Kiwi Steve in the NBA #14: Time For A Break

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BOX SCORES

vs MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (W 117-95):

19 MINS | 11 PTS (5/5 FG, 1/4 FT) | 6 REB (5 OFF) | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PF

at HOUSTON ROCKETS (W 117-112):

38 MINS | 6 PTS (3/6 FG) | 9 REB (3 OFF) | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 1 PF

vs PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (W 120-111):

35 MINS | 9 PTS (4/7 FG, 1/2 FT) | 1 REB | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PF

at NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (L 131-122):

36 MINS | 4 PTS (2/5 FG) | 5 REB (4 OFF) | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 1 PF


NEXT WEEK

ALL STAR BREAK

vs UTAH JAZZ, Saturday 23 Feb at 3.30pm (NZT)

vs SACRAMENTO KINGS, Sunday 24 Feb at 2pm (NZT)

at DENVER NUGGETS, Wednesday 27 Feb at 4.30pm (NZT)


vs MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (W 117-95)

The fact right now is that Steven Adams is playing a supporting role to The Paul George and Russell Westbrook Show these days. Those two have been shredding it up, three pointers and triple doubles (respectively… and you know which is which), leading the Thunder on a run of dominant form and although The Great Funaki made a decent attempt at cracking the All Stars this season, but he didn’t quite get there while the other two were almost automatics. So before the game against the Grizz the Thunder organisation honoured them for their efforts while Kiwi Steve just carried on his usual warmup routine… well, almost.

It can be a weird thing in the NBA, in all sports really, when a team comes in shorthanded and then absolutely turns it on. The Grizzlies traded possibly their greatest ever player in Marc Gasol before this one but turned up sharp on the back of rookie Jaren Jackson Jr in the first half to lead at 53-51 at HT. OKC shooting at just 37.5% in the first two quarters. Jackson had 20 points already in the first two frames and nothing made much sense.

For Steven Adams as much as anyone. Ivan Rabb was starting at the five with Gasol now in Toronto yet Adams was a complete non-factor against fellas he really should be dominating. Good reason for that too: fouls. He doesn’t tick the old PFs off too much these days but he got slopy here, no lies.

NewsOK: “If there was going to be a night when Adams could take an extended break without the Thunder feeling the effects, it should have been Thursday. Memphis had traded away Marc Gasol (and three other players) at the trade deadline, so it started center Ivan Rabb for just the second time this season. But OKC got a taste of life without Adams for much of the first half, and it didn’t go well. Adams picked up three fouls within the first six minutes of the game and sat for the rest of the half.”

This pass wasn’t bad though…

Nerlens Noel got some time in his absence but Billy Donovan also slid Patrick Patterson up to the five and that led to a whole lot less grinding in the paint and a whole lot more hopeful three point attempts. Then Adams came back to start the third quarter and, not saying that he was the difference in the game or anything… but he got his first field goal attempt off almost immediately, buried that one from six feet, picked off another two points from close, and then pretty much played an excellent second half from there.

The Thunder had an inside presence again. They had the balance back in their offence and one of their best defenders out there once more. The rest was a stroll. OKC outscored Memphis by 66-42 across the second half, surging ahead and never again looking back. 11 points and 6 rebounds is nothing special for Steve but then remember he only played 19 minutes. Multiply that to meet his season average of around 35 minutes per game and we’re looking at 20 points and 11 rebounds.

ESPN: “Oklahoma City center Steven Adams stole the ball and drove nearly the length of the floor for a layup to put the Thunder ahead 57-55. Adams was scoreless in the first half, but he had nine points in the third quarter to help Oklahoma City take an 83-72 lead. The Thunder scored the first 11 points of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.”

Paul George: “It was good to have a balance, to have Steve-O in the paint. It was a big presence and a good lift for us to get him down there and scoring.”

