at MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (W 100-98)
30 MINS | 10 PTS (5/6 FG) | 8 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 4 TO | 2 PF
vs DENVER NUGGETS (L 111-105)
14 MINS | 8 PTS (4/7 FG) | 4 REB | 2 STL | 1 TO | 2 PF
GAME 1 - at HOUSTON ROCKETS, Monday 1.00pm (NZT)
GAME 2 - at HOUSTON ROCKETS, Thursday 12.00pm (NZT)
GAME 3 – vs HOUSTON ROCKETS, Saturday 1.30pm (NZT)
Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s James Harden against Russell Westbrook, with the MVP award to be announced in less than two weeks and here we are with the two leading candidates going head to head. But we ain’t about that right here. We’re interested in how Steven Adams is gonna track.
Well, good news. The Rockets are a team that have been vulnerable to opposition centres at times. Steven Adams has had his share of success with an average of 12.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game across four contests. The Thunder have lost three of those four so be wary about that but amongst those games is the highest scoring game of Adams’ career. 24 points and 10 rebounds back in a December defeat.
The Dream Shake: “The answer for both teams lies down low. Although this is definitely the year of the guard, Enes Kanter, who possesses a top-20 PER, and Steven Adams have been destroying teams on the boards (the Thunder are the best rebounding team in the NBA). They could tip the scales in OKC's favor when it comes to offensive production. More rebounds means more time for Russell Westbrook to attack. It is imperative that Clint Capela and Nene Hilario bring energy against the duo. The Rockets are seventh overall in rebounding but they only possess a +0.5 differential, compared to the Thunder's +5.8 margin. That's a potential of 15 points in favor of OKC, not counting fouls, and the Rockets need to lower that margin. It's playoffs time so games will be tight. Every rebound truly does count.”
One of the best moves in an offseason full of them that Daryl Morey, Rockets GM, made was letting Dwight Howard go. In his place they’ve allowed Clint Capela to grow and even more crucial is that they’ve taken away that post reliance that they had with Dwight. He had to get his touches or he’d struggle and that took this team away from the style they’re best at. Retooled now, it’s all about Harden and his outside shooters so Adams could see himself switched on the perimeter by Houston outta them picks, looking for a way to exploit him. The mano y mano against Capela is one he can rate himself in but a lot depends on whether the Thunder can disrupt those three point shooters, because OKC are really not a team that can live with the deep ball themselves. Capela plays fewer minutes so either Steve takes a smaller role in this series as necessary or he finds himself guarding size mismatches. Nene Hilario is a handy bugger himself off the bench, too. Should be fun.
Daily Thunder: “As far as individual talent, Houston has three players (including Harden) in the top 50 in PER. Oklahoma City has two (Westbrook and Kanter). In real plus minus, the Rockets can claim three among the top 50, while the Thunder have only Westbrook in the top 50. For box plus minus, Westbrook checks in at the top and the team doesn’t place another player on the list until spot 99, occupied by Steven Adams. Houston has four guys between 1 and 99.”
at MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (W 100-98)
Yeah so that’s that. The regular season is all done-skees and we’re left with two last games to recap here before kicking into the playoffs – where the Thunder will take on the Houston Rockets, which you already knew. Hence why these last two games got a little silly with players resting and coaches giving depth guys one last reward for a long season of picking out splinters.
Russell Westbrook got that record 42nd triple double in game number 80… and on the 81st day he rested. For the first time all season Russ was a DNP-Rest, the only game he’d miss from the complete schedule.
And, uh, they won anyway. That’s a hundy percent record without their MVP candidate so make of that what you will (probably absolutely nothing). Taj Gibson and Andre Roberson also rested and Adams and Victor Oladipo looked out upon a starting five also featuring Domantas Sabonis, Semaj Christon and Kyle Singler. Flippin’ Kyle-O, he only went and scored 11 points in the first quarter too. He wouldn’t score again all game… but still. Hey but the best thing that happened in the opening frame was some of this from Stevie.
Freed of Westbrook’s rebounding, he might have had a chance to pile on a few boards in this one. It didn’t really turn out that way though as Dipo picked up where Russ left off. Adams’ role there is primarily to box out the opposition big fella. If the rebound still falls his way then sweet as but he wasn’t gonna change the way he played coz Russ was out. Not really his style. Steve still had 8 boards for the game but 6 of them were at the offensive end.
Funaki had a huge first quarter though. 6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist as OKC shot out to a 25-12 lead when he sat, a lead that they’d expand to 17 points at the end of the first quarter.
Anthony Wiggins started atrociously with 1/11 shooting from the field but they also have this fella called Karl-Anthony Towns there in Minny and with Tom Thibodeau chucking him out amongst the bench units, the Wolves were able to inch closer and closer. Until Adams and Oladipo came back in and locked things down until the break, Thunder up 56-43.
Nah, it was the third where they really lost control. Wiggins made a couple shots, Oladipo lost one and Billy D was calling a timeout just 42 seconds into the second half. Then Stevie lost one and Towns scored straight after. Hell it was messy. Quick look at the scoreboard and suddenly the score was 56-51. At this point Dipo was the only guy who could get that ball through the hoop for Oklahoma City and while he was good for a few reprieves, a travel and a miss from three feet courtesy of Steven Adams opened the door for the T-Wolves to tie things. Andy Wiggins made no mistake off the Ricky Rubio assist.
We wouldn’t see Adams again ‘til there was only 4:39 left to play. Thunder up 87-85. He didn’t have a lot to do on the ball in that time but his defensive hustle was clear to see in a close game, plus he tipped in a Sabonis miss for points. Both teams missed shots in the final minute of a one-score game and it was Oladipo’s 21-footer that made the difference. Wiggins missed a last gasp three and OKC got away with it despite no Westbrook. Oladipo’s 20 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists showed he’d learned a thing or two from his team’s leader while Sabonis added 19 and Adas only missed one shot all game. On the other side it was 26p/12r for Towns that stood out alongside Gorgui Deng’s 19 and Wiggins’ 18.
