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We take it as read, at this point, that Russell Westbrook — he who comes out of three knee surgeries seemingly as explosive as ever; he who continues playing after his face gets dented by a teammate's knee; he who misses one (1) game after having surgery to repair his broken face — is no mere mortal. And yet, as he continues to produce at staggering and statistically unprecedented levels, keeping his Oklahoma City Thunder afloat without its (other) best offensive player and best defensive player, we seem to keep saying to ourselves, "There's no way he can keep this up ... can he?"
On Sunday, the All-Star point guard offered the latest piece of evidence that the answer to the latter question can be found in the former given, albeit with a bit of a caveat — that this particular beast can keep carrying the load if his teammates can lighten the burden just a little bit.
After popping for 30-plus points on 10 separate occasions since the All-Star break, Westbrook had his lowest-scoring full-game outing of the season on Sunday, chipping in just 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting against in a matinee matchup with Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and the Miami Heat. (Westbrook scored only two points in the second game of the Thunder's season, but he left that loss to the Los Angeles Clippers after fracturing a bone in his right hand early in the contest.) It scarcely mattered that he wasn't getting buckets, though, because of how many he got everyone else.
Westbrook tied a career-high — one he's set and matched in the past month — with 17 assists, propelling the Thunder to a 93-75 home win over the Heat that gave Oklahoma City a three-game advantage over the New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. He also pulled down 10 rebounds to go with his dozen points and 17 dimes, marking his second straight triple-double, his eighth since the All-Star break, and his league-leading 10th of the season. The entire rest of the league, by way of comparison, has combined for 27.
As if the air through which Westbrook's been soaring wasn't rare enough already, here's the complete list of players to have logged 10 or more triple-doubles in a season since 1985-86, which is as far back as Basketball-Reference.com's fantastic database goes: Magic Johnson (five times), Larry Bird (twice), Fat Lever (twice), Grant Hill (twice), Jason Kidd (twice), Michael Jordan (once) ... and now Westbrook. Pretty good company, I'd say.
It's especially impressive that Westbrook's rubbing shoulders with so many historic elites considering how few healthy teammates he's running with these days. Without Kevin Durant, without Serge Ibaka, without Nick Collison (sidelined by a sprained ankle) and, after the opening minutes of Sunday's contest, without starting guard Andre Roberson (ditto), Oklahoma City's game-changing marvel just keeps charging forward, pressuring opposing defenses and creating opportunities for those Thunder teammates who are healthy enough to work their way into the fray.
Enes Kanter, back in the lineup after missing Friday's win over the Atlanta Hawks, feasted on Miami's interior defense to the tune of 27 points on 12-for-20 shooting and 12 rebounds; Westbrook notched the direct assist on half of them. Ditto for rookie Mitch McGary, who received Russ helpers on three of his six makes en route to 14 points and eight boards off the bench. Starting center Steven Adams made five shots on Sunday. Westbrook assisted on all of them.
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All told, Oklahoma City made 40 baskets on Sunday. Five of them came during the 14 minutes in which Westbrook was off the floor. (Which, by the way, sounds like something that will become a problem for Scott Brooks' club at some point.) Westbrook made five himself. That means Westbrook directly assisted on 17 of the other 30 Thunder buckets during his time on the floor, an assist rate of 56.7 percent that dwarves even his own league-leading mark (47.8 percent.) I'd say we need to get this dude his own State Farm commercial, but he already wears glasses on his own ... and anyway, I'm not sure Russ would ever go for all that plaid.
Anthony Morrow chipped in 12 points, two rebounds and two steals off the bench for the Thunder, who have gone 17-6 since the start of February. They're tied for the league's second-best record over that stretch with the Cleveland Cavaliers, trailing only the West-leading Golden State Warriors. Despite having Durant for only five of those 23 games, the Thunder boast the NBA's No. 2 offense during that stretch, averaging a scorching 110 points per 100 possessions, just one-tenth of a point-per-100 behind the league-leading Cavs, and the league's fourth-best "net rating," trailing only the Dubs, the Cavs and the surging San Antonio Spurs.
The ball's moving, the points are piling up, the well-fed big men are crashing the boards and doing what they can to protect the paint ... it's not the way Sam Presti and company would've drawn it up, but it's working. As a result, the Thunder have not only a bit of breathing room in the race for the eighth seed, but a not-totally-outside-the-realm-of-possibility shot at catching the Dallas Mavericks, who sit in the seventh slot, four games ahead of OKC, with 12 games remaining.
Sure, the idea of the Thunder going from 3-12 to the No. 7 seed with less than half a season of Durant and without their premier rim protector down the stretch seems crazy. Then again, what about Westbrook's post-All-Star explosion has made sense? At this point, the only sure bet when it comes to the Thunder and their unparalleled point guard seems to be to bank on the unexpected, and to not even bother feigning surprise when the NBA's primary chaos agent calmly rides the tidal wave to his intended destination.
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