Weren’t too shabby yourself there, Paul. PG had 27 points to lead the way scoring again, as well as 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Russell Westbrook had 15p/13r/15a, another stinker of a shooting night but getting it done elsewhere. 16 off the bench for Schroder as well and 20 points for Jerami Grant. On the other side, Jackson topped with 27 points while Bruno Caboclo grabbed 16 more off the bench.

What you reckon, Steve-O?

That’s the one.


at HOUSTON ROCKETS (W 117-112)

Out of interest, does anybody really like the Houston Rockets? Thunder fans obviously don’t, why would they? Rival team in the West, James Harden… that’s enough evidence right there. They did forge a nice home for Carmelo Anthony for a while there but the Thunder had already gotten rid of him by then.

Which is why about halfway through this game in Houston, plenty of Thunder fans would have been deliberating doing literally anything other than watching this game at that moment. Houston rocked up sharp in the second quarter to drop 42 points on OKC and zip out to a 22-point lead at HT. The first frame had been a close enough one, Adams missed his first two field goal attempts but he responded with a couple blocks later on. One on Harden and on Kenneth Faried. But a coupe turnovers didn’t help his cause (OKC had seven of them as a team in 1Q). Paul George kept them afloat shooting 5/5 in the quarter but Houston drilled a few threes and were up 28-25 after one.

Then Houston kicked it up another notch. A 15-4 run to begin the second was just a taster. Having played the entire first quarter, Adams re-entered midway through the second to a 13-point deficit. James Harden and Chris Paul took charge. Paul George expressed some frustration after being called for a foul on Harden and that led to four free throws with the tech. The lead got as high as 26 points. This was getting very ugly.

Then something changed. OKC hit four quick triples and started the third with 8/9 from the field. They were defending Harden pretty tough the whole time, he’s just good enough to get around that, but in the third they found some success there. The Rockets were without the injured Clint Capela for this one, which was a bit of a bummer. He and Adams have pretty similar styles of play and Capela is probably the worst player who legit NBA people realistically believe is better than Adams. He’s not… but that’s where the limit of argument starts. So it’s always a funky one when they go head to head, instead Houston had a stretch five in Kenneth Faried and that dude shot 8/11 for 17 points and 12 rebounds which doesn’t reflect the best of Steve, although you know how it is with those switches – he’s often not even guarding the oppo big fella. As for Nene off the bench, he’s struggled with him in the past (specifically in the 2017 playoffs) but when those two overlapped for an extended stretch in the third quarter, mate, the tide had already turned.

Yup, let’s see that one more time but in slow motion from a different angle and slightly out of focus…

That’s the one. Like to see Clint Capela try that.

Schroder and PG popped a few corks at the end of the third and we were all tied back up at 90-all. After that it was basically just James Harden vs Paul George, the two MVP candidates on show. Harden the likely winner with his insane 30+ point scoring streak. George one of the leading challengers with his own run of dominant performances lately. The final line…

Paul George – 45 PTS | 12/22 FG | 6/14 3PT | 15/18 FT

James Harden – 42 PTS | 11/28 FG | 6/16 3PT | 14/15 FT

PG also had 11 rebounds and 3 assists. OKC won by five. Watch the highlights because it was a lot more dramatic than just described…

Royce Young/ESPN: “But what's elevating the Thunder is their complementary parts, such as Dennis Schroder who had 17 points (13 in the third quarter) and Terrance Ferguson (15 points, 3 of 5 from 3). Steven Adams is at the concrete wall in the middle, setting Richter scale registering screens and anchoring them defensively. Jerami Grant has blossomed as a Swiss Army stretch 4, hitting 3s and protecting the rim. It's a balanced roster, the most blended the Thunder have had since Kevin Durant was part of it.”


vs PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (W 120-111)

Yeah, that thing about the PG & Russ show… it ain’t letting up. Kiwi Steve is probably perfectly fine with that, being the kinda bloke that he is, but it does mean a little less to talk about in these here thingies. Shots are down, points are down… he only had one freakin’ rebound in this entire game. One rebound and nine points, up against his arch nemesis Jusuf Nurkic who had 9 points and 12 rebounds.