NewsOK: “With 44 seconds left, Gorgui Dieng hit what looked like a 3-pointer right in front of Westbrook sitting on the end of the Thunder bench to put the Timberwolves ahead by two, but the shot was reviewed and ruled a 2-pointer. Norris Cole tied the game with 1-of-2 free throws, and Adams slid over to contest a Karl- Anthony Towns drive on the penultimate Timberwolves possession to set up Oladipo's closing moment.”
More NewsOK: “For the first time this season, standard starters Oladipo and Steven Adams were flanked by Christon, Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Singler. Through 80 games, the Thunder played 240 different lineups, but its starting five against Minnesota never played one minute together before Tuesday.”
vs DENVER NUGGETS (L 111-105)
Thus we come to the final game of the regular season, in front of the home OKC fans, and the Thunder did their best to make things special. They had a trophy made for Russell Westbrook to be presented with for averaging that triple-double and all that and they got none other than Oscar Robertson himself – the last man to achieve such a thing – to present it!
The Big O made a lovely speech and gave Russ his firm backing in that whole MVP race thingy. No surprises there, of course he wants the dude who beat his TD/Season record to win it. But the speech was great, the fans were great, Russell was great… and the Stache Bros were the best.
Thank you, thank you very much.
To the game and Andre Roberson was given the night off with his recent injury and all. He’ll be fine for the playoffs but there’s no excuse risking it now. Although… it did mean a start for Kyle Singler for what that’s worth. Not much as it happened. OKC were clearly not 100% focussed on the game and after Nikola Jokic got things started, Malik Beasley picked on up and it was 7-0 to Denver only a couple minutes in.
Steven Adams came up with one of those hook floaters of his from eight feet for the Thunder’s first field goal but he missed another soon after and then fouled Mason Plumlee for points. Westbrook was missing damn near everything and Adams had himself blocked at the rim by Jokic but he soon made amends putting back this effort with some force.
Although he also missed a few. Not the most clinical he coulda been but he was busy and we like to see that from Kiwi Steve. When he took his towel for the first time they Thunder had clawed back to only a 16-14 deficit and they’d actually be up 26-25 after the first quarter had ended. The bench had their chances to show off and Enes Kanter, Domantas Sabonis and Alex Abrines all enjoyed that opportunity. Shout out to the Euro Ballers in OKC.
In fact after an extended sit down, Adams returned to a 13 point lead. Funaki added another bucket and another rebound and that was that for him. For real though, Jamal Murray and Nik Jokic did some damage but OKC were up by eight at half-time and Billy Donovan, with the first game of the playoffs on Monday NZT, had seen enough of his two active frontliners. Both Westbrook and Adams would sit the whole second half, allowing the extras to have their moment in the sunshine.
Those subs then went and got outscored 55-41 in the second half to fall to defeat but the result didn’t really matter. Not for either team. Notably though, the Nuggets left their top blokes in to finish their season on a high and they did exactly that with Jokic scoring 29 points with 16 rebounds and 8 assists. Oh and 5 blocks. That lad’s incredible… although he did a lot of that battling against Enes Kanter, Nick Collison and Domantas Sabonis. Murray also added 27 for the Nuggets – including seven points late on to polish the game off – and the Thunder had nobody above 13 points. Taj Gibson and Jerami Grant both matched that, Enes Kanter scored 12 and Abrines had 11. No triple doubles here, maybe next time.
Daily Thunder: “OKC rested Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams in the second half, and that’s when the team struggled to score. Most of the rotational players saw limited minutes, and as a result OKC gave all 13 of their active players a good amount of playing time. Jerami Grant threw down a few highlight dunks and finished the night with 13 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist a steal. Enes Kanter also had a pretty good night with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal.”
NewsOK: “The younger players on each side of the free throw line stood frozen as 36-year-old Nick Collison swooped in for a putback layup. When the Nuggets called timeout, Collison went over to the bench smiling, but Steven Adams’ smile was even bigger.”
Hey Steve, how’d you enjoy Big Oscar’s words?
ESPN Stattos: “Westbrook averaged better than 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists this season. The last player to average 30 points and 10 rebounds was Karl Malone in 1989-90. The last to average 30 points and 10 assists was Nate Archibald in 1972-73.”
ODDS & ENDS
Lee Jenkins/Sports Illustrated: “Stretch forward Ersan Ilyasova, a throw-in from the Magic, was shipped to Philadelphia on Nov. 1 for spring-loaded stopper Jerami Grant and a $7.5 million trade exception. Point guard Cameron Payne, made expendable by Christon’s emergence, was sent to Chicago at the deadline with Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow and the trade exception for power forward Taj Gibson and sharpshooter Doug McDermott. Center Steven Adams and wing Victor Oladipo, signed to extensions in October, produced arguably their finest seasons. Rookies Alex Abrines and Domantas Sabonis showed promise. Meanwhile, several high-ranking executives rejected offers from rival organizations anticipating a post-Durant exodus.”
More of the Above: “[Thunder GM Sam Presti] travels every summer to Steven Adams’s basketball camp—in New Zealand. “He’s the boss,” Adams says, “but he’s also a pretty average bloke.”
Welcome to Loud City: “On top of all that, Steven Adams, newly signed to a 4-year extension in the off-season and expected to have a break out type season, has struggled with issues with his right hand, both ankles, and has worn an ice pack on his back the entire season. The ankle and back issues have clearly limited Adams mobility at times, and the hand has led to a season with as many lost ball turnovers as his 3 previous seasons combined.”
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