OKLAHOMA CITY — Steven Adams needed something to go his way.
The seven-footer had appeared to be a different player in recent weeks. With an 11-game stretch of averaging less than 10 points and less than eight rebounds, Adams didn’t resemble the same player. He looked so different in fact that his play moving forward being questioned became a hot topic around Oklahoma sports talk.
Last night, Adams reminded everybody how impactful he can be for the Oklahoma City Thunder (44-31). As Adams went against the Indiana Pacers, so did his team.
After Oklahoma City gained an early 21-19 lead in the first quarter, Adams had scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting. But the New Zealander has done this in first quarters before during that 11-game stretch. But tonight was different.
“I thought Adams was incredibly dominant tonight,” Billy Donovan said after the game. “He was phenomenal on both ends of the floor. Steven was physical. He was a huge factor tonight.”
Phenomenal he was. A welcome sight for Oklahoma City. Adams finished the game with 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds — seven offensive — and even added three assists and two steals to his box score. The Thunder needed every bit of his scoring, especially in the first half.
Oklahoma City trailed by 11 sporadically during the second quarter. With the team beginning to show signs of sloppy defense and teetering on returning to the foul-fest, it seemed like this game would follow a similar script as the previous two weeks. But Adams’ steady play helped keep the Thunder afloat.
The second half is when Adams’ hard work paid off. An NBA season-leading 24-0 run in the third quarter helped the Thunder regain control of the game and lead the Pacers from then until the end. Adams’ 11 second half points and 5 offensive boards helped return Oklahoma City to the pre-All Star break form people around the team had become accustomed too.
What is important is not necessarily the numbers. Adams is typically put into favorable positions to score throughout a game. The way he scored his 25 points and grabbed his 12 boards tell the story.
Over the last few weeks, Adams has struggled with small things: Dropping pinpoint passes from Russell Westbrook or Paul George as they drive the lane. Unable to recover loose balls or grab offensive boards at his typical pace.
Tonight was a return to form. A return to the athletic, energetic and savvy player many around the league know him to be. Adams brought out a plethora of post moves, caught pinpoint passes and finished around the basket and even had his trusty-floater game flowing.
Oklahoma City closed out the fourth quarter and finished off the Pacers 107-99. The focus shifted on Westbrook’s unselfish play — he still finished with his 29th triple-double of the year — or George’s 31 points. But really, Adams’ fingerprints were all over this win.
“Steven is a guy who doesn’t care about that (scoring),” Donovan added. “He just wants to win. I think the last time we played against them (Indiana), (Domantas) Sabonis had 26 points and we put them at the foul line a lot. So it was great to see him respond and play as well as he did up front.”
Adams was true to form in the locker room following the game. Attempting to get him to say anything prideful about his strong performance were met with sarcastic laughs or innocent smiles to reporters. Like Donovan said, Adams does not care about scoring.
But for him, it was nice to finally see something go his way once again.