vs UTAH JAZZ (W 148-147 2OT):
47 MINS | 16 PTS (7/14 FG, 2/4 FT) | 10 REB (7 OFF) | 3 AST | 5 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 2 PF
vs SACRAMENTO KINGS (L 119-116):
28 MIN | 11 PTS (5/7 FG, 1/3 FT) | 9 REB (4 OFF) | 1 AST | 1 TO | 2 PF
at DENVER NUGGETS (L 121-112):
30 MIN | 15 PTS (7/12 FG, 1/2 FT) | 5 REB (4 OFF) | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 5 PF
vs PHILADELPHIA 76ers, Friday at 2pm (NZT)
at SAN ANTONIO SPURS, Sunday at 2.30pm (NZT)
vs MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES, Monday at 1pm (NZT)
at MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, Wednesday at 2pm (NZT)
vs UTAH JAZZ (W 148-147 2OT)
All Stars concluded. Nicely rested and relaxed after a week’s break. Good to go all over again.
The Thunder began the post-ASG dash to the finish line in symbolic fashion. Last season they’d battled their way through the regular season only to be toppled by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. This time they took the first steps towards bettering that by, well, beating the Utah Jazz. But jeez they had to do it the hard way.
If Steven Adams was a tad unlucky to miss out on the All Stars, which even then is debatable to be honest, then Rudy Gobert was absolutely shafted. The dude literally cried when he heard he’d missed out, that’s how convinced he was of making it. So take that battle. Add it to the playoff rematch. Chuck in an Australian in Joe Ingles. Add some primo Russ + PG against some primo Donovan Mitchell + Jae Crowder (yeah, I know, he really did it). Throw in 21 lead changes and 23 ties. Two overtimes. Mate, that’s what we’re dealing with here.
Kiwi Steve made himself known early on, which is always a good sign. We know how much Billy Donovan likes to have his Rotorua centre laying down the law in the opening quarter. With a hook shot from six feet he had OKC underway and a minute later he nicked one from Ricky Rubio, his excessively follicled mini-me, before dishing to T-Ferg for the dunk. The improvements in Terrance Ferguson’s game over the last couple months has been a game-changer for the Thunder. Bringing it offensively and offering a fair bit of chunky defence as well – a welcome bonus for sure in the continued absence of Andre Roberson.
Adams scored 8 points in the opening frame and added another couple steals, playing all but the last 48 seconds. Only bummer was a pair of missed free throws. Obviously he couldn’t match that the whole way through but having seen the dude lagging over the previous dozen games or so this was a bright development.
Although, having said that, sometimes you’ve just gotta let a fella have it…
There’s proper chat that Nerlens Noel has proven himself good enough to take more of Adams’ minutes in the less crucial games in order to keep Steve fresh for the playoffs. That’s a legit argument too, Noel has been very good. But there was no rest here. Up against Rudy Gobert, one of the two or three finest defenders in the game, Noel got crunched and put up a -18 in his 11 minutes on the court… leading to an excessive 47 minutes of action for Steven Adams (who was +19). Usually he’s around 35 mins so that’s a hefty workload. They needed it from him too. Gobert was bringing it all on the way to a 26p/16r night, while Derrick Favors made his first ten shots. Yet with Paul George and especially Russell Westbrook chugging along OKC got out to a 66-57 lead at the half. A half which finished in ideal fashion…
Nah, no more steals in this one for Funaki. Just the cheeky five. Also worth mentioning is that this was Markieff Morris’ first game for the Thunder and he logged a decent 17 minutes while edging Patrick Patterson right the way out of the rotation. But you’d be forgiven for not noticing that one when Rusty Buckets was out there hitting SIX three pointers. What did you do with the real Russell Westbrook? He had 17 points in the third quarter alone (while Adams missed a couple shots and lost a turnover, going scoreless in nine and a half mins).
Yet the Jazz were going crazy, scoring 38 points in the frame to close it right back up again and with 8:30 remaining in the game they’d sprinted out to a 10-point lead. So Billy Donovan did what he had to do: he reintroduced Steven Adams.
The rest of this game was wild. Paul George hit a three to tie it at 124-all. Russell Westbrook made some clutch free throws before assisting Jerami Grant on an and-one layup with less than thirty seconds remaining to tie it up again. Then Grant went heroic all on his own to block Donovan Mitchell’s potential game-winner before Russ missed at the buzzer. To OT we went.
