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Comment: Steven Adams is the breakout player of the playoffs

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 24/05/2016 Sam Amick
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The short view was there for all to see, captivating the basketball world on Monday as everyone waited for a verdict from the NBA: would Draymond Green’s kick to Steven Adams’ crotch cost him a game in these Western Conference Finals, or would the league decide to keep the Golden State Warriors’ All-Star forward on the floor for Game 4 on Tuesday?

But the long view, the revelation that bodes so well for the Oklahoma City Thunder regardless of what happens next, is that Adams has fast become the breakout star of these playoffs. And this, in case anyone forgot, is the same Steven Adams who, by way of a first-round draft pick that was eventually used to select him in 2013, was part of the 2012 James Harden trade that may always haunt this franchise.

Talk about a perfect Thunder storm.

Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams warms up prior to game two of the Western Conference Finals in Oakland, California. © Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams warms up prior to game two of the Western Conference Finals in Oakland, California. Just as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are reminding us that they’re the league’s most dynamic duo, overwhelming these defending champion Warriors with their speed, size and skill while taking a 2-1 series lead, here comes a 22-year-old New Zealander who has unofficially become the Thunder’s third star. A dynamic defender never moreso than that Game 2 closeout play on the Patty Mills three-pointer in Game 2 of the semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs.

A capable offensive threat whose pick-and-roll production is enough to relieve pressure on the perimeter. In all, Adams – whose playing time has spiked from 25.2 minutes per game to 31.7 in these playoffs – is averaging 10.4 points per game in the postseason (on 65.5% shooting) to go with a team-high 9.7 rebounds per game. Last but certainly not least, one of the toughest guys around in today’s NBA.

That was the case long before he was brought to his knees by Green’s right foot, but these past few weeks have underscored this reality. In the Game 6 closeout win against the Spurs, he played through a migraine headache so severe that his pregame routine consisted of vomiting and IVs. Adams, who has suffered from the debilitating headaches for years now, said afterward that he never would have played if it had been a regular season game.

But this Green situation, with Adams having been hit below the belt by Green in Game 2 only to take it to the nether regions yet again in Game 3, was another matter altogether.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket as Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) defends. Adams has been much improved in the playoffs and helped the Thunder in their quest for the Finals.: Golden State Warriors guard and NBA MVP Steph Curry drives to the basket as Steven Adams defends. Adams has been much improved in the playoffs and helped the Thunder in their quest for the Finals. © Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports Golden State Warriors guard and NBA MVP Steph Curry drives to the basket as Steven Adams defends. Adams has been much improved in the playoffs and helped the Thunder in their quest for the Finals. As agitators go, Adams is the best kind. He gets under the opponent’s skin with his physicality, but has an uncanny ability to resist that urge to retaliate. Asked if it was becoming increasingly hard to not respond to Green, who is certainly an agitator in his own right, Adams shrugged as if this whole saga was nothing more than a silly subplot.

“No, it’s not at all (hard), mate,” he said. “A lot of stuff happened out there. For this particular one, I couldn’t have done anything anyway, mate. Yeah, I was out cold. Shed some tears, actually. I was leaking. I don’t know what it was.

“It’s fine with me. I don’t want to hold my team at a disadvantage. I can’t really afford to react…Whatever happens on the floor stays on the floor.”

The importance of that mentality can’t be overstated. Had Adams reacted, perhaps throwing a punch or shove that everyone would have understood, the Thunder might have found themselves in a compromised position at the worst possible time. Instead, the Thunder outscored the Warriors 85-65 from that point on and Adams’ reputation as a game-changer continued to grow.

“It’s very important,” Westbrook said of Adams. “With his size and being able to use that to his advantage is very important. That’s the strength of our team, our size and physicalness. I think it’s important that he use it every night.

“(He’s) very impressed. All season long I think he’s been great. He’s constantly getting better and better each and every year, especially this postseason. He’s done a great job of just learning and being able to go from series to series and change his game.”

He has certainly done that.

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