Russell Westbrook gets his triple-double, but Kawhi Leonard also makes an MVP case in a Spurs win

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Ben Rohrbach
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Russell Westbrook always attacks. (AP)
Russell Westbrook always attacks. (AP)

Russell Westbrook was heading for another statement night in his quest to average a triple-double and capture the league’s MVP honor, and then the San Antonio Spurs quite literally snatched it away.

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Two nights after blowing a 22-point lead against the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs erased a 21-point Thunder advantage, taking their first lead in the final minute. LaMarcus Aldridge’s block of Westbrook with 10 seconds remaining nullified his game-winning shot at redemption, and Kawhi Leonard took the ensuing loosing ball coast to coast for a three-point play that sealed a 100-95 win.

The Spurs (58-17) and Thunder (43-32) remained in second and sixth place in the West, respectively.

Two games after capping a triple-double with a game-winner against the Dallas Mavericks and one game after clinching a playoff spot with the highest-scoring triple-double ever, Westbrook logged his triple-double midway through the fourth quarter against the Spurs. He finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists in defeat, recording his fourth straight triple-double and 39th of the season — just two shy of Oscar Robertson’s single-season record of 41 with seven games remaining.

Prior to Friday night’s game, Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen — the same guy who played 11 seasons alongside Michael Jordan on the Chicago Bulls — declared Westbrook’s season the greatest ever:

Then, Robertson endorsed Westbrook in the NBA’s tight MVP race in a conversation with ESPN.com:

“I think it’s Westbrook. That’s what I really think. Because years ago it was tough to win an MVP because it was based on winning championships, and [Bill] Russell with the Celtics — they dominated,” Oscar, ever the grouch, told Andy Katz from the Final Four on Friday. “But one year, Wilt [Chamberlain] averaged 50 points a game and 29 rebounds and me a triple-double, but Bill won because his team advanced and we did not.

“It’s changed now. A lot of people understand what an MVP means. They understand basketball better than they did years ago.”

Yet, this year’s MVP race may be the most difficult choice since 1962, when Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. The case for Russell then was similar to the one for Leonard now. Russell averaged 18.9 points, 23.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists, while wreaking havoc on the league defensively, finishing a combined 15-5 against Chamberlain’s Warriors and Oscar Robertson’s Royals.

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Westbrook is now averaging 31.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists for the season, and his 32-15-12 against the Spurs brings him one step closer to being the first to average a triple-double since Oscar.

Leonard (25.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.9 steals per game) may not have the eye-popping statistics of Westbrook or Rockets guard James Harden, who was giving two-time returning MVP Stephen Curry all he could handle on Friday night, but the Spurs star has been a defensive stalwart in leading his team to a 7-2 combined record opposite Westbrook, Harden and Cleveland’s LeBron James.

Friday night’s performance will do nothing to silence Leonard’s MVP supporters. He collected 28 points, eight rebounds, three steals, two assists and a pair of blocks in the win over the Thunder. Westbrook shot 3-of-8 from the floor with Leonard as his primary defender, but all three makes came after a screener took Kawhi out of the play. The OKC star finished 0-for-5 with Leonard in the vicinity.

And that final sequence — Westbrook getting stuffed on a game-winning attempt one end and Leonard barreling his way to the game-clincher on the other — is almost an ad for that argument. It’s also the last time we’ll see the two of them on the court together before 2017 MVP votes are cast.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!