at HOUSTON ROCKETS, GAME 1 (L 118-87):
28 MINS | 6 PTS (3/6 FG, 0/2 FT) | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PF
GAME 2 - at HOUSTON ROCKETS, Thursday 12.00pm (NZT)
GAME 3 – vs HOUSTON ROCKETS, Saturday 1.30pm (NZT)
at HOUSTON ROCKETS, GAME 1 (L 118-87)
Of course the build-up was all about Russ and Harden. Why wouldn’t it be? They’re the two leading MVP candidates after the regular season, they’re good mates and former teamies (but Westbrook’s only friend on the court is Mister Spalding). Both guys were gonna have to get some big help from their buddies in order to win this series and there are all sorts of undercover factors. The huge disparity in three point shooting between the sides, the similar disparity in rebounding. The matchups between the benches. Clint Capela versus Steven Adams… actually we’ve got someone who has a few words to say about that particular matchup.
Anyway, all of that speculation is only that. It’s guesswork and there’s really only one way of telling how a series will unfold and that’s watching the sucker as it happens. So none more of that now that the games are in action. We’ll just lie back and enjoy a bit of Playoff Steven Adams – aka the best kind of Steven Adams (closely followed by MVP campaign manager Steven Adams).
Somewhere lower on that list is: Woke Up Too Early Because I Gotta Play A Playoffs Game Steven Adams. Damn, son. Have a coffee or something.
Yeah, that’s more like it.
Strange thing is that for the first few minutes of this hugely anticipated clash (aren’t they all come playoffs time?), it was an opposite day frenzy from the start. The Thunder were supposed to be crap at threes yet they were making them, bloody Andre Roberson of all people, a 24% shooter from deep, hitting his while the Rockets, a supposedly average rebounding team, were swallowing every loose ball and with both teams prone to turnovers, there was no evidence of that in the first few minutes (there would be later on, though). Oh and Russ and Harden? Russ was 2/6 in the first quarter and Harden missed his first four from the field before getting his drive going late on.
With that the Rockets shot out to a seven point lead but OKC dragged it back for 14-all. Adams had missed a floater on the first possession but he slammed one home on turn around Capela, a little shift on the pivot foot each way doing for the Frenchman there. Problem was they were switching him onto James Harden a lot and that’s a burden for any defender, let alone a big guy without the pace to stick with Harden. That the Thunder allowed that to happen shows the confidence they have in him and initially it didn’t look to bad as he got his hand on one layup but soon enough he was sending The Beard to the line for free ones.
Frustratingly though, Capela and Patrick Beverley were getting theirs while Harden took his time in settling. Capela was able to find room to flex his size with Adams occupied elsewhere and Beverley, he was just unstoppable in this one. There’s some famous bad blood between Beverley and the Thunder going back to the last time they played in the playoffs where the Houston PG collided with Westbrook and damaged his knee enough to change the course of that series. Safe to say nobody’s forgotten that and seeing Beverley getting chippy in this one only exaggerates the beef. Mmmm… exaggerated beef…
Adams sat with OKC up 20-18 late in the first. It was a lead they’d hold until the end of the quarter although Harden’s two late layups tightened the screws more than was ideal. It’d then be almost six minutes into the second frame before we were given the sight of Steven Adams stretching by the scorer’s table, ready to check back in. The bench did enough to keep things even until then though most of that was down to a short rest for Westbrook.
Can’t say Steve really improved things either. A few rebounds were pleasant reprieve after the dearth of them in that first half, especially those defensive boards that they simply weren’t getting. Houston were gunning for those second chancers and gobbling them up. And that Harden bloke, yeah he was doing plenty of things. Adams drew a foul on Capela to get to the line but missed both free throws with 42 seconds left in the half. Woulda got it back within a point with both and with both Russ and Victor Oladipo missing threes the Thunder went into the break down by five, 59-54. Lucky for one killer defensive play by Roberson on Harden though. Playoff Andre turned up to ball, hitting his first four triples as a bonus. Never woulda picked that.
The game was starting to slip away now. The Rockets at one stage had 19 second chance points compared to zero for the Thunder. Believe it or not, that number got even worse – it’d finish at a difference of almost 30. But something magical happened for the Thunder in the third. A high-water mark in this series, perhaps. It was Westbrook who tussled with Beverley a few times, with Patty largely tasked with guarding him. Those two, they’re not the best of friends. One time Russ found himself carrying the ball down the court with Pat in close attention, he shuffled a few times, looking for some relief… and in came Funaki to supply it. A pick set close to halfway and close to the sideline, Bevvie never even saw it coming. Splat, crunch, kapow.
Mmmh, hmmm… how about some more angles…
Well goddammit Steve, you fair dinkum SMASHED HIM BRO. Down goes Beverley, DOWN GOES BEVERLEY! Gotta give respect where it’s due though, somehow the bugger got back up and stayed in the game. Hell, someone must’ve told him he was Michael Jordan too because he suddenly drilled a couple three pointers. You know, to add to what was already a brilliant performance for him on both sides of the ball. But at least he went home with a headache and a sore back.
