MAVERICKS, Monday at 1pm (NZT)


at DENVER NUGGETS (L 109-98)

The Thunder’s resurgence after that 0-4 star has been pretty incredible. They’ve gotten into a real groove, thumping those crap teams and scrapping hard with the better ones. Enough to briefly have them top of the Western Conference, although that didn’t quite last. They’re still up there but the Warriors are back in business now and these Denver Nuggets ain’t too shabby either.

The question is whether the Thunder can compete with the very best going into the playoffs and beyond… and that’s a fair question to ask. Winning 17 of their next 21 games after the dud start suggests they’re up there with anybody but a closer look at the schedule shows there’s still work to do. The Thunder are 10-2 against the Eastern Conference, which is superb until you realise that they’ve played the Bulls twice, the Cavs twice, the Nets, the Pistons, the Knicks, the Wizards… they did play the Celtics once but they lost. Who haven’t they played in the East yet? Try the Raptors, Bucks, Pacers and 76ers, the four teams at the top of the division. That’s eight tricky games all on the cards for 2019.

Similarly the Thunder are 12-3 at home and those two of losses were their first two games. The other was in November against the Nuggets, breaking up what would otherwise be a 10-game home winning streak. Although in that time they’ve beaten the Suns, Clippers, Pelicans, Rockets, Suns, Knicks, Hornets, Cavaliers, Hawks, Jazz, Clippers and Bulls. The two Clippers wins and the Pelicans wins are decent. The others were all more than expected. Yeah… the schedule’s been weird so far. Things will get tougher from here. But you can only do your best with the team in front of you, after all.

The Nuggets have been stunting on teams with the third best defence in the league. They play slow but they score efficiently and have continued to drag out results despite injuries to Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton (not to mention Isaiah Thomas who hasn’t played this season). Young guard Jamal Murray has been on a tear… though the main man is of course that Jokic dude. What was his first name again?

Look, Kiwi Steve is a bloke who focusses on his own game, not his opponents. And he had plenty to focus on in the first frame in Denver. After unusually losing the opening tip off, Adams responded by blocking Jokic from five feet, though he wasn’t able to repeat the dose when Torrey Craig grabbed the rebound, Jokic making a couple freebies after Steve was called for the foul. But he made up for that with the next six points of the game.

Adams kept on scrambling and he denied Jokic again under the rim soon after. And with shots going down, and with the rest of the side struggling to find decent looks against the Denver defence, Westbrook did the clever thing and just kept on going back to the well. Adams laid one up and then lobbed another in from nine-feet. Then he started facilitating with consecutive assists to Grant and Schröder. It was incredible, it was like the whole offence was running through Steven Adams. He wasn’t running the show, that’s always Russ, but he was the next link in the chain. When he sat down with 1:17 left in the frame he’d smashed a career-high 17 points in the first quarter. 17 bloody points, mate!

Yeah but the thing about that is they were still losing. Denver came out ripping off three pointers for fun, making 7/10 in the first frame. And while the Nuggets cooled off in the second quarter the Thunder were unable to take advantage, only scoring 20 in the 2Q for a 70-62 deficit at the break. Generally Adams gets used often early as an offensive weapon to set the tone but has a minimal effect after that. Yup, despite the first quarter marvels he only took three shot attempts in his eight 2Q minutes and he missed them all – two were offensive rebounds as well.

Paul George had only scored 6 points in the first half so, naturally, he caught fire in the third quarter. His standard one quarter of elite, untouchable offence that he’s been supplying almost every game the last few weeks. He shot 6/7 in the third for 16 points and the Thunder got as close as three points… but weren’t able to get any closer. Missed free throws weren’t helping and neither was a dominant game from Nikola Jokic. Last time they played, Jokic shot 6/20 for 16 points with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. This time he shot 8/16 for 24 points with 15 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals. He also broke up a scrap between Murray and Westbrook at the end.

Cheeky pricks.

While we’re at it, isn’t it so stupid when rich bastards sitting courtside at basketball games think they have the right to interact with players and get involved in the trash talk? Like, those dudes trained their whole lives to be in this position. You paid way too much for a ticket to watch them. Sit down and watch, arsehole. Steven Adams agrees, clearly, but it doesn’t cost anything for a ticket to the carpark afterwards. Seriously, does this dude even realise what he’s in for if he’d kept yapping? Lucky for him he didn’t get the chance and security bounced the bugger.

