With an ineffective Serge Ibaka held scoreless in six first half minutes because of foul trouble on Tuesday night, the Thunder was in desperate need of some interior help.
Enter Steven Adams, maybe the biggest revelation for OKC this postseason. Since reentering the fold in Game 6 against the Grizzlies, Adams has received steady rotation minutes from coach Scott Brooks.
And the rookie has delivered, providing stiff interior defense, high-volume rebounding, surprising rim protection, constant energy and a big that can consistently finish around the rim.
With Ibaka on the bench for most of Tuesday’s first half, Adams continued his strong play, chipping in seven points, three rebounds and a block.
“What we’ve done is try to keep it real simple with Steven,” Brooks said. “First, just play hard. I think he’s mastered that. Sounds easy, but it’s not easy. Lot of guys don’t play hard. But Steven does.”
Over the past seven games, Adams is averaging 4.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 19 minutes, up five from his regular season average.
“As every player in their developmental stage, you can throw more at him and more to him, and he can internalize it,” Brooks said. “But he still has some ways to go, but he’s off to a good start in his career.”
BUTLER AND FISHER STRUGGLE
As the 20-year-old Adams has emerged in his first postseason run, two of the Thunder’s playoff-tested veterans have trended in the opposite direction.
On Tuesday night, Caron Butler was limited to 17 minutes, his lowest since joining the Thunder in early March. And that’s because of his recent struggles. Butler is shooting 28 percent in the Clippers series and 31 percent in the playoffs. He’s only broken double-digit points once in the past five games.
And Derek Fisher has been even worse. The NBA’s all-time leader in playoff games and wins has struggled mightily with his shot this postseason. He is 10-of-37 overall and only 3-of-19 from three, an area in which he shot 38 percent this season.
Because of that, he has been squeezed a bit from the rotation, playing only five and seven minutes the past two games.
DOC RIVERS REPORTEDLY YELLS AT CLAY BENNETT
Fresh off a stunning collapse that pushed his Los Angeles Clippers within a game of season's end, still fuming over a controversial replay call he would later call “horrendous” and “series-defining,” Doc Rivers marched out of the locker room late Tuesday with fury in his eyes.
He headed toward the interview room only to spot Oklahoma City Thunder chairman Clay Bennett walking past in the hallway, according to Yahoo Sports.
“Wow!” Rivers yelled at Bennett, according to the website. “Why can't we get the right replay?”
Bennett, perhaps still stunned by his unlikely change in fortune, didn't say a word in response and just kept walking.
BROOKS DEFENDS WESTBROOK
Brooks was asked Wednesday what kind of feeding frenzy would have occurred had his point guard, Russell Westbrook, committed two turnovers in the final 15 seconds and fouled a 3-point shooter with a two-point lead, as Clipper point guard Chris Paul did in Game 5. Brooks just laughed.
“I can sit here for hours and talk about all the things I love about Russell,” Brooks said. “It seems he does get criticized for a lot of things. Somebody misses a shot, it’s Russell’s fault. Somebody turns the ball over, it’s Russell’s fault.
“One thing I love about Russell, he competes every single night. He plays for his team every single night. He doesn’t get involved in all the things that are said about him, and why should he? You can’t win over everybody. As long as you can win over your teammates, that’s the respect every player wants. And that’s the respect I talk about with our group.
“You can’t worry about what people say. Because you can’t please ‘em all. You can’t win over every fan. You can’t win over every writer. We all want to do the best we can. Russell’s no different. I admire that in him. He’s not worried about winning over anybody.”
CLIPPER TURNOVERS RISE
The Clippers had committed just 37 turnovers through four games of the series. But the Clippers committed 17 in Game 5, leading to 23 Thunder points. Paul had six turnovers through four games. He had five in Game 5.
“We want to force turnovers,” Brooks said. “We want to play solid defense. I thought our defense was good at times and not so good at times. Gave up a lot of open threes (the Clippers made 12 of 27). We weren’t really connected and ready to close out immediately on the catch.
“But we did get our hands on the basketball, got some deflections, some steals, some opportunities to score in transition. Those are the keys to our game.”
DURANT ALLOWED TO MISS SHOTS
Kevin Durant shot better than 50 percent (45 of 89) through the first four games of the series. But Durant made just six of 22 shots in Game 5s, and that’s with making his last two and three of his last five. What were the Clippers doing to curtail Durant?
“It’s always a combination with Kevin,” Brooks said. “We have to continue to move him around, and he has to continue to move around himself and get better setups, and lower setups, and forceful setups.
“And then he missed some shots. He’s allowed to miss shots. He’s allowed to have an off shooting night. The guy has been so consistent all year. In the playoffs, they’re obviously loading up to him and putting more than one guy on him. He’s done a great job being a facilitator, being a playmaker within our offense.”
Durant came up huge late, scoring 10 points in the final 31/2 minutes.
“What makes a special player or makes the great player special is that you can have a bad shooting night, then make three or four buckets down the stretch. He has the confidence in himself, the team has the confidence in him, and I have the confidence in him to make winning basketball plays. I’m not so concerned with him taking every shot. Just making the right play, whether it’s the shot or the pass. Those are areas he’s really improved on over the years.”
IBAKA RALLIES LATE
Despite foul trouble limiting him in the first half, Ibaka finished strong, with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks in the second half, in which he played every minute.
“He missed some shots he knocks down 60, 70 percent of the time,” Brooks said. “Those are shots we want. But he came back, and bounced back, and had a good fourth quarter for us. That’s what you have to do. You just have to keep plugging away.”
BROOKS DOESN’T NOTICE FANS
Some Thunder fans left early from Game 5, when the Clippers led 101-88 with four minutes left. But Brooks said he didn’t notice.
“I heard about it earlier this morning,” Brooks said Wednesday. “One thing our fans know, the fans who left probably made a mistake. We never quit. We seem to do things the difficult way at times. But I didn’t really pay attention to that. I was focused on coaching the game.”
CHRIS PAUL SAYS NO FOUL
Lost amid the avalanche of controversial calls in the final few minutes on Tuesday night was the final turnover of the game.
As Paul drove the lane with two seconds left, he fumbled it away in the paint and sealed the Thunder win. But by early Wednesday morning, there was a photo floating around the Internet that showed Reggie Jackson reaching in and appearing to slap Paul across the forearm as he lost the ball.
The Clipper faithful cried foul. But at practice in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Paul told reporters that he didn’t believe he was fouled.