When the media finally gained entry to witness the final moments of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s shootaround on Thursday morning at Air Canada Centre, Russell Westbrook was already luxuriating on a bench at the far end of the court, a large bag of ice taped to both knees.
Even at rest there are no half measures for this bulldog of a point guard, whose team was in Toronto to play the Raptors on Thursday night.
At the appointed time, Westbrook discarded the ice, threw on a pair of grey sweats, slipped his stocking feet into a pair of sandals bearing his personal “Why Not?” slogan and shuffled over to speak briefly to reporters.
Westbrook is having a season of seasons, attempting to become the second player in NBA history, alongside the fabled Oscar Robertson, to average a triple-double in points, assists and rebounds in the regular season.
Robertson achieved his milestone in 1961-62, so you can see this achievement does not roll around very often.
Even still, there are those who are sniffing that Westbrook’s run toward renown is not worthy of the league’s most-valuable-player honours, that a more deserving recipient would be Houston’s James Harden.
Certainly that was the opinion voiced earlier in the week by Stephen Curry, the two-time MVP of the Golden State Warriors who opined his vote would go to Harden because Harden has helped lead the Rockets to a better overall record than the Thunder.
“I don’t care,” Westbrook said when asked about Curry’s viewpoint. “It don’t matter what he say. Who’s he?”
Westbrook prefers to do his talking on the court and in that regard he was downright chatty Thursday night as he dutifully recorded his 34th triple-double of the season as the Thunder (39-29) easily subdued the Raptors (39-29) 123-102.
Utilizing a swift offensive attack that featured pinpoint passing that often left the Raptors standing around mesmerized, Westbrook rose for 24 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds to help dismantle Toronto in what was generally a ragged affair: Westbrook’s assists were more than the entire Toronto total of 15.
Westbrook secured his triple-double by the third quarter, when the Thunder overwhelmed the Raptors by a margin of 39-22 to take a commanding 97-70 lead into the fourth quarter, where Westbrook didn’t even have to get off the bench.
DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 22 points in this sad affair, in which the Raptors allowed the Thunder to shoot at a 55.6-per-cent clip through the first three quarters to drown the chances of the home side.
Right after the game, the Raptors hustled over to the airport for the short flight to Detroit, where they will try to regroup against the Pistons on Friday night.
Westbrook has been the talk of the NBA this season, piling up triple-double after triple-double on a near nightly basis, not missing a beat after running mate Kevin Durant bolted in free agency to the Warriors. Westbrook arrived in Toronto averaging a league-leading 34.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.3 assists.
To put that in perspective, Harden is Westbrook’s nearest triple-double rival this year with 16, while LeBron James has 10. As for the Raptors, the injured Kyle Lowry has counted the team’s only triple-double of the year, on Feb. 5 against the Brooklyn Nets.
While Toronto coach Dwane Casey is not about to let himself to be drawn into any talk about who he thinks is the league’s deserving MVP, his admiration for Westbrook is sky-high.
“He’s a freak of nature,” Casey said earlier in the week when discussing Westbrook’s merits. “He’s just continuous, coming at you with the same spirit, the same force. You wait for him to take a night off and he doesn’t. He just continues to come at you, come at you.
“And you’re waiting for him to run out of energy but he’s just one of those players. Gary Payton was the same way. Every night you’d know what you were going to get out of Gary Payton. And the same with Westbrook, he’s coming out to try to take your spirit every time he walks on the floor.”
Westbrook was relatively quiet in the opening quarter but it hardly mattered with the loose fashion in which the Raptors approached their defensive duties. OKC opened up a 29-24 lead after connecting on 54.2 per cent (13-of-24) of its shots.
The Raptors looked even more bewildered on defence in the second quarter, in which Oklahoma was able to extend its lead to 58-48 by the half. Westbrook began to warm up, scoring 10 points and six assists in the frame.
In the third quarter, Westbrook dished off his 14th helper, timing his pass perfectly to send towering centre Steven Adams loping toward the iron for a big one-handed dunk that provided the Thunder with their biggest lead of the game to that stage at 75-60.
The quarter concluded with the Thunder leading 97-70.Report Typo/Error
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