The Thunder again got within three points in the final frame. Three minutes left, three minutes down. Adams had played through a bit of foul trouble as he picked up three personals in the third and he wasn’t quite at his best with the old shooting touch, missing a fair few second chance attempts in this one. Still, 20 field goal attempts is easily a new career best (beating the 17 he took against Chicago exactly one week earlier) and 12 makes ties his personal best (against Cleveland in January). Of course, with 26 points he was one short of his career best there, which he’s been threatening all season. Honestly it’s a matter of time until he bags 30. But it wasn’t this day, shoulda made some more free throws.

The Nuggets closed the game on a 10-2 run from that point to hold on and win. Paul George topped with 32 points. Westbrook and Schröder shot a combined 8/28 while OKC were just 58.6% at the line. Denver had five different dudes with at least 14 points.

Welcome to Loud City: “The Thunder were led by Steven Adams, who finished with 26 points on 12-20 shooting, including 14 rebounds (11 offensive), 2 assists, a steal and 2 blocks. It was one of his best offensive showings in his career, as he repeatedly punished the Denver front line whenever they guarded him straight up. His hook shot has never looked so pure.”

Daily Thunder: “Lost in the loss — particularly with Jokic having such an outstanding game — is how dominant Steven Adams was. Big Kiwi scored 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first quarter and finished his night with 26 points and 14 rebounds — 11 of them being of the offensive variety. He ended up shooting 12-of-20 and got pretty much whatever he wanted on the block. Tough to waste such an effort from the big man.”

How about this for a dose of sportsmanship though?

It’s an even crazier tumble from this angle. Pretty mad respect for that move. Always looking out for a fellow professional.

Billy Donovan: “He plays the game the right way. You don't see him getting technical fouls or flagrant fouls. I think Steven is a savvy player who really reads the game and is very cerebral, very smart, and tries to take advantage of his strengths as a player and doing the things he can do to help our team.”


vs LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (W 110-104)

The Clippers have been one of the biggest surprise packages in the NBA this season but things finally seem to be falling back to earth for them as they hit this game up after a run of five in which their only win was against the Suns. They then lost this and the next to make it 1-6 from the last seven, sinking down the ladder.

How’d they lose this one? The old fashioned way of falling too far behind to be able to recover. The Clips, like the Nuggets before them, came out hitting some nice shots from range but the Thunder replied in turn with their usual physical paint preference in the first. Westbrook made sure to get not only Adams but also Jerami Grant involved from the outset… although Steve missed a few looks which limited his scoring. Still, OKC scored 18 points in the paint in that frame.

There was no resurgence on the offensive end for Westbrook. He missed his first seven shots. However Paul George also kept up his recent trends and in a more positive way as he shot 4/5 from deep in the first half for 22 points and a little run at the end of that frame ensure an 11-point lead at HT. Not sure what it was from Steve which kept him from doing what he’d been doing recently. He doesn’t really like playing against Marcin Gortat which is part of it. But rebounds and points weren’t flowing as they did in the previous game, that’s for sure. Maybe the refs had something to do with it?

Yelp.

So yeah the Thunder then put together another solid third quarter as they tend to do but the Clippers made a run at them in the fourth. An 11-2 scoring streak got them back in range and then it was a matter of closing this sucker out. Adams came back in with a 14-point lead and first thing that happened was a shot clock turnover for OKC then Steve missed a shot from eight feet and the Clippers scored the next seven points. Some shot making from Westbrook and Grant bought some time however a three-second violation from Adams with 50 seconds left and a six point lead might have been crucial… had Dan Gallinari not missed his next shot. Montrezl Harrell then missed a couple free throws and Jerami Grant dunked with 11 seconds to play to kill it off. Closer than it needed to be but a win is a win is a win is a win.

Got some claret out there in this one too. Squire Steve leaking a bit against the battling Clips.