Patrick Beverley: “Nah, it was a legal screen. Good screen. Not worried about that, man. We’re just trying to focus on doing the right things. I’ve been hit with many screens before, so, on to the next play.”
Right on, bro. Although it’s gotta be said that it was a complete roll over from that point on. Beverley went on to score 21 points with 10 rebounds while Capela added 14 on 7/9 shooting with 7 boards and backup centre Nene was 8/9 for 15 points, the bully. Compare that to 14 points combined between Adams and Kanter and it didn’t even matter that HOU got relatively little from their bench machine gunners of Lou Williams and Eric Gordon (6/19 FG combined).
NewsOK: “With the Thunder down 78-68 in the period, Westbrook walked down the court shaking his head. He got tangled up trying to get over a screen defending Harden and fell down, drawing some chuckles from the Toyota Center crowd. He then pounced back up for a defensive rebound, snatching away from Lou Williams easily. Westbrook did the same on the offensive end, muscling for his 10th rebound then dishing quickly to Steven Adams in one motion. Adams was blocked.”
Westbrook shot 6/23 for his 22 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. He was comfortably outdone by James Harden and his 37 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists. Roberson scored 18 which was a pleasant surprise but in his playoff debut Oladipo shot 1/12 and was benched for long stretches while the first unit was out there in the second half. Jerami Grant therefore got some good minutes and he scored 10 which was decent. Lots to think about there. First among everything is how the Rockets managed to flip the script on one of OKC’s biggest strengths.
The simple stuff is that they’ll need to get plenty more from the alternative scorers in this team. Oladipo is one but Alex Abrines had better keep hitting his threes, Jerami Grant with some work off the bench since he’s worth some time given he plays a little defence. Doug McDermott too. And, let’s be honest, Steven Adams and Taj Gibson. One dude who might see his minutes cut is Enes, after he was cut and carved out of the pick and roll.
ESPN: “The Thunder had hoped contesting Houston's 3-point shooters would slow down its historically good offense. But it ended up leaving gaping holes in the middle of the paint as bigs like Adams, Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson found themselves switching out onto guards on the perimeter and unable to recover in time to either contest the shot or be in good rebounding position.”
Domantas Sabonis hardly played as well, funny that after all his rookie minutes during the regular season (he was a starter until Gibbo came to town). But his defence is fresh and against this team, they’ll keep on scoring on you if they find a weakness. Which could force the Thunder small (with Grant out there) or it could mean 35 minutes for Steve next game. If he’s getting that love from Billy D then he’d better be scoring 15+, really. That’s the thing, it’s only game one and Houston already had the home-court advantage. Donovan and his team now have the opportunity to make tweaks and changes to influence this series and there are definitely a few things they can do to help.
A short list of thing to do better:
- Slow the Rockets down so they aren’t taking 91 shots every other game.
- Even out the production gap between Westbrook and Harden.
- Rebound, for crying out loud.
- Hit some damn shots, get points from all the starters.
- Generally be better than this.
Welcome to Loud City: “Steven Adams wasn’t much better. OKC simply cannot win games in this series if Adams is the 3rd or 4th best big man on the court. Yet he was outplayed by skinny Clint Capela (14-7, 3 ORBs), Nene Hilario (15-5, 7-8 shooting), and even Beverley grabbed more boards, 10-5.”
Daily Thunder: “Jerami Grant played 27 minutes and I think that’s an adjustment that needs to be tweaked. Grant played mostly at power forward and that’s taking away playing time from Adams, Kanter and Gibson. The Thunder simply need to play their best players more minutes. The playoffs are all about making adjustments and that’s one of Billy Donovan’s strengths as a coach.”
ODDS & ENDS
NewsOK on the Thunder-Rockets Rivalry: “Within moments of the Thunder drafting Adams in 2013, a pick that came to Oklahoma City when it traded Harden to Houston, the bearded one tweeted "Steven Adams loooooooooooooooool." He apparently thought the pick was laugh-out-loud funny, though he later deleted the tweet and contended he didn't know what was going on and hadn't been on Twitter.”
And then of course there’s this absolute troll of a sub-human:
GQ Magazine Awards: “WINGMAN OF THE YEAR (WHO IT SHOULD BE NOTED ISN'T ACTUALLY A WING) - Steven Adams
If 2016-17 belonged to Russell Westbrook, no one was along for the ride quite like Steven Adams. Adams, whose combination of athleticism and brawn was a major factor in OKC’s 2016 playoff run, came into his own this season as Westbrook’s most trusted teammate. The Thunder didn’t run many plays for Adams—or anyone, for that matter—but every time Westbrook hit a wall of defenders that he couldn’t barrel through, Adams was standing by for a quick look, single-handedly disproved the idea that Westbrook was a one-man show. His sheer physicality also made him ideally suited to clean up after Russ. Always good for an oddball quotable—after a particularly memorable Westbrook dunk, he described his teammate as “amphibious—Adams is one of the league’s most notable characters. In both his game and his individuality, Adams was in every way Russ’s fellow traveler.”
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