Both big fellas played the entire first quarter, with Adams getting four of his points in the frame. One of those tricks that Billy Donovan likes to play against centres who have troubled them in the past – let Adams mirror their minutes. Did the same against Joel Embiid a little while ago. So from that perspective this was a game about defence for Steve, and he did keep Nurkic to 2/7 shooting (fouled him a couple many times though). Blocked CJ McCollum too which was sweet. Plus two steals. The rebounds were an issue but only from an individual point of view because they were almost dead even between the two teams. It’s just that two blokes hogged the most of them for OKC.

One was Russell Westbrook, who shot 5/19 from the field but was otherwise excellent again on his way to, yes, you guessed it, another triple-double. That’s ten in a row. And he was joined in such company by Paul George who lit it up in the first quarter and never let up from there.

Mate, this was the Paul George and Russell Westbrook show. I already told ya. With a little bit of Ray Felton in there too as Dennis Schroder missed this game for personal reasons. Felton scored 15 points in the second quarter after PG had scored 17 alone in the first. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were held to 5/25 shooting in the first half. OKC basketball almost to a tee, up by 19 points at HT.

The Blazers are plucky though. The day after this game they announced that they’d signed Enes Kanter following his release from the New York Knicks – Portland was the team who got him to sign an offer sheet in restricted free agency which led to his max contract with the Thunder when they matched it. Finally got their man. A bit of Enes in the third quarter and they might have come all the way back, as it was they chipped away with small runs and then ripped off ten straight points at the end to be just five down with 12 minutes remaining.

No worries, that’s what Paul George is for. A few quick buckets and the Thunder had a healthy lead back. Next thing George and Westbrook were trading assists to complete each other’s triple doubles and Adams was just chilling on screen duty, spinning round to watch the ball split net. To say that George was good here would be blatant disrespect to the levels of basketball that he reached. 47 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Had a couple steals too, naturally. Oh and Russ’ TD meant 10 in a row which meant a new NBA record, toppling Wilt Chamberlain’s nine in a row. 


at NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (L 131-122)

Thus we come to the final game before the All Star Break. A break which Steven Adams is blessedly going to get some much needed rest in. Watching him the last few weeks, the feet up won’t go astray. Slam some anime, bash out a bit of X-Box, smash some steaks. Chur to the lad.

Hey look, we’ve got another feature article about Steven Adams!

The gist of the thing is that the dude with the reputation for being a tough bastard is also an increasingly skilled position player with a career high assist rate and plenty of respect amongst his peers and coaches. Read the whole thing, as always. Support the written word. Support our written words on Patreon too because TNC doesn’t have anything close to that SI money. But yeah, here are some quotes…

Nerlens Noel: “The first time I played him it was a hyped-up matchup in prep school and I was just wondering, how is this man 6’10”? He looked straight outta caveman or something. We first went at it and he was a big, tough dude then. He’s only gotten stronger since, which is crazy.”

Steven Adams: “The New Zealand culture, they’re a hardworking bunch, bit rough around the edges, that type of thing but my family in particular, were a bit more, rougher than normal... With my genetics, getting rough and playing big is just natural.”

Billy Donovan: “Obviously Steven has always been a great defender and great rebounder his whole career, but I think he’s now giving us a real post presence. We throw it in to him and he’s generating offense for himself or for others and it’s led to a great year.”

Also, before we get into this game, should mention that the Thunder waived Alex Abrines a few days earlier, who had missed a whole chunk of games with a personal issue which hasn’t been revealed as of yet. Don’t want to speculate so just wish him the best in his recovery from whatever ails him. They also traded away Timothe Luwawu-Cabarot to Chicago for nothing so that left two open roster spots. One has been milked for 10-day/two-way lads lately. The other just got filled by Markieff Morris…

Good get. Watch 2Patt’s minutes shrink now.