Doc Rivers: “I think what you're seeing now is [Adams] is a far more skilled player. I think people just look at him as this rough, tough offensive rebounding machine, but he can score down there too when he gets it. He's proof that you don't have to talk the game. Just be tough. I like him as a player. I like what he stands for.”


vs CHICAGO BULLS (W 121-96)

Remember when the Bulls beat OKC recently? Yeah that was a little embarrassing. But as long as Paul George does that thing he’s starting to make a habit and absolutely takes over in a quarter then there’s no shot. This time it was the second quarter when he laid the beat down. 16 points in the last five minutes of the first half, sparking a 23-7 run and a 20-point half-time lead, that was pretty much it for this game as far as the result went.

A three pointer from PG had gotten OKC started before a couple tip-backs from Steven Adams got in on the action. But Kris Dunn was throwing them down too for the Bulls and the away team got out to a 15-10. Next thing OKC were on a 21-3 run to push out to a comfortable lead. A few missed shots in there for Steve who was finding himself in a little traffic and having more trouble laying them down them usual, but he still banked 10 points and 6 rebounds in the first quarter as the Thunder took a 31-22 lead.

The Bulls hauled that back a fair distance with a run of their own and Adams re-entered the game with only a four point lead. Aaaand then Paul George took over and never you mind about the rest of it. Adam would go on to score 19 points with 8 rebounds despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter with the game in zero doubt. Paul George had 24 points while Westbrook settled for 13 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists and 5 steals. Nobody scored more than 16 points for Chicago – that was Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis. OKC were in control the entire second half. A bit boring when it’s put like that.

You know what always spices up a boring game of basketball though? A fight.

At this point I’m pretty sure Thunder guys just start fights because they know that Kiwi Steve is coming to break it up before they get clocked or anything. But this time it was Kris Dunn who really got things boiling with a shove to the chest of Russell Westbrook. Rusty didn’t bite, looking incredulously at the refs instead like ‘bro, did you see that!?’ but Jerami Grant sure did. Young buck had the fire in his eyes as he stormed over to Dunn but then Robin Lopez got involved and when Robin almost took a tumble in the middle of all the ruckus he was just about ready to drop a body on that court.

It was at this point that Steven Adams realised that he was breaking up the wrong scuffle and he calmly and casually makes his way (with Paul George by his side) to that particular melee to do what he does – grabbing Lopez’s hand as he waved it about, finger pointed.

At one point new Bulls coach Jim Boylan even had Jerami Grant in what looked like a headlock as he tried to pull the bloke out of there… which almost left him vulnerable to a feral Robin Lopez at that point. Good fun. Double technicals were issued to Dunn and Westbrook (not sure what Russ even did, tbh) and to Lopez and Grant.

Daily Thunder: “Things were temporarily calmed down before Lopez was ultimately ejected for something unrelated about a minute later. Adams gave him a pat on his back, Thunder fans waived goodbye, and the entire ordeal seemed to energize an OKC team that continued dismantling the Bulls for the remainder of the contest”

Oh yes, Steven Adams absolutely loved it. The pat on the back for Lopez as he got ejected was savage – for a second it looked like Adams would give him a full on escort to the carpark. He was all up in Kris Dunn’s head a few minutes later too, giving him a little tweak of the nips and having a good old laugh at the reaction he got.

After three games with small minus on-court effects, Adams was a +26 on the floor against Chicago, second best on the Thunder. Back to his usual ranks, basically – Steven Adams is +254 for the season in accumulated plus-minus and that puts him fifth in the entire NBA behind Dario Saric, Danny Green, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam.


at SACRAMENTO KINGS (W 132-113)

The Clippers may have been a surprise package but nobody tops what the Kings have done so far. With so many years of mediocrity forecast upon them, it turns out that having a whole bunch of top draft picks year after year eventually overrides the front office inadequacy. Dudes like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley, Willie Cauley-Stein and Justin Jackson all doing great things despite their youth. Although this is still an odd thing to say from a head coach right before a game against Oklahoma City…

The Kings have beaten OKC twice already this season and things weren’t made easier by suspensions handed down to Dennis Schröder and Ray Felton, decimating the bench guard stocks. The two of them were maybe the seventh and either worst parties in the Chicago Scuffle of the previous game but they stepped off the bench and that’s an automatic one-game ban, sorry lads. On the flipside, one major difference between this game and the previous two defeats to Sacramento is that Iman Shumpert was out injured. His third missed game in a row with a hip thing. He scored 26 and 23 points in the two other games against OKC and played great defence at the same time. The Kings were also without Marvin ‘KD’ Bagley and Bogdan Bogdanovic through injury.

