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.