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NBA Playoffs 2014: The 'Others' come through for OKC

By Ryan Rodriguez We all were predicting a 7th game for the Clippers-Thunder series, never thinking that we could be short changed of a series that had been so fun. No way were the Clippers going to lose on their ? Continue reading ?

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Clippers

By Ryan Rodriguez

We all were predicting a 7th game for the Clippers-Thunder series, never thinking that we could be short changed of a series that had been so fun. No way were the Clippers going to lose on their home floor, not with verteran coach Doc Rivers at the helm or with a renewed focus from Chris Paul after his disastrous 17 seconds to end Game 5. However, the Thunder were able to destroy everyone’s expectations and pull out a 104-98 victory behind Kevin Durant’s brilliance, and also, because two role players came through when the Thunder needed them most.

Before I go on about the exploits of the others, Shaq’s name for all non-stars on a team, I don’t want to gloss over KD’s ridiculous game. I always look back at old box scores on Basketball-Reference of former stars like Shaq, Michael, Magic, Larry, Hakeem, and others, marveling at the numbers they put up, especially in closeout games, and thinking how awesome it would have been to watch them in all their glory. Well I have a feeling we will look back at this closeout game performance by KD and think these same things.

Throwing up a line of 39 points, 16 rebounds (!), 5 assists, and 2 blocks, all while shooting over 50% from the field and three and making all 10 of his free throws is pretty ridiculous. I mean, s%@t, he spent the entire second half extinguishing any hope the Clippers had of quelling the Thunder’s steady comeback from down 16, hitting shot after shot and grabbing board after board. Let it be known that he was awesome and those that don’t want to give him the MVP need to remember performances like this.

With all that said, Steven Adams and Nick Collison were the unsung heroes of the day, doing all the little things, playing minutes that they never play, and providing the Thunder assurance that they could survive for a short period (like half of a game) without Serge Ibaka, who went down with a calf injury early in the third quarter. What might have been most amazing was they were able to play huge minutes without succumbing to the fouling issues that have plagued each all season. Both averaged around 6 fouls per 36 minutes, but in a game where the Thunder absolutely needed these two on the court (Kendrick Perkins spent his court time racking up fouls like they were going out of style), they only collected a combined 5 fouls in over 46 minutes of court time.

What’s even more impressive, these guys dwarfed their regular on court time, with Adams playing 30+ minutes for only the second time in his career, the first was in early November, while Collison was averaging only 11 minutes a game in the playoffs and he finished with 17 minutes, all in the second half. These two showed what professionalism is all about, staying ready to contribute at all times, and then when your number is called to do something out of the ordinary, you are ready because you approach every game the same way. I kept expecting Scott Brooks to put Perkins back in, constantly being surprised that the New Zealander Adams was getting such an extended run, but Adams continued to justify his place on the court, as did Collison, who’s brilliant play allowed the Thunder to stay matched up with the two bigs of the Clippers.

If long term availability was all these two offered though, I doubt the Thunder would have been able to pull out the victory, but these guys supplemented their court time with great play. Adams began by simply doing great Adams things like tapping a rebound away from DeAndre Jordan to Reggie Jackson (who cares that Reggie couldn’t seem to land in bounds) or catching a no look pass from KD and finishing with a dunk, something I’ve seen Perkins flub all too often. He set solid screens that allowed Russell to turn the corner into the paint and create open looks for teammates, and he did a great job of rotating on defense, as well as sticking close to DeAndre as not to allow him to bring the crowd to their feet after one of his patented lob dunks. As Adams stayed in, you could see his confidence building, as he went from the guy providing energy off the bench to doing a good impersonation of Robin Lopez, a very solid starter in the league.

By the second half, it was clear that Adams was going to have a big, positive impact on the game. He was getting the minutes and the same obliviousness he shows whenever he gets punched or elbowed in the head, he was showing now in a closeout game in enemy territory. Adams was able to record only his second double digit rebounding game of the season, the other the aforementioned early November game. This helped him produce his second double-double of the season as well, something that was paramount to the Thunder’s success once it became apparent that Ibaka was done for the night. Throw in a plus 17 for Adams on the night and I’d say this ‘other’ more than stepped up.

In Collison’s case, he had a classic game of little statistical production, but then you realize he was a plus 16, all in the second half, and this allowed the Thunder to stay big, a very important factor because going small would have forced KD on Blake, something that could have worn him down during their second half comeback. Collison really put together a performance that captures what an ‘other’ does, doing everything that can’t be quantified by basic statistics, and sometimes even advance stats, but as you watch the game you can’t help but notice the impact that the player is having. As with Adams, Collison did a great job of sticking close to Blake on screen-and-rolls, living with a Chris Paul drive for a layup over a dunk by Blake that could have given the Clips an added energy boost that they were clearly needing as the game progressed. When Collison hit his three to end the third quarter, you could feel the backup bigs propelling the Thunder to a victory.

The Thunder, one of the most star driven teams, were helped in a big way by the players who comprise their mass of role players, which allowed them to pull out the series clinching victory. Maybe this will be the start of something bigger for these backup bigs, especially Adams, allowing Scott Brooks to play Perkins even less. In Collison’s case, I don’t understand why he is only getting 11 minutes in the playoffs, when he offers a skill set that no other big on the team does, some creative passing that can be used to create two or three easy buckets that the Thunder always need. The play that ultimately captured the night for these two happened with about 4 minutes left in the fourth  as Russ and Collison set up to run a pick-and-roll. The Clippers focused on Russ, who unselfishly dropped the ball off to a rolling Collison, and, as this happened, Blake got sucked into the two-man game, losing Adams on the baseline and allowing him to slip to the hoop where Collison dropped him a perfect bounce pass, and Adams slammed it home to put the Thunder up 9. A perfectly mundane play executed perfectly by two others, something that all teams need if they want to reach the pinnacle.

Published with permission from Joshua Biers.

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