Last game before the All Star break and the Thunder hit it up with a very impressive 37-19 record, though they were without Jerami Grant for the second game in a row and Dennis Schroder wasn’t ready to return for personal reasons. The Pellies were close enough to full strength but their version of full strength is different with Anthony Davis playing on limited minutes ahead of his offseason trade to wherever he ends up (Lakers? Celtics? Warriors?). Very much led by Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle these days.

OKC began this one looking flat, maybe getting ahead of themselves with the break on the way. First play of the day was a missed triple from Patrick Patterson, not helping his cause, but Kiwi Steve regathered it and tipped it in. Adams then got blocked by Davis and Randle, not enjoying a crowded paint area too much, and Donovan chucked Nerlens Noel out there alongside Steve for a bit to get some extra size involved.

NewsOK: “The wave of fashionably late fans hadn’t yet arrived, so a person halfway up the lower bowl could yell in the sparse crowd and be understood from the court. The Thunder’s energy on the floor wasn’t much better. Then in came center Nerlens Noel.

In the Thunder’s 131-122 loss Thursday, Noel, who Thunder coach Billy Donovan experimented with playing alongside fellow big man Steven Adams, sparked a first-quarter comeback after the Thunder fell behind by seven points… In a two-big lineup, Noel scored eight points before Adams subbed off three minutes later. The Thunder tied the game at 31 apiece at the end of the first quarter. However, OKC would fall into an even deeper hole in the third quarter”

Good thing for the Thunder was that they had Paul George out there grinding away and an unexpectedly effective Rusty Buckets who made three triples in the first two quarters, Thunder down by three at HT. Adams with 2 points and 4 rebounds to go with his oranges.

But it didn’t get better. Despite 44 points for Russell Westbrook (as well as his 11th straight TD), and despite Anthony Davis missing the second half with injury, another slack couple quarters of defence doomed OKC to defeat. Davis ended up getting an MRI on his arm so if he misses the All Star Game that should clear up a replacement spot (Rudy > Steve though, let’s be honest). The Pelicans got absolute class from Randle (33 points) and Holiday (32 points) and got up by 17 points in the third quarter. OKC dragged it back to be as close as three down, trailing 121-118 with less than three minutes left, but then they slipped it up again. Pretty bloody rank, really. At least this was nice…

Not much else from Steve though, that was his only made field goal of the second half. He ended with 4 points and 5 rebounds and as rare as anything he was a -11 on the court. That’s three games in a row that he’s failed to hit double figures in scoring or rebounds. Prior to that he’d had 15 straight games with 10+ points. Paul George and Russell Westbrook are getting all the shots but surely Steve-O could chuck up two or three more shots a game and tip things. Lots of possible theories but remember when he missed that game against Orlando last month with a bit of back soreness? Since then he’s shooting 55.7% and averaging 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds. All well below his season averages. A quick peek…

OCTOBER: 34.6 MINS | 14.8 PTS (54.5 FG%, 50.0 FT%) | 11.8 REB | 1.6 AST

NOVEMBER: 33.8 MINS | 14.5 PTS (59.9 FG%, 53.7 FT%) | 9.9 REB | 1.8 AST

DECEMBER: 33.4 MINS | 17.1 PTS (60.9 FG%, 53.7 FT%) | 9.5 REB | 1.6 AST

JANUARY: 35.2 MINS | 14.6 PTS (66.9 FG%, 65.1 FT%) | 9.9 REB | 1.9 AST

FEBRUARY: 32.3 MINS | 10.4 REB (55.7 FG%, 45.5 FT%) | 5.9 REB | 1.0 AST

Only thing for it is the lad must need a bit of rest. His field goal attempts have been dipping since the New Year but he’s shooting worse with fewer touches too. The niggles do pile up over a long season.

By the way, Paul George shot 3/17 from deep (granted with 28 points). A sloppy night in many regards. Oh well, moving on.


SLAM DUNKS

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