They still had Buddy Hield and that lad came out making plays, same as De’Aaron Fox and Willie Cauley-Stein does a few things too. After Justin Jackson popped a triple they were up 12-6. It would be their biggest lead of the game. Early turnovers had been huge issue early, guys just looking disjointed, but soon enough they started getting it going and a major factor was a fella called Steven Adams.

You know, we see those clips of Steven Adams going through post-up drills with coach Mark Bryant (MB) all the time. Constantly getting those little clips of a spin move and a floater, that kinda thing. Lately we’ve been seeing so much of that paying off on the court and the shot fake that Adams has incorporated into his armoury is getting heaps of use during his recent burst of scoring. It was the shot fake which sold Mason Plumlee when he nearly fell to his death only for Funaki to hold up and catch him. And his spin moves on that pivot foot that usually follow the shot fake are superb.

He’s also a massive human and a young big like WCS was getting picked on over and over. The Thunder kept missing free throws in the first half – curiously not Steve though, he was 4/4 – but those misses don’t matter all that much when Big Kiwi is stepping across four blokes to get the rebound and begin a new possession. It’s always been a feeling that Adams doesn’t get as many rebounds as he could because of the scheme the Thunder go with, getting Russ on the ball as soon as possible to take it downhill. For whatever reason there was nothing stopping him on this evening. After scoring 36 in the first frame but only leading by three, OKC then scored 35 in the second but clamped down on what SAC was doing for a 19 point lead at the half – Adams with 14 points and 15 rebounds already.

Buddy Hield kept making shots on the way to 37 for the game. But Paul George more than had his number with 43 of his own. As Stevie grabbed his 16th rebound early in the third the question became whether he could surpass his career best of 20 against Washington in January 2015. Been a long time waiting to crack that egg… but when he did he got there with time remaining in the third quarter. The Kings made a run in the third to get back within single digits only it didn’t last. OKC ended up winning by 19, doing it easy despite not looking like a smoothly functioning unit a lot of the way. Win ‘em how you can, boss.

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How about 23 rebounds for Steven Adams though!? Nine of them were offensive grabs, which is usually where he grabs his unusual ones. Making up for teammates’ misses. Yet with 14 grabs on the defensive end to go with it he crushed that previous best. Just the second time he’d got to twenty. And coming back in the fourth for one last bucket took him to 20 points as well, his first 20/20 game and just the ninth player this season to do that (joining his old mate Enes Kanter, for one thing). Safe to say this is not something that happens often for the Thunder.

What changed for all those rebounds? Nothing at all, funnily enough. Just one of those days.

Daily Thunder: “Steven Adams dominated the Kings’ frontcourt throughout, compiling the first 20/20 game of his NBA career. Adams finished with 20 points (8-of-12 FG), a career-high 23 rebounds (9 offensive), one assist, and two steals. The silver screen superhero doppelganger is pushing for an All-Star bid.”

Welcome to Loud City: “Oklahoma City big three of Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Steven Adams all had big performances tonight. Westbrook had his usual triple-double, posting a stat line of 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 17 assists. Meanwhile, George had a monstrous game with 43 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. George is continuing a great month as he is averaging 30 points in December. Adams had his way with the young big men of Sacramento, tallying up 20 points and 23 rebounds. Adams added in some highlights plays with multiple alley-oop slams off the pick and roll to round out his remarkable evening.”


SLAM DUNKS

The Oklahoman: “In preseason, Donovan wanted to explore an Adams-Nerlens Noel pairing, but it hasn’t materialized. Adams and Noel are two of the best offensive rebounders in the NBA, and playing them together would be a slight throwback to the Adams-Enes Kanter pairings of old (minus Kanter’s low-post skill set on offense, plus Noel’s rim protection, athleticism and defensive awareness). Adams and Noel haven’t played a full minute together this season. Donovan said he’s not afraid to try it, but the Thunder hasn’t had enough time to work on the lineup.”

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