OKC Thunder's Steven Adams tells Russell Westbrook: 'I trust you to get it done'
Steven Adams has Russell Westbrook's back off the court. Now it's about giving his Oklahoma City Thunder superstar point guard the support he needs on it.
Adams was one of a number of Thunder players to rally behind Westbrook as he faced ongoing attention for his final-quarter dropoff during Thursday's 115-111 defeat to the Houston Rockets in their first-round NBA playoffs series.
That saw the Thunder fall 0-2 behind in the best-of-seven series, with Saturday's (NZT) game three back in OKC now must-win if Adams, Westbrook and co are to entertain any hope of progressing beyond the opening round.
Westbrook was sensational in game two in Houston. Or at least he was for the first three quarters as he finished with a momentous line of 51 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds ̶ the first ever 50-point triple-double in NBA playoff history.
But still it wasn't enough as the more well-balanced Rockets came roaring back from a 12-point deficit late in the third quarter to haul in the fading Thunder.
Westbrook had carried his side brilliantly through those first three periods, with 36 points (on 13-of-25 shooting), 11 assists and nine boards at the final break.
But in the final quarter the OKC point guard appeared to tire significantly as he went just four-of-18 from the floor. He also noticeably lacked the trust in his team-mates who combined to go just three of 11 in the term.
That shooting discrepancy, with Westbrook taking nearly two thirds of his side's field goal attempts, was further fuel for the MVP candidate's critics who believe he is too much of a one-man show for the Thunder's good. His 43 shot attempts just added further fuel to that fire.
But Adams was hearing none of it as the big Kiwi spoke to the media after the Rockets defeat.
"That happens," he said of Westbrook's final-quarter misfire that went against the trend of some sterling finishes through the regular season. "Sometimes his shot goes in, sometimes it doesn't.
"Regardless, he needs to get the ball in the fourth quarter. I trust that guy more than anyone in the league in the fourth quarter with the ball.
"Whatever he's got to do, he'll do it."
Other OKC players expressed similar sentiments. "I don't see any criticising when he does make all the shots in the fourth quarter, so I'm gonna back him up when he does miss it," said small forward Andre Roberson."Keep telling him to keep shooting it. That's what he does."
Said Victor Oladipo: "We've been in that situation all year and Russ has made shots." Added Doug McDermott: "He's got to do that for us. But we've got to step up for him. He can't be the only one in the fourth quarter taking all the shots. We all got to step up and be ready to play when our name's called."
Former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff van Gundy, now an analyst with ESPN, said Westbrook needed his team-mates to answer the bell. And he included Adams in that category.
"Oladipo needs to play better certainly. Adams needs to stay out of foul trouble. He is so very important to them. Those two guys need to play consistently well and play big minutes."
Adams' foul issues in game two certainly hurt the Thunder, with their starting centre and defensive anchor only able to go 27 minutes before fouling out late. Though he had just five points and seven rebounds in that time, OKC were plus-18 points while the New Zealander was on court.
The Rockets also made their most significant runs in the game when Adams, who has been criticised in some quarters for failing to live up to his big contract extension, had to leave the court in the third quarter with his fourth foul and in the final period with his fifth.
Adams put the Thunder's tight situation in typically quaint terms as he looked ahead to Saturday's game three (tipoff 1.30pm, NZT).
"It sucks," he told reporters. "It's not the best position for us, [but] it's not over. There's no [sense of] defeat or anything like that.
"We understand we have two games to make sure we push back. We've got to look back, learn, make some adjustments and then come back strong."
Westbrook has carried the Thunder all season. It is now time for Adams and others to lend a hand with the heavy lifting.