With his remarkable triple-double season average already set in stone and his Oklahoma City Thunder locked into a first-round playoff matchup against the Houston Rockets as the Western Conference’s sixth seed, Russell Westbrook had one more bit of history to settle before the regular season ended.
And he did so as only Westbrook could, passing Oscar Robertson’s single-season record for triple-doubles with his 42nd of the 2016-17 campaign and notching 50 points on a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer that eliminated the Denver Nuggets from playoff contention. All in a day’s work. It was an evening of basketball that will forever be etched on the minds of those who watched it.
An assist on seldom-used Thunder undrafted rookie Semaj Christon’s corner 3-pointer with 4:17 remaining in the fourth quarter completed Westbrook’s triple-double and cut Denver’s lead to 10:
As everyone predicted before the season, it would be Semaj Christon who knocked down the 3 to get Russell Westbrook his 42nd triple-double. pic.twitter.com/80nXM4p8ta— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) April 9, 2017
“He’s like a video game player,” Christon told reporters after the game. “I loved it. I love watching it.”
Fitting Westbrook's assist came on a Semaj Christon 3, who was 10-58 from 3 coming in to today.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 9, 2017
Westbrook recorded his ninth assist on a feed to Enes Kanter for a layup with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter, but got a much-needed rest on the Thunder’s next possession. He already had 32 points and 13 rebounds at that point. Westbrook returned to the game with just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, and each time he dribbled the ball across mid-court in Denver, the Nuggets crowd cheered in anticipation. Two would-be assists went by the wayside when a nervous Kanter traveled and an eager Domantas Sabonis missed a short jumper, but Christon got the job done two trips later.
Westbrook wasn’t satisfied. He netted OKC’s final 15 points, outscoring the Nuggets 15-4 in the final 3:35, and capped that stretch with a 36-foot jumper over Gary Harris as time expired for a 106-105 win:
Westbrook’s last-second triple gave him an even 50 points (on 17-of-32 shooting) for the evening, to go along with his 16 rebounds and 10 assists. It also eliminated the Nuggets (38-42) from the playoff race and pushed the Trail Blazers (40-40) into the eighth seed for good, since Portland owns the tiebreaker.
In a season when Westbrook has made the triple-double appear routine and led many to wonder if the statistical anomaly had lost some of the meaning it gained as part of Robertson’s folklore, the Thunder point guard found a way to write a storybook ending to his season-long chase. He reminded everyone just how incredible the achievement is and how near-impossible a player you have to be to complete it. Seriously, the dude hit a buzzer-beater to get 50 points on the night he set the record.
Russell Westbrook on if this game felt like a storybook ending: "It felt like a blessing." pic.twitter.com/m4TtdFL6rZ— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) April 10, 2017
"It's amazing. It's something I never dreamed about as a kid."Russell Westbrook speaks on his historic night! #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/6JlzJw96cJ
— NBA (@NBA) April 9, 2017
“I could not be happier for him,” Robertson wrote for The Undefeated. “Congratulations to Russell Westbrook on a magnificent season!”“And, forgive the cliche, records are made to be broken. If someone breaks your record, that means they’ve reached a level of excellence that is quantifiable in some respect, and you have to give them respect for doing so.”
For the record, Robertson’s season-high for points in a game during his historic 1961-62 run was 49. The NBA has seen five 50-point triple-doubles since 1975. Westbrook now has three — more than anyone else in league history. (Hey, more records!). Houston Rockets star James Harden — Westbrook’s chief competition for the league’s MVP honor this season — has the other two. All five came in 2016-17.
If Russell Westbrook played same pace/minutes as Oscar Robertson's 61/62 with his current production, he'd avg 51.4 ppg, 17.4 rpg, 16.9 apg.— Duncan Smith (@DuncanSmithNBA) April 6, 2017
Westbrook tied Robertson’s 1961-62 total of 41 triple-doubles with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, but fell just shy of breaking the record in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday (45 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds) and a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Friday (23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists). The third time was the charm.
Sunday’s triple-double brought Westbrook’s career total to 79, moving him past Wilt Chamberlain and behind only Robertson (181), Magic Johnson (138) and Jason Kidd (107). “If he stays healthy, there’s no reason he couldn’t eventually break my career record of 181 triple-double games,” Robertson said.
Westbrook’s effort on Sunday gave him one more signature moment in a season full of them and perhaps left a lasting impression on the league’s MVP voters. It certainly did with his fellow players:
wow russ. give that man the mvp.— Blake Griffin (@blakegriffin32) April 9, 2017
Man just give him the MVP— Myles Turner (@Original_Turner) April 9, 2017
Russ MVP bro. ????— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) April 9, 2017
Robertson also threw his MVP support behind Westbrook in his Sunday post for The Undefeated.
Westbrook will almost surely win the NBA’s scoring title while finishing top-three in assists and top-10 in rebounds, but Sunday was a slap across the face to anyone who thinks that’s all he was this season. His performance against the Nuggets brought his season scoring total in the clutch (within five points in the final five minutes) to 247 points — 24 more than anyone else, despite ranking only 27th in clutch minutes played this season (148). Westbrook’s Thunder are now 25-15 in 40 such situations this year, mainly because he’s averaging 80.1 points, 17.2 rebounds and 9.1 assists per 48 clutch minutes.
MVP votes are due to the league office on Friday. Russell Westbrook still has two games remaining in the regular season, and at this rate, who knows if he’s done rewriting the record books in 2016-17.