TORONTO -- Kevin Durant is asked about Russell Westbrook a lot -- about the triple-doubles, about the absurd athletic displays and about the punishing dunks. He sticks to pretty much the same line: He's not surprised. He has seen that for the past seven years.
After Westbrook followed his own missed free throw in the fourth quarter Monday with a one-handed putback layup in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 119-100 win over the Toronto Raptors, Durant put both hands on his head. Even he was stunned this time.
"That was unreal," Durant said. "You've got to time that right, and you've just got to be as athletic as him. There's only a few ... "
Durant stopped himself.
"Well, I don't know if there's anybody in the league that can do that," he said. "You've got to make the free throw, but I'll take the two points and the acrobatic play instead. But yeah, he's a freak of nature, man."
There aren't many ways to describe Westbrook anymore. "Freak of nature" seems to do just fine, but that might not be adequate. Billy Donovan has coached Westbrook for only 74 games and has already run out of superlatives.
"Yeah, that was pretty remarkable, pretty remarkable," Donovan said. "It was a heck of a play."
He searched for something to add: "I've said this before, but I'm more impressed the way he jumps in the morning than I am at any other point in time in the day."
The putback was the standout play for Westbrook in what has become a nightly crescendo of highlights for the supernova point guard. He notched his 16th triple-double of the season -- 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists -- which ties him with Fat Lever for second most in a season over the past 30 years. With eight games to go, Westbrook is just one off Magic Johnson's record of 17.
It's an amazing thing for a triple-double to seem routine, but that's what Westbrook has done. For some guys, it's a career accomplishment to get one -- remember Andray Blatche running all over the court chasing rebounds a few years ago? -- so is it even meaningful to Westbrook anymore?
"It's something I never take for granted," he said, "but I like winning."
That's what the Thunder do when Westbrook notches a triple-double. They're now 16-0 in such games this season. They have also ripped off eight straight wins by an average margin of 17.1 points, with seven of those wins coming against playoff teams. The Thunder are hitting their stride as they gear up for the playoffs and are peaking with eight games left in the regular season. It has been the goal all season under Donovan to work toward a bigger picture, a "better brand of basketball," as everyone in the organization likes to say.
Just a few weeks ago, the Thunder hit rock bottom when they lost eight of 12 coming out of the All-Star break. That streak was punctuated by blown fourth-quarter leads and head-shaking losses to bad teams. The message internally was to stick with it, to believe they were playing well, despite the results, and trust it would pay off. It appears that it has.
"I tried to tell you guys that when we were going through it, but it was kind of blinded with the fourth-quarter losses and back-to-back losses. But I tried to tell you guys," Durant said. "Glad you see it now. It was good to kind of figure ourselves out and what we need to do. It was kind of like a splash of water on your face -- just knowing you've got to wake up and know the second half of the season is important."
Donovan also offered his take.
"I think sometimes you've got to go through some wounds and some scars and some hurt," the coach said. "You've got to get calloused a little bit. I think as you go through a season, you've got to get calloused. Sometimes, the harder and the more difficult the struggle, the more calloused you get, the more hardened you get. I think the more you have a chance to learn and grow -- I've said this about this team -- I don't think it ever needs to be easy for them. It's got to be hard."
Confidence is dripping off the Thunder right now, as evidenced by the 48 minutes of swagger they dropped on the Raptors on Monday. They didn't just beat the East's No. 2 team. They pummeled Toronto. There was no answer for Durant, who had 34 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. And there sure wasn't an answer for Westbrook, whose perpetual war on the box score continued.
Maybe we should've seen it coming. At Monday's shootaround, Westbrook was asked about Toronto coach Dwane Casey saying the Raptors needed to "build a wall" and send two guys at him.
"Well, you better get a third one," Westbrook said.
There was an awkward pause, as everyone seemed to expect Westbrook to say something like, "But seriously ... " and continue. Instead, Westbrook let out a wry smile, clearly pleased with his answer, and left it there.
Mic dropped, it seemed. Really, though, that didn't happen until there was 3:15 left in the game, when Westbrook subbed out with the Thunder up by 23.