Westbrook fouled out on a charge call with OKC down by one and 69 seconds still on the clock. Adams had gathered an off-board to tip back in for the lead a little earlier. Abel Nader then stepped in and drained a crucial three before George and Mitchell each missed triples at the end and we needed five more minutes.
Might as well watch the highlights because this was one of the better ones. 1.6 seconds remained on the clock when Paul George drove to the basket and floated one up over Rudy Gobert (reminder of what a great defender Rudy is… and also how tall he is) to put OKC up by one. Kyle Korver missed an off balance attempt from the corner at the buzzer and there it was. Adams ended with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Paul George had 45 points while Westbrook scored 43 (but fell two assists short of extending his record triple-double streak). Donovan Spider Mitchell scored 38 for the Jazz.
We now interrupt this regularly scheduled programming to bring you some important handshake analysis…
The move is simple and effective. Adams hooks the inside of his arm with each teammate. It also can be dangerous. Once in pregame, Adams caught Thunder guard Anthony Morrow in the face.
“I think I punched (him) in the head by accident,” Adams said. “Yeah, it was really bad because, you know, it’s a swing. And I guess I wasn’t thinking and I went too far down. The angle wasn’t ideal for the execution of it.”
Morrow said it was Adams' elbow which caught him, knocking out his contact.
“He apologized for like three days straight, every time he saw me,” said Morrow, who lives in Charlotte and worked on digital content with the Thunder during All-Star Weekend. “Steven never wanted me to ever feel like he disappointed me.”
“I felt really bad,” Adams said. “It was kind of funny afterwards. Obviously during it, it was just like, ‘Aw that sucks.’ But then, you know, all in all we just stuck to the same routine, just better technique. You live and you learn. All handshakes, they’re very trial and error. You’ve got to figure them out. Some of them you get some pretty bad errors.”
Just really, truly essential journalism there from Erik Horne at The Oklahoman. So good.
vs SACRAMENTO KINGS (L 119-116)
Back on track again. Rest was a big talking point regarding Steven Adams going into the All Star Break and he did pretty all goods coming out of it so fair enough. But there wasn’t much rest to be had when the Kings came to town the night after that double overtime belter against Utah.
So understandably things were sloppy to begin, with OKC giving up six first quarter turnovers. Paul George wasn’t wasting time hitting three early buckets… but then he finally showed some burnout himself shooting an inconceivable 1/16 the rest of the way. Like, one make from sixteen attempts. He scored 14 points all up and that’s not a typo. At least he still made two triples to keep that streak alive at 38 games – second longest all time.
With even MVPG having struggles, the Thunder were kinda woeful. Only fella who looked like he could score consistently was the offensively resurgent Russell Westbrook who really did have to take things on himself with 27 points more than the next top scorer for OKC by the end of it. Only had 9 assists though, no TD.
Steven Adams looked decent. He was bagging those second chance efforts, shoving Willey Cauley-Stein and Marvin Bagley out of the way in the process. But for some reason he played the full twelve minutes of the first quarter despite the heavy workload the night before and as the quarter dragged on he lost a turnover, missed a couple free throws, and had a shot blocked by Bagley. Meanwhile De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield did a bunch for the Kings and they were up by 15 when Adams checked back in and led 63-49 at HT with OKC shooting just 35% in the half.
Which was Russell Westbrook’s cue to go absolutely mental since back to back means nothing to a man with boundless energy. OKC – or rather: Russ – got things all the way back to 69-67, only for their defence to let it get away again. Adams scored five quick points in that run including an and-one, only for him to then sit for nearly fourteen minutes with Nerlens Noel and Markieff Morris both getting to stretch their legs. When Adams returned to the game it was a one-point contest so fair enough, s’pose. But Jerami Grant missed a triple, Russell Westbrook took a dodgy charge call, and Adams had to intentionally foul Harrison Barnes with 4.2 seconds left. Barnesy missed one which gave OKC a chance to take it to another overtime… but Paul George missed from 30-feet at the buzzer.
Westbrook ended with 41 points. OKC had six different players in double figures and only Rusty Buckets scored more than 14. Buddy Hield grabbed 34 pts for the Kings, with Fox and Bagley each adding 19.
