About halfway through the third quarter, I was knee-deep in Basketball Reference, frantically trying to understand what Russell Westbrook accomplished. Somehow, in only 21 minutes on the floor, he registered a triple-double (13 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists), making it the second fastest recorded ever in NBA history (Jim Tucker, 17 minutes in 1955).
That’s how crazy it was. Westbrook did something that required Elias to dig up the name Jim Tucker from 1955.
Westbrook had eight assists in the opening six minutes, then 11 at halftime. The Thunder were taking the hapless 76ers to task, as expected, but Westbrook’s electric performance was popping eyes, and sending us all to the Google machine.
Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Kevin Durant suddenly had 42 points on 14-20 shooting after three quarters. Always the silent destroyer, Durant slipped in the backdoor to put up his 10th 40-point game of the season in just 33 minutes. Durant lit Philly for 21 in the third, putting him in a tantalizing position to maybe try and nab a little of the sports chatter away from LeBron James and his absurd 61-point night put up 24 hours ago.
Instead, with an opportunity to send a response to buzz the sports world, Durant sat the rest of the game.
“I follow the league, I watch a lot of games, I saw [LeBron's] game. It was a phenomenal game,” Scott Brooks said. “I don’t judge other teams what they do. Kevin had a special game. There’s no question. He had 42 points. If he would’ve made his free throws he would’ve had a chance for 50. It’s his fault. I would’ve ran one more play for him to get 50 if he would’ve made his six free throws.
“But I don’t do that,” Brooks said of playing his starters in a blowouts. “Not that I’m complaining. We had a 22-point lead. And I thought the game was comfortable in our favor.”
It’s nothing new for the Thunder. Durant’s work was done for the night, the game was essentially over. (Heck, against the Sixers, it was really over after the first Thunder bucket, but I digress.) Unless there’s a need for him to remain on the floor, Durant sits in these situations. It would’ve been fun for him to have at least maybe played the first four or five minutes and tried to put up the 50 spot. We all wanted that sort of thing. As fans and observers, the individual back-and-forth is just the kind of stuff we salivate over.
But that’s just not his, or the Thunder’s style. As I’m sure you recall, with his 30-point streak creating a national stir, Durant happily sat the final 12 minutes in Brooklyn, letting the run expire on his own accord. It’s an organizational philosophy and despite the assured temptation to try and raise LeBron one, Durant was never going to step foot on the floor in the fourth.
“We trust our bench. We trust those guys. Scotty is one of those guys, if they’ve got the game, there’s no need for us to put the starters back in. And I’ve been on board with that for three years now,” Durant said. “I’ve sat out, starters sat out at least 20 fourth quarters last year. You know, it really doesn’t matter, man. We just play to win. That’s all we say. We play to win. We had a nice lead going into the fourth and we trust, Reggie, Lamb, CB now, Fish, Nick to keep the lead. If they would’ve went on a nice little run, I’m sure coach would’ve put us back in. But I think we had the game.”
That’s the thing about this. With Durant’s starpower, he has the kind of pull to probably make the kind of demands to remain in the game. If he truly wanted to chase a number tonight while humiliating the pathetic 76ers, he probably could’ve forced his way back on the floor for a few minutes. But he wasn’t begging.
“He’s not?” Brooks joked. “Kevin just wants to win. I love his spirit. Love it. I believe in how he plays the game, how he approaches the game. And I’m fortunate enough to get to coach him and see it every day. He loves playing the game. If he wants to lead the NBA in scoring the next 10 years, he could do that. If wanted to lead it last year, he probably could’ve done that. He wants to win. He’s more looking at 46 wins instead of the 42 points he ended up with.
“I don’t think I would’ve done that, though,” Brooks said. “I would’ve tried to go for 50.”
And you know what, Scotty? Against this Sixers team, you probably could’ve.
- So, does this all count? Or is there some asterisk that goes with it all?
- About Westbrook. That was absurdly absurd. He had eight assists in less than six minutes, and reached 10 without scoring a point. He was firing one-handed bounce passes all over the floor, snapping no-look fireballs to open shooters and controlling the game like he was the world’s greatest point guard. It was incredible. Yes, blah blah blah, it was against the Sixers. But man, that was crazy stuff.
- Durant on Westbrook: “Yeah I would like to take all the credit for that one. Because I told him to try and get 20 assists, and that’s what he did. He made everybody better tonight. He was moving the basketball, he was aggressive to the rim. I think that’s why everybody got open, was because of his aggressiveness. He just set the tone for us.”
