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Thunder film room: Thunder center Steven Adams vs Spurs in one play

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In the mad finish to game 2, it was easy to overlook the defense play of Steven Adams, who almost single-handedly saved the Thunder from losing.

original image © Soobum Im

In the Thunder's incredible finish vs the Spurs at the end of game 2, seemingly everyone has chimed in on what happened, what should have happenedwhat everyone thought had happened, and how it has never even happened before.

Through all the chaos however, it is easy to overlook the fact that, after the no-calls and mad scramble for the basketball, the Spurs had a 3 on 1 fast break opportunity that likely would have won the game (OKC was out of timeouts). After Spurs guard Danny Green corralled the steal, he had both Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili streaking toward the rim with a chance to steal a win and crush the Thunder once again.

But...they forgot about one man.

No, not Kip.

Steven Funaki Adams.

If I were less lazy, I would have given this video analysis its own epic soundtrack. But I didn't, so just hum along to your own favorite epic stylings.

With the game on the line, the Thunder had their best defender as their last line of defense, and Adams came through in a number of remarkable ways. How remarkable? Let me borrow the words of PtR scribe (and self-avowed Thunder hater) Michael Erler, who describes it perfectly:

The Thunder's Steven Adams just happened to be the last line of defense and he played it absolutely perfectly, first against Patty Mills, after Green's pass had led him too far, then against Ginobili rolling to the hoop and finally to Mills in the corner with a fantastic closeout. It was [Danny] Green-level transition defense from Adams on a do-or-die play, and that's about as high a compliment as I can give.

In scenarios like these, where the odds are heavily stacked against you, it is critical to simply remember the fundamentals of transition defense - you want to stop the ball first without surrendering your position. The goal is to feign defensive commitment and get the offense to make a decision first. By doing so, the defender does not commit to a decision, but instead forces the hand of the offense to show their cards first. In the sport of boxing, it might be referred to as "cutting off the ring." With subtle shifting and feints, you can channel your opponent into a position where they willingly give up one of their options while not gaining a strategic advantage, and that is exactly what happened on this play.

To be sure, as Erler points out, the Spurs did not have their best playmaker with the ball. Danny Green is a lot of wonderful things, but transition distributor is not one of them. And because Adams did not immediately retreat but briefly challenged the point, Green forced a premature lob-type pass to Mills that sailed long. Had Green not panicked for that brief moment, he would have: a) taken 1-2 dribbles to force Adams to commit and THEN made his decision with a much easier pass; or b) immediately given the ball up to Ginobili, who is 100 times the playmaker that Green is, and that play would have looked radically different (seriously, if your only experience with Manu is at this late stage of his career, do yourself a favor; he's one of the most gifted playmaking artists in NBA history, and in my opinion, 10 times more enjoyable than watching his peer - Kobe).

After Adams gets Green to commit too early, he does a great job at both retreating as well as not giving up his defensive position after Mills is caught under the backboard. At this point, Adams is in a much stronger defensive position because, while the play is still frantic, Adams can now see everything in front of him while showing awareness and restraint as the Spurs try to unspool one last shot attempt. He cuts off the lane and the angles as they develop, and only fully commits when it becomes clearly obvious where the shot is going to come from. It is a rare discipline for a defender, in this kind of scenario, to not overreact and give up defensive position, something that his teammates Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka are prone to do.

It was the perfect blend of defensive awareness while maximizing athletic ability. And all this from a massive 7-foot Kiwi who has only been playing organized hoops for about 5 years.

Give that man a chocolate fish.