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It was clear before this season that Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook was going to put up some incredible stats. With Kevin Durant gone to the Golden State Warriors and no other star-level talent on the roster, Westbrook would have free rein to dominate the OKC offense. We had seen him pursue big numbers with his maximalist style before, but this season would be something very different.
Even then, though, it seemed far-fetched that Westbrook could sustain that ball-dominance long enough to join the legendary Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 as the only players to average a triple-double over a full season. He proved those doubters wrong over the past few months, and now Westbrook has made it official by notching his 820th assist of the 2016-17 season on Friday night.
The historic assist occurred with 10:36 remaining in the third quarter of OKC’s road game at the Phoenix Suns when he found Victor Oladipo for a lay-up. After dishing out just three assists in the first half, Westbrook reeled off three assists very quickly in the third quarter to reach the historic mark.
Westbrook came into the night with 2,480 points (a league-leading 31.8 per game), 831 rebounds (10.7 per game), and 814 assists (10.4 per game) on the season. He has not yet missed a game this year, and sitting out just one of the Thunder’s final three games after Friday would have clinched the triple-double average for the season. However, Westbrook can now play as much as he wants without putting that record into jeopardy.
He appeared focused on getting those necessary six assists out of the way early on Friday, perhaps to his detriment. Westbrook forced some passes in the first quarter and committed five turnovers in his first 10 minutes of play. He also missed his opening 11 shots from the floor.
Westbrook had a chance to break Oscar Robertson’s record for triple-doubles in a season in the fourth quarter, but his pursuit fell short. That’s not to say he didn’t try. After taking plenty of shots to try to get OKC back into the game and failing, Westbrook changed his strategy late and began to hunt assists with little regard for sound basketball plays. The Suns caught on fairly quickly, though, and began to foul Thunder players with the ball and even intentionally fouled Westbrook with 2:34 remaining to stop him from passing. He made both free throws out of a timeout and then fouled Devin Booker himself prior to heading to the bench in defeat. He finished the night with 23 points (6-of-25 FG), 12 rebounds, eight assists, and eight turnovers in a 120-99 loss. Meanwhile, the Suns felt what it’s like to be on the other side of a shameless attempt to reach a milestone.
Nevertheless, Friday was still a historic day for Westbrook. Reaching the triple-double average became a mere formality over the last month, but it’s still important to reflect on what he has accomplished. While there were questions regarding his ability to keep up the pace early in the season, Westbrook never slowed down with the triple-doubles and recently ran off a streak of seven straight (tied for second-longest in NBA history). It’s a mark of Westbrook’s absurd season that the game that ended that streak featured one of his best performances — 45 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds, and several incredible plays in crunch time to get the Thunder a win at the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.
With his triple-double average secured, Westbrook can now move on to breaking Robertson’s record of 41 triple-doubles in the 1961-62 season. He matched that mark on Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately for Russ, Robertson’s rebound and assist averages in that season (12.5 and 11.4, respectively) are well out of reach with so few games left to play.
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