OKLAHOMA CITY -- With a rebound off an air ball with nine minutes left in the third quarter Wednesday, Russell Westbrook added another historic bullet point to his résumé, becoming the first player to average a triple-double in multiple seasons.
"I'm very, very thankful and blessed to go out and compete," Westbrook said. "Like I've said many, many times, I don't take this game for granted, I don't take going on the floor competing for granted, and God got something planned for me, man, nobody can stop it, and I always continue to follow his faith and stay faithful and stay strong and continue to do what I'm doing."
Westbrook entered the Oklahoma City Thunder's final two games with the tall task of needing 34 rebounds to round his average up to 10. He hauled in 18 against the Miami Heat on Monday and a career-high 20 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday as the Thunder won 137-123 to finish the season 48-34, securing the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
"We watch him at practice, we watch it on a nightly basis," Paul George said. "He's got to pass it to somebody to get those assists. So, you know, we feel a part of it, but a lot of it, we can't take credit for. A lot of it is him having that mindset on a nightly basis that he's going to give everything to this game. And it shows."
Westbrook needed just 22 minutes to grab the required 16 rebounds, snaring eight in the opening 11 minutes and hitting double figures before halftime. He went to the break with a stat line of one point, 11 rebounds and 12 assists and hauled in five more boards in the opening three minutes of the third quarter. Early in the quarter, a loose-ball rebound bounced a few times and Carmelo Anthony ran it down, turning around to yell "Russ!" with a big smile. Westbrook finished with 6 points, 20 rebounds and 19 assists, marking only the second time in his career he has missed a triple-double because of points.
"Unbelievable, man," Westbrook said of his teammates' support. "A great group of guys from last year, and this year, the support, everything they've done for me, I don't take it for granted. I try to make their jobs easier as much as possible, they make my job easy as well, and we're going to continue to keep this thing going."
After Westbrook grabbed the 16th board, the crowd erupted in a standing ovation, and Westbrook's teammates applauded. Westbrook looked up at the board and gave a quick nod to the crowd.
"It's amazing last year everybody tracked it, and this year nobody did," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "I think it speaks to his greatness as a player. The fact that he can impact the game in a lot of different ways, it's incredible to be able to do that for two consecutive seasons. Maybe because of Oscar Robertson, it was so long before somebody was able to do that. What was really amazing to me, that even if he didn't get the 16 rebounds, the fact that he was that close again, in the second year, was amazing to me."
Westbrook finished the regular season with averages of 25.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists. Last year, Westbrook became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double. Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists in 1961-62, setting a standard many considered unreachable in the modern era.
"I always fight getting used to it," said Nick Collison, who has played with Westbrook for 10 seasons. "The stuff he does is amazing, I've seen a lot from him, and I want to really appreciate how good of a player he is and the production he's had these last two years. And it's not just that; I'm not too much into the statistics, to me they're amazing, but to me, I've seen him put an organization on his back and lead the organization through a tough time. The way he's able to show up every night and produce and lead the team, it has really been fun."
Westbrook pushed back against the stat-padding narrative that has built around him over the past year after shootaround Wednesday morning.
"A lot of people make jokes about whatever, stat-padding or going to get rebounds," Westbrook said in an answer largely unrelated to the question that was asked. "If people could get 20 rebounds every night, they would. If people could get 15 rebounds, they would. People that's talking or saying whatever they need to say, they should try doing it and see how hard it is.
"Since everybody wants to be talking, I'm tired of hearing the same old rebound this, stealing rebounds, all this s---. I take pride in what I do. I come out and play, and I get the ball faster than someone else gets to it. That's what it is. If you don't want it, I'm gonna get it. Simple as that."
Westbrook said Wednesday that a lot of his focus with rebounding is to snare the ball and use his speed to instantly start transition opportunities for the Thunder. On multiple rebounds Wednesday, he either kicked ahead for a dunk or found a teammate for an open 3.
"The game will tell you what you need to do," Westbrook said. "Getting loose rebounds, loose balls, getting on the break is something that's very, very beneficial to our team and something that in my opinion you can't stop, getting a rebound, pushing out, getting it up quick, because you can't scout for that. And it's something that's great for our team."