OKLAHOMA CITY -- With 2:13 left, Russell Westbrook unlatched his mask and walked to the Thunder bench, sitting on 29 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists. A simple rebound away from the required round number to give him his eighth triple-double of the season, and his sixth in his last eight games.
The Thunder were enjoying an impressive blowout over the young Minnesota Timberwolves, and Westbrook was going to be left to watch the final couple of minutes a single rebound short. That's when he took matters into his own hands. He looked over at the Thunder's official scorekeepers, holding his arm up.
"Tip?" he said, nodding his head. "Tip?"
A quick conference at the scorer's table and right around the time the buzzer sounded on the Thunder's 113-99 win, Westbrook suddenly had his triple-double: 29 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. His eighth of the season, sixth in the last eight games, and the first player since Jason Kidd in 2007-08 to have eight or more in a season (Kidd had 13).
The rebound appears to be a tