Stone Cold Steve Adams has struck again.
The Thunder’s unflinching rookie center has infuriated another opponent. He’s baited another into retaliation. And in doing so, he’s made his greatest contribution to the Thunder cause.
Late in Game 6 on Thursday night, as Adams and Zach Randolph were entangled behind a fast break, the Grizzlies’ All-Star forward swung and nailed Adams with a swift punch across the right jaw.
Referees didn’t catch it at the time, but the NBA released video of the incident on Friday afternoon. And with it, the league announced a surprising suspension for Randolph, who will miss Game 7 on Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
It’s a massive blow for the Grizzlies, who are already dealing with an injured Mike Conley and now must face the rejuvenated Thunder without their leading scorer and rebounder.
Tough break for Memphis. Good fortune for OKC. And Adams is to thank for that.
On Thursday, he was surprisingly reinserted into the Thunder’s rotation. Scott Brooks gave Adams 20 minutes — 11 more than he’d received in the previous four games combined — and Adams delivered, blocking five shots, disrupting Memphis’ offensive flow and allowing the Thunder to stay big while playing fast. He has rare speed, athleticism and stamina for a 7-footer and seems to always impact the game in his brief spurts, as long as he stays out of foul trouble.
“Gives us another physical body to throw at them guys,” Kevin Durant said.
And, apparently, a physical body that opponents don’t like bumping against. Randolph’s sly shot on Thursday night was far from a random act. It was just the latest in a line of retaliatory cracks taken at Adams in his rookie season.
Counting preseason games, Randolph was the fifth player — along with Nate Robinson, Vince Carter, Jordan Hamilton and Larry Sanders — to get either ejected or suspended for nailing Adams with an elbow, fist or forearm shiver.
In those instances, Adams picked up only a single technical, given for an inadvertent elbow that sent Carter off.
Why has this become a trend? Why do people keep taking shots at the rookie? It stems from his wild playing style. He’s like a 7-foot wrecking ball on the court, looking like an energetic guard who happens to be stuck in a center’s body.
He flies around for rebounds, sets punishing screens and, at times, shows a comical lack of court awareness. He’s a foul machine, tumbling into people all over the court and smoking unsuspecting opponents with inadvertent shots in the paint.
“He seeks contact, which is a little different,” Nick Collison explained, saying former teammate Reggie Evans was another guy he remembered like that. “When he gets hit, it doesn’t bother him. He doesn’t take it personally like a lot of guys in our league do, where they think someone is out to get them.”
And that’s another part of the Adams equation that’s so interesting. While opponent’s tempers boil — and even after they’ve hit him — Adams stands there with a stoic, robotic look. He’ll laugh and shrug, unaware of why anyone would be angry with him.
“Have you seen my sister, bro?” Adams said earlier in the season, when asked of his ability to absorb contact. His sister is an Olympic gold medalist in the shot put. Adams’ New Zealand rugby background also adds to that physical mentality.
“The white Kendrick Perkins,” Dirk Nowitzki referred to him after the Carter ejection.
“He’s used to contact,” Collison said. “And he doesn’t see contact or people hitting him or him hitting people as out of the ordinary.”
But on Thursday, late in the fourth quarter of a game that was already decided, Zach Randolph did. And he retaliated. And now he must sit during the season’s most crucial game.
Just add him to Adams’ ever-growing list of victims.