By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
OKLAHOMA CITY – Lost in the Game 3 hoopla of Serge Ibaka‘s return was a solid performance from another Oklahoma City big man raised in a faraway land, who overcame a challenging childhood and has enough siblings to field three basketball teams.
New Zealand native and rookie 7-foot center Steven Adams has that much in common with the Congo’s Ibaka. Their games share few similarities beyond an ability to disrupt an opponent’s activity in the paint. Adams matched Ibaka’s four blocks in the Thunder’s Game 3 win and also added seven points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes.
The Thunder’s No. 12 overall pick last summer started the postseason with a small role in the first round against Memphis, garnering 19 total minutes in the first four games. Since, he’s logged at least 19 minutes in seven of the last 11 games, and he played at least 28 minutes in three of the last four.
In those three games, he’s provided 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting, mostly going up for dunks after his man leaves him to help, plus 28 rebounds and six blocks.
“Steven’s impact was good [in Game 3],” Brooks said. “I thought he did a good job of scoring around the basket. He got fouled, so he can obviously do a better job of making free throws (he was 3-for-7). I thought his defense was good. He has a hard job, like we all do. You have to be able to contain all their pick‑and‑roll players, and also get your body back to get the rebounds. But he’s an improving player.”
Adams plays with a fierceness that irritates opponents, sometimes so much that he induces them to make poor decisions. The Memphis Grizzlies still believe they would have won the first-round series if they had Zach Randolph for Game 7. But Randolph was suspended for that game after balling his fist and hitting Adams in the jaw as the two ran down the floor during Game 6.
He’s also an option the Thunder haven’t had in the past as a backup to the more sedentary Kendrick Perkins. The 255-pound Adams is far more athletic and can play with big and small Thunder lineups. He possesses soft hands, making him a trusted receiver of tough bounce passes from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
In Game 3, he took over early when Perkins got into foul trouble. He played a significant role in limiting the Spurs to just 40 points in the paint after they averaged 60 in the first two games.
A repeat performance will go a long way to helping tie the series before heading back to San Antonio.