Sports

The Case Against the Russell Westbrook Triple-Double Watch: Russell Westbrook

If Dominique Wilkins was the Human Highlight Reel, Russell Westbrook is the Human Montage.
February 10, 2017, 4:02pm

An annoying theory for you: the Russell Westbrook Triple-Double Watch™ Presented by Mountain Dew makes it harder to appreciate Russ himself. There is no player in the NBA more tied to the instant, no one who needs so little context to thrill. He runs like a brush fire and throws passes like blow darts and leaves his palm print on the rim. So while the triple-double sums up his all-fronts game, it also puts that game at a remove. Contesting a three-pointer then sprinting to the rim then out-jumping three 7-footers to grab the rebound closer to the bottom corner of the JumboTron than the top corner of the backboard becomes "his eighth rebound of the night." Only two to go!

Thursday night in Oklahoma City, the Thunder beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 118-109. Pregame speculation held that the Cavs, coming off a game the night before, might sit their Big 3, but they didn't. Westbrook played like he didn't care either way. He did everything he usually does—which is to say, everything. Under his almost singlehanded direction, a close fourth-quarter margin became a sizable OKC lead. And yes, he got a triple-double, his 26th of the season: 29 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists.

In keeping with the spirit of Russ, though, let's forget the tallying and focus on the particular. One crunch-time stretch was made in large part of Westbrook's famous pull-up jumper. You know how it goes: he heads straight for someone's chest with actual steam coming out of his ears, knees churning and elbows sharp, and then all of a sudden he's a few feet in the air and straight up and down and you could set a saucer on his head. The shot usually drops at about the moment his flinching defender re-opens his eyes.

With half a quarter left and the game tied at 99, Westbrook came off an Adams screen, stopped at the elbow, and lifted his jumper over the helping Tristan Thompson, off the glass, and in. It was the first of four near identical plays. The next trip down, Westbrook victimized Thompson again, not needing the backboard this time; then he kind of corkscrew-pivoted around Kyrie Irving for another and, finally, treated poor Kyle Korver as if he wasn't even there. When the Cavs wised up and sent extra help, Westbrook hopped back and slung a pass to Steven Adams for a layup, and what had been a tie game two minutes earlier was an eight-point advantage.

Look, he was just taking what the Cleveland defense gave him. I have no doubt that, had Thompson hedged too hard somewhere during that stop-and-pop run, Westbrook would have gone right around him for the dunk. But it looked for all the world as if Russ was trying to shift the focus from the sums of his approach to its particulars. Westbrook is a living montage, scoring and passing and rebounding seemingly all at once, covering twice as much court in half as much time as everybody else. For a little while on Thursday, he deigned to repeat himself, if only to remind basketball fans how good they really have it.