One defection changed the career of Russell Westbrook for the better. Happy to be the Kevin Durant partner in crime last year, Westbrook is now the triple double machine, the I stir the drink in OKC this year. Westbrook has more triple doubles than anyone in NBA history. He has a triple double against every team in the NBA except the Bulls and Blazers. His triple doubles are responsible for 71% of the Thunder wins. On Sunday afternoon, he capped off a historical record setting performance with a game winner, a deep three that knocked the Nuggets out of the playoffs and into the lottery again while dropping 50 in the Mile High city. Westbrook has been brilliant all year. In a league with overworked superstars, he plays just 34 minutes. This Westbrook season is special.
When his three point shot in Denver won the game for the Thunder, a door seemed to not just close but to shut with a loud bang. The MVP is Westbrook’s despite how great James Harden has been. Harden is feeling the Westbrook tsunami and is getting a little bit testy about all the attention taken away from him. After Harden had his own triple double on Sunday, (he has half the number of triple doubles as Westbrook), Harden felt the need to spin the Westbrook triple double as a look at me stat.
“I thought winning is what this is about, period. I’m not going to get into all that but i thought winning was the most important thing. If you set your team up in a position to have a chance, at the ultimate goal, that’s the most important thing.” (James Harden)
Harden then backed up a bit and said, “It’s a huge accomplishment. He’s been playing extremely well all season long. It’s never been done before. It’s a great individual accomplishment.”
No one is stupid here. We get what Harden was trying to say without screaming it. Individual is not helping the team. Individual gets you on SportsCenter. Individual is for the record books. Harden conveniently left out that Westbrook’s triple doubles have won games and that Westbrook does not have a Sixth Man of the Year (Eric Gordon) on his team or a NBA champion (Trevor Ariza) or a coach who has revolutionized the game (Mike D’Antoni).
“It’s just a great individual stat. But like i said, my job is to go out there and try to get my teammates involved, try to build their confidence so we’re able to go out there and play and everybody is feeling good.” (James Harden)
Harden’s shade aside, Westbrook is one of those handful of stars who could play in the ’80’s when there were no rules about physical play. When social media didn’t exist. When it didn’t matter what people thought of you off the floor, it was on the court that mattered. You didn’t get punked. You retaliated and accepted the technical foul. You settled all grievances. It wasn’t about making friends. Sunday, Westbrook wasn’t making friends with Nikola Jokic who was assessed a technical foul for a tough foul on Russ.
As long as Russell Westbrook has his say (he has influence over his mostly young teammates who are not as accomplished and without Westbrook would be out the playoff hunt) none of them, not Enes Kanter, nor Steven Adams, nor Nick Colllison was gracious to Kevin Durant on the court when they played the Warriors this season. It was war with Westbrook. He adopts the strategy: if you are not my friend, you are my enemy.
In the ’80’s, if Westbrook was the recipient of a Zaza Paculia cheap shot as he was early in the season, somebody on the Warriors was going down and hard. His bell would have been rung. But that is not the league now. Many say the NBA has evolved for the better. Many say it has devolved for the worse. It’s no longer a man’s game. But those who believe that don’t watch Russ play.
The great thing about Westbrook is there is no subterfuge, no pretending, no illusion, no media gloss over. He is who he is.
Westbook is old-school this year. His triple doubles remind everyone of the greatness of Oscar Robertson. Russ is making the triple double sexy again but only because he is a guard out-rebounding forwards. And it is Westbrook who wears his emotions on his sleeve 24-7. You know what he is thinking.
A few months ago, when Durant decided to wrap up his OKC stay no one quite knew how it would turn out for Westbrook. But Westbrook has risen to the occasion and become a virtual one man wrecking crew which is entertaining and good for Westbrook and the league. And Oklahoma.
Westbrook does it his way and he admits that is the only way he knows how to play. Despite humility, he goes hard. He plays tough. He doesn’t back down. Who knew when the season started Oscar Robertson’s triple double record was going to be on life support and then die a quiet death.
Russell Westbrook knew, that’s who.
photo via llananba