- Westbrook on if he was trying to pass first tonight: “I just play off my instincts, man. I never come in trying to shoot first, pass first, rebound first. Just come in, play off instincts. Some guys help, I hit ‘em. If they don’t, I keep going.”
- Westbrook on registering the second fastest triple-double in NBA history: “It’s crazy, man. I’m just trying to get my groove back. Blessed to be able to do that in such a short amount of time.”
- Westbrook was asked if he’s trying to prove anything to himself in getting back: “Just being smarter. That’s about it. I’m just trying to learn the game. I’ve sat out enough to be able to learn and see different things. And every game is different. My job as a point guard is to learn the game, and find ways to keep us winning.”
- One thing that bugged me tonight: So many people on Twitter and such were like, “OMG Westbrook finally passed!?!?” You know the last person in franchise history to have eight assists in a quarter? Russell Westbrook. You can’t stop stupid on social media, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still annoying.
- Oh yeah, Caron Butler made his debut. And when he walked on the floor, he received a superstars welcome, hearing a wild 30-second standing ovation. It was long enough that I thought to myself, “OK everyone, it’s just Caron Butler, you know.” On that he said, “That was unbelievable. I didn’t expect that. I was just excited to be out there playing … it felt like being at UConn again.”
- Butler: “Whatever role they need me to play, I’m accepting and I’m ready for it.”
- More Butler: “You know, I haven’t won in a month. So it felt good to get this win.”
- Butler played 26 minutes and hit 1-4 from the field for two points, with five rebounds an assist, a steal and a block. Not an extremely impactful run, but a lot of it had to do with how little he saw of the ball. He did seem to fit rather effortlessly. Which is a positive. Never tried to force the issue.
- The two games it’s happened against, he really wasn’t matched up with anyone all that dangerous, but I kind of like this look of Perry Jones starting at 2-guard. He was really good tonight scoring 12 on 4-6 shooting with six rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
- OK, this is eating me up, so I have to mention it: Last night, the Heat led the Bobcats 98-79 after three quarters. LeBron started the fourth and played until the 1:27 mark. Tonight, the Thunder led the 76ers 98-76 after three quarters. Durant started the fourth on the bench and never re-entered. Obviously not all games are created equal and the Bobcats >>>> the 76ers, but I do think it’s at least somewhat interesting to compare the two approaches.
- Hasheem Thabeet’s midrange jumper was basically the signal that the 76ers season has now officially ended.
- I just don’t know what to think about Jackson. In the second quarter with a lineup of him, Lamb, Fisher, Butler and Collison, Jackson became a massive ballstopping hog, dribbling out possessions while stagnating out the offense. It seemed like the idea was to get Butler a few looks, but he didn’t really even get a touch. KD during the timeout walked up to Jackson and told him to move it, but he walked by him, ignoring Durant completely.
- Each missed free throw for KD is just one step further back from the chance at 50-40-90.
- Jeremy Lamb: 14 minutes, seven points, 3-8 shooting. I’m concerned.
- That 2-for-1 Russ went for before halftime. From 30 feet, without any rebounders under the bucket. And he makes it. Russssssss.
- On the board in OKC’s locker room, they have the opposing roster listed out with matchups and such. On it for the Sixers, they had “Mullins.” Ouch.
- I don’t know if Brett Brown is going to be a good coach or not, but man, that dude is intense. His pregame Q&A was five minutes longer than Brooks’, and his is the 15-win team if you remember. He gave long-winded answers about every player he was asked about, probably knowing full well that guys like Henry Sims might not be around much longer.
- Pregame, Nerlens Noel came into the media dining area to eat. It was kind of weird. But he also has played as much this season as I have, so we’re basically the same.
- Remember when Eric Maynor played the whole fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Western Finals while Westbrook sat? Man. Feels like that happened 25 years ago.
- Legit had never heard of Lorenzo Brown until tonight.
- The garbage time unit on the floor for the Thunder, three of them would start for the Sixers currently, right? Outside of Thad Young, and probably Carter-Williams, you’d take OKC’s mop-up crew I think.
- Thabo Sefolosha walked through the locker room pregame on crutches, though he wasn’t really using them much.
- The Heat fell to the Rockets tonight, and LeBron didn’t play all that well. Wonder if he wishes he didn’t play the entire fourth quarter last night. Hashtag, the salt, I have it.
Next up: At the Suns on Thursday