During Kevin Durant's month-long evisceration of the NBA earlier this season, many observers wondered how the MVP candidate would respond once Russell Westbrook returned to the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup. As Durant thrived with Westbrook recovering from knee surgery, the idea was floated that OKC might even have been better without their second star in the lineup. This suggestion was more than a little crazy. At his best, Westbrook is one of the most explosive, best offensive players in the league.
On Tuesday night, Westbrook proved again just how dynamic he can be. In a now-standard 125-92 blowout of the lowly Philadelphia 76ers — their 15th loss in a row — Westbrook became a part of NBA history with the second-fastest triple-double ever. Grabbing his 10th rebound with 3:55 left in the third quarter to go along with 13 points and 14 assists, Westbrook achieved the mark in 21 minutes of play. Only one player has ever done it faster — Jim Tucker of the Syracuse Nationals, who did it in just 17 minutes in 1955.
A triple-double is in many ways a statistical oddity, not necessarily a mark of the best game possible, and the Sixers obviously do not present the greatest challenge ever at this stage of the season. Nevertheless, what Westbrook did is pretty amazing. He dished out eight assists in the first 6:34 of the first quarter, didn't score at all until the final two minutes of the first half, and added a somewhat unnecessary 29-foot three-pointer for good measure. It's almost as if he was toying with the Sixers, although his post-game quotes suggest otherwise. From Cliff Brunt for the Associated Press:
''I never go in looking to shoot first, pass first, rebound first,'' he said. ''I just come in and play off instincts.''
Those instincts are usually pretty strong. While Westbrook can be prone to bad decisions, that risk-taking is also what makes him so effective. Durant may have played at a career-best level while his co-star was out, but it's apparent that Westbrook raises the Thunder's ceiling and remains essential to their hopes of winning a title this June. OKC has some work to do to figure things out — they're just 3-3 since Westbrook's return — but reintegrating such a talented player is a problem any team would be lucky to have.
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