Daily Thunder: “With Steven Adams looking progressively more banged up as OKC approached the All-Star Game, his ability to stay effective throughout all 82 + playoffs began being called into question. How Billy Donovan manages Big Kiwi is something to keep an eye on moving forward. If that means more Nerlens Noel, I’m ready for more Nerlens Noel. He’s been good and the playoff health of Adams is big for OKC. Billy needs to be careful.”
at DENVER NUGGETS (L 121-112)
Alright, alright, alright, alright… time for the real grade a, grass-fed, steaks now. Sizzled to perfection (with vegan alternatives, naturally). Denver Nuggets hosting the Thunder with Adams vs Nikola Jokic and the second and third seeds in the West going at it. This a Denver team with the best home record in the league too, don’t let that one slip past you. And what does Kiwi Steve do in the first quarter?
Yeah mate, he delivered. 5/7 shooting with a rebound and an assist. 10 points in the first quarter, just before the break he was having trouble getting to double figures in a whole game so this is what we want to see, the kind of offensive burst that he was laying down in December at his peak. Which ain’t to say he didn’t have his work cut out as Nikola Jokic dished five assists in the frame, plus the bench let it get away a little at the end and despite shooting 54% from the field they trailed 29-26 after one.
That shooting figure didn’t hold up, safe to say. By HT the Thunder were pegging threes at 2/18 and the game was drifting away already with Jokic playing just a masterful game. Like, Steven Adams was doing a good job on him is the crazy thing. Guarded him about as well as you can guard a guy like that and he was still making plays all over the show. Adams popped another five points in the second… but Jokic drilled a three over his head to cap the half and pretty soon the fols started racking up, Adams getting his third early in the third and a fourth later on which saw him held out of most of the fourth frame. I mean, how many dudes in the NBA can do this? Not many, if – as the say going – any.
Without him the Thunder actually came all the way back from 18 points down… except they couldn’t hold onto that momentum and the Nuggets leapt out in front again to close it out. Jokic ended with 36 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds. Will Barton added 23 and Jamal Murray added 20 as the Nuggets won it by nine in the end. Paul George had 25 points, Russell Westbrook had 22p/14r/9a. get this one in your brain because it doesn’t happen too often – Steven Adams, who was scoreless in the second half, was a -23 while on the court. Only Jerami Grant was worse (-24).
Maddie Lee/NewsOK: “Steven Adams followed official Mark Ayotte to the other end of the court, arms outstretched. He had just been called for a charge, and he knew that in a matchup like this one – against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets – he couldn’t be wasting fouls on the offensive end. In the end, Adams’ fouls wouldn’t become a deciding factor in the Thunder’s 121-112 loss at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday. For the third straight game, the Thunder got behind early before making it close in the end. It worked in the first game out of the All-Star break, in a win over Utah. But OKC lost the next two. “I think with Jokic,” Thunder forward Paul George said the day before, “he’s just so creative as a five-man. His ability to shoot, pass, dribble and then they play their offense, they run their offense through him a lot of times. It’s just a tough cover. That’s a guy that not only does Steven has to account for, but everybody on that floor has to account for because he is a playmaker.”’
Erik Horne/NewsOK: “Prior to Jan. 1, the Thunder’s defense appeared impenetrable, giving up just 101.7 points per 100 possessions — a league-best mark which dropped to a miniscule 95.9 with Adams in the game. Since then, the Thunder has given up 111.2 points per 100 possessions in 21 games, 103.3 with Adams in the game. Part of it is the Thunder playing against better teams since Jan. 1. The schedule doesn’t soften in the final 25 games, as the Thunder is projected with the toughest remaining schedule of any team based on opponents’ winning percentage (.572). But another aspect is the opposition understanding Adams’ role and using it to its advantage. With Adams pushing out to the perimeter on guards, the backside rotation, often Jerami Grant or a guard such as Westbrook, has to be perfectly timed to catch Adams’ man in the event he can’t drop quickly enough. Adams thought dealing with post-up after bruising post-up as a rookie was tough in 2013, but it’s a different kind of tough now. “It’s more focused on stopping guards, pick and rolls and what not, then (dropping) back to the shooting bigs,” Adams said.”
NewsOK: “Sitting on the stationary bike in the tunnel during a game, Thunder center Steven Adams will shout instructions and encouragement to his teammates. Only, sometimes “shout” is too strong of a word for what he’s doing. “For some reason I have this weird idea that the amount of noise will help my voice travel further than it actually will.””
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