In that setting, he has flourished. On Saturday night, Westbrook recorded the 181st triple-double of his career, tying NBA legend Oscar Robertson’s record set in 1974.
The milestone came with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter of an eventful, 133-132 overtime win at the Indiana Pacers that gave the Wizards sole possession of ninth place in the Eastern Conference — a victory Westbrook earned at the free throw line by hitting two shots after getting fouled shooting a fadeaway jumper with one second to play. He then had a game-saving block on the next possession.
Fittingly, Bradley Beal helped Westbrook reach the record by scoring the bucket that gave Westbrook his 10th assist. The point guard finished with 33 points, 19 rebounds and 15 assists.
“Each season on this journey I try to find ways to be a better player, competitor overall,” Westbrook said. “I take a lot of pride in doing everything that impacts winning, as much as I can leave it on the floor. To be in a conversation with Oscar, one, I want to just thank him because he set the stage. He sacrificed a lot of things for us to be able to go out and play, and the times he played in and the things he was able to do back in the day has allowed me to be able to do things I want to do today. Just grateful for him, grateful for his words and appreciative of his support, as well.”
Beal had a milestone game himself despite finishing it on the sideline after he rolled his ankle early in the third quarter and tweaked his hamstring. After a brief spell in the locker room, Beal notched the fifth 50-point game of his career with his parents, who made the drive from St. Louis, in the crowd.
The Wizards said he has a left hamstring strain and will be evaluated Sunday.
But the night, unquestionably, belonged to Westbrook. It was his 35th triple-double this season, evidence of the mad urgency with which Westbrook, 32, is playing as the year winds down. His tenure in Washington began with a torn quadriceps that greatly hindered his play, but since healing he has led the Wizards on a late push for a spot in the Eastern Conference’s play-in tournament.
Westbrook has 25 triple-doubles in Washington’s 34 games since the all-star break. Entering Saturday, the rest of the NBA had combined for 38 triple-doubles in that span.
“It’s something that I don’t think will ever be broken,” backup point guard Ish Smith said. “I’m sure Oscar thought the same thing.”
For his lofty station in NBA history, Westbrook is often knocked for not having made it past the second round of the playoffs since his partnership with Kevin Durant ended in Oklahoma City. But with the Wizards, his triple-doubles have made all the difference.
The win Saturday moved Washington into the more desirable No. 9 spot in the East’s play-in tournament, meaning it would host a matchup against the 10th seed. The team is 1½ games behind Charlotte for the eighth seed.
The Wizards and Hornets meet in the regular season finale May 16, but Charlotte owns the tiebreaker.
“It’s huge — where we were? Where we were, I know you guys ask me how I put up a good face. It was challenging at times,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re putting ourselves in play-in position. . . . We just want to keep playing good basketball moving into it. If we keep moving up, that’d be great.”
Though his uncanny ability to churn out triple-doubles will be his legacy, Westbrook wasn’t always so prolific. Standing just 6-foot-3, he has had to fine-tune his sense of timing and lean on his forceful athleticism to compete at the rim with forwards and centers who are often six inches taller or greater. He had just eight triple-doubles over his first six seasons before he perfected his signature achievement.
Asked how he steadily nudged his rebounding numbers into double-figures over the years, Westbrook — outfitted in a royalty-purple sport coat for his postgame news conference — gave a simple answer.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just go get it.”
This season is the fourth of his past five in which he has averaged a triple-double — he was averaging 21.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 11.4 assists ahead of Saturday’s contest. He became the first player since Robertson to accomplish such a feat in 2016-17, the season he was voted league MVP.
“You saw that record, you just thought it would never be touched,” Brooks said. “I grew up following the game so much — a high-level point guard gets five rebounds, six rebounds, maybe. Fat Lever, he probably had seven or eight, Magic [Johnson] probably had eight or nine. For him to tie [Robertson’s] record, with a chance to break it, is just absolutely incredible. That’s Russell; he’s an incredible player and person.”
As for who might threaten Westbrook’s status, NBA fans may be waiting a long time. The closest active player to Westbrook’s mark is LeBron James, who has 99 triple-doubles. James Harden is next with 58. Nikola Jokic has 56, and Luka Doncic, widely considered the candidate most likely to one day pass Westbrook, has 35 as his third NBA season soon comes to a close.
But for now — at least until Monday when the Wizards visit the Atlanta Hawks and he has a chance to claim the record for himself — Westbrook has only one equal.
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