This post-season has been cruel to one player more than most so far – but not in terms of success.
Steven Adams has grown into one of Oklahoma City’s most influential players during the playoffs, helping Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook cruise by Dallas and San Antonio. But he’s taken his fair share of licks along the way.
Rolling with the punches
There have been plenty of tough guys in the NBA, be it looking back at the likes of Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace, or in today’s game with DaMarcus Cousins and Kyle Lowry. Big or small, they’re all well known for taking their shots and playing through.
But one man all the way from New Zealand is casting a sizeable shadow over all of them this season.
Despite injuries to his hand, back, face and gentlemen’s area, Steven Adams has continued to show grit and fight to help put the Oklahoma City Thunder in a position to possibly head to the NBA Finals.
Over the course of the entire campaign – despite a lengthy list of injuries, Steven Adams has only missed two games for the Thunder. Two from over 90 games and counting.
However, over the course of the post-season, whilst other players have bemoaned injury problems, sometimes using them as an excuse, he’s been unshakeably candid – even after a particularly nasty kick to the ‘kiwis’ in game three against the Warriors.
“I mean, it happened before, mate. He’s pretty accurate, that guy,” Adams said in his thick New Zealand accent, referring to Draymond Green’s groin kick to Post-Gazette.
Of course, the humour is nice to see, and the NBA has taken a relaxed stance on the entire issue. Green has escaped suspension, and Adams isn’t holding a grudge.
“It ain't like it's constant, or I'm conscious of every single bump, that would be annoying if that was the case.”
“Bumps and bruises... but as soon as the adrenaline kicks in, that's all over, mate.” He claimed via NewsOK.
But does this make Adams the toughest player in the league?
In what’s now seen as something of a less physical NBA to previous decades, toughness has still been easy to spot in the league.
Adams is just one example, but players like Green, DaMarcus Cousins and Kevin Garnett have all been known to be tough guys on and off the court.
But it’s not only the big men who are battling it out on a nightly basis, with guards across the league also becoming known for grit and determination despite their size. Lowry is the obvious example, but the likes of Goran Dragic (who’s now lost teeth twice on court) and Russell Westbrook are known fighters – albeit past the days where we saw players throwing punches.
But according to his teammates, Adams has something that’s not too common on the basketball court.
“Just him being out there has helped.” Kevin Durant claims. “He’s playing a lot off of Russell and myself and making himself available, rebounding the basketball and defending. Being a physical guy.”
That physicality is paying major dividends for the Thunder. So far this post-season, Adams has averaged 10.4ppg and 9.5rpg, notable jumps up from his regular season numbers.
“He’s played really well for us this year, and he continues to get better.” Billy Donovan, head coach of the Thunder, claimed.
“It’s great to see guys that have really continued to grow and get better, and just the way they’ve stuck with the process of improvement and just their eagerness to want to develop. And Steven’s really developed at a great rate, and you have to give him credit because he’s worked really hard.”
In fact, he’s doing all of the little things which don’t always show up on the stat sheet as well. His presence in the paint, for example, has deterred the likes of Curry and Thompson from taking the ball inside, and his defensive low post qualities have limited inside looks for the Warriors bigs.
On top of that, his offensive game, whilst limited, has been troubling his opponents in spurts. Oklahoma knows that if they miss a shot, it’s not coming right back down to the other end every time, with him battling it out for rebounds on the offensive glass.
He’s proving a real headache for Steve Kerr right now – and he’s making a 73-9 team look for answers as they trail 3-1.
He’ll just be hoping that the answer isn’t simply to hit him harder.