BROOKLYN -- Russell Westbrook wasn’t sure exactly what was happening.
On a snowy night in Brooklyn, with the Barclays Center surprisingly filled despite the area being on a winter weather watch, Westbrook’s season-long quest to stuff the stat sheet was met with something strange, considering the hostile venue: Thunderous support.
“They was loud,” Westbrook said after the game. “I thought something had happened. I was wondering why they were so loud? I thought maybe they were giving something out in the crowd or something.”
Westbrook was speaking specifically about the cheers he received with 4:50 left to play, when he grabbed his 10th rebound and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. That rebound assured Westbrook of his 33rd triple-double this season, edging him closer to Oscar Robertson’s single-season record of 40. Westbrook finished the Oklahoma City Thunder's 122-104 win over the Nets with 25 points, 19 assists and 12 rebounds, keeping his season averages just over the triple-double threshold (31.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 10.3 apg).
A lot of things seemed to go Westbrook’s way in Brooklyn. Just before tipoff, Lil Uzi Vert’s “Do What I Want” played over the Barclay Center’s public address system. Westbrook had been sitting on the bench, staring into the distance, but when the song that he memorably danced along to in a Jordan commercial started playing, Westbrook basically re-enacted the ad right there on the bench. (As Russ noted later with a shrug, “They played my song.”)
When Westbrook stepped to the free throw line ninety seconds into the game, an “M-V-P” chant broke out. And on it went all night, with Westbrook drawing consistent cheers from the Brooklyn crowd.
“It’s like half the stadium was fans of his,” said Thunder center Steven Adams. “Which is weird, but … yeah, it’s cool man. It’s cool that’s he’s got a lot of support everywhere, because he’s doing amazing things on the court. He’s getting the recognition he deserves.”
"He told us this morning. Maybe it fired us up, maybe it didn’t, but it’s just one of those things where we really needed to come out and just finish them, because even though it’s a team with a record like Brooklyn, it’s very hard to win on the road regardless of who the team is."
While Westbrook’s MVP candidacy is most often linked to his incredible ability to produce triple-doubles night after night, sometimes it’s the things nobody sees that speak loudest to his value to the Thunder. Heading into the Brooklyn game, the Thunder had lost seven consecutive road games. According to Adams, it was Westbrook who addressed the team to remind them of the losing streak, while stressing the importance of getting the win in Brooklyn.
“I didn’t know it was that many," Adams said. "He told us this morning. Maybe it fired us up, maybe it didn’t, but it’s just one of those things where we really needed to come out and just finish them, because even though it’s a team with a record like Brooklyn, it’s very hard to win on the road regardless of who the team is.”
“As a team, if you want to win a championship you’ve got to win on the road,” Westbrook said. “Regardless of who you play, where you play at, regardless to the situation, whatever it is, you have to win on the road. I made it very, very clear this morning that that was a key for us. We haven’t won on the road, and today was one of those games.”
The victory in Brooklyn pushed the Thunder to 38-29 and helped them maintain the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. The Thunder have 15 games remaining to continue their postseason push. Considering their offseason was started by a soul-crushing loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals, and then the defection of franchise cornerstone Kevin Durant to those Warriors, things are turning out about as well as they could for OKC.
And like the fans in Brooklyn, the Thunder realize and appreciate Westbrook’s unique value.
“It’s unbelievable,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought he had incredible poise tonight. I thought he generated shots for everybody. He made the game easy for everybody. Someone asked me about watching him play all the time; well, what about people who don’t get the chance to see him study the game the way he does, and the work he does getting himself prepared? He just read the game tonight. He put his fingerprints all over the game in so many different ways.”
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