The date was April 9, 2017. Russell Westbrook had recorded 41 triple-doubles during the 2016-17 season. And the team was 45-34, looking to lock in to their playoff spot. Playing a shifty Denver Nuggets bunch, the game was not going to be easy.
Flashback Friday: What A Perfect Ending To A Historic Day
The game went down to the wire, Denver holding on a two-point lead in the final seconds. And at the end of the game, they were able to inbound the ball to Steven Adams. He handed the ball behind him to Westbrook while simultaneously setting a screen on Jamal Murray. Russ gathered the ball and fired it up with one second on the clock. The shot went through the net, giving OKC a shocking 106-105 win.
For the game, Westbrook had a seemingly fake statline. He ended up with 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. This game him his 42st triple-double of the year, passing Oscar Robertson for the most in a single season. The call on the broadcast from PXP man Brian Davis was: “What a perfect ending to a historic day”.
Personally speaking, I will remember that call for the rest of my days. The excitement was palpable. The call from Davis was flawless, Westbrook ending one of the most impressive seasons in NBA history by hitting a crazy game winner.
The entire year for the Thunder was a surprise. They had no second star after Kevin Durant left for Golden State. And Westbrook kept them relevant.
His Teammates Were Not Very Good
On the night of his winner & for the majority of the second half of the year, Russ had virtually no help around him. The other four starters were Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Victor Oladipo and Taj Gibson. Three of those guys had no outside shot to speak of, and really no offensive game whatsoever. And Oladipo was a very inconsistent #2 option for the club.
Victor had signed his extension prior to debuting for the Thunder, but was not long for the club. Domantas Sabonis was a rookie coming off the bench, along with a relatively unknown Semaj Christon. Kyle Singler was still in the rotation at this point, while the highly overpaid backup Enes Kanter was making $18 million to serve as a backup. Rounding out the second unit was Jerami Grant, who was still working on his offensive game to this point.
The fact that Westbrook was able to take this group to a winning record in the regular season is nothing short of incredible. It was almost a miracle, really. KD left him high and dry without saying a word in private, and he comes back by averaging a triple-double and taking home the MVP award.
Norris Cole, Doug McDermott and Alex Abrines were not difference makers at all. When they acquired Paul George from Indiana the ensuing offseason is where things got a little better. But for a year, Russ was playing with a team full of incapable offensive players, averaging 30-11-10.
He Proved That He Could Carry a Team Alone
Nobody expected Durant to just leave and sign with the Warriors team that defeated the Thunder the prior postseason. OKC blew a 3-1, and he decided that after watching the Dub fall short against Cleveland in the finals, that he would go play for them. A move that is still questioned by NBA fans everywhere.
Westbrook clearly didn’t care. OKC got off to a 4-0 start, and began the year an impressive 20-12. They would wind up losing to the Nuggets by six points in the season finale, just four days after the Russ winner.
Even though they lost to the mighty Rockets in five games in the opening round of the playoffs, the Thunder saw three of the defeats come by fewer than seven points. Westbrook ran out of steam, and didn’t have anybody to defer to.
What really matters about this OKC team, is that we saw the REAL Russell Westbrook. Not the one who was KD’s sidekick. But what he could be all by his lonesome. And that’s the best darn player in the league. Nobody could stop him. He played 81 games. The durability was incredible.
Every single night, you tuned in to watch OKC for this guy. They were must-see TV. A year we won’t ever forget. And his shot against Denver that night, was a thing of beauty. Who else could have gotten a bucket like he did? Almost nobody. Maybe Steph Curry. Maybe Damian Lillard. That would be it.
Thank You for Reading
Well, you’ve made it to the end! Thank you for reading. I’ve been enjoying putting these Flashback Friday pieces together in recent weeks, as a nice form of reminiscing.
I hope that the nostalgia you were craving could be met by reading this. Plenty more to come. I’m just getting started.