Awesome Adams stands tall for the Thunder

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 17/05/2014
Steven Adams
Getty Images
KIWIS REALLY CAN FLY: Steven Adams jumps highest to score for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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At ripe old age of 20, Steven Funaki Adams has produced arguably the greatest ever individual performance by a Kiwi basketballer.

Oklahoma City team-mate Reggie Jackson might have got a little carried away yesterday when he called Adams a "potential Hall of Famer".

But his career-best, 40-minute, double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) was a key factor in Oklahoma City's 104-98 road triumph over the Los Angeles Clippers, securing the best-of-seven playoff series 4-2.

Yes, Sean Marks won an NBA championship but the San Antonio Spurs big man was only a bit-part player.

Pero Cameron, Phill Jones and co put New Zealand basketball on the map in 2002 as the Tall Blacks went on a memorable and improbable run to the semifinals of the world championships.

But while international basketball continues to grow in stature, the NBA remains the pinnacle of the sport.

Adams is the only Kiwi to play regular, meaningful minutes and post significant stats in what is one of the world's premier sporting competitions.

The rookie has a real shot in joining Marks as an NBA champion as the Thunder head to the Western Conference finals where they meet the San Antonio Spurs.

Adding to the intrigue from a Kiwi perspective is the fact Marks is now an assistant to grizzled coaching legend Gregg Popovich at the Spurs.

One of Marks' jobs will be devising ways to expose Adams, the No 12 draft pick who has handled everything thrown at him so far.

He played virtually the entire game yesterday - more minutes than any Thunder player bar league MVP Kevin Durant (39 points, 16 rebounds) - as starting centre Kendrick Perkins fell into foul trouble and power forward Serge Ibaka limped off injured.

Adams, whose job description is largely a defensive one, hit five of his seven shots and threw in a block and a steal for good measure. When he was on the court, the Thunder outscored the Clippers by 17 points.

He is way ahead of schedule.

Given his moderate college career, most observers expected the raw centre to spend most of this season in the D-League. But he now appears likely to gain the starting job as soon as next season.

Among those to tweet their congratulations yesterday was Grammy winner Lorde, with Adams replying in his usual fashion: "cheers. Come to a game if you can. Got some NZ chocolate."

Game one of the Western Conference finals is in San Antonio on Tuesday.

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The crafty, veteran Spurs had the league's best record in the regular season but the Thunder's youth and athleticism causes them problems, with Oklahoma City winning all four matchups so far this season.

There will be a trans-Tasman element to the series too, with the Spurs featuring livewire Australian Patty Mills, the backup to star point guard Tony Parker.

Durant deflected the credit for yesterday's offensive explosion.

"My team-mates did a great job of screening for me," he said.

"I just tried to stay with it no matter what."

Added Thunder coach Scott Brooks: "This is what we've done all year. We've all stuck together and found ways to win."

The Indiana Pacers will meet the reigning champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals after easing past the Washington Wizards 93-80 yesterday.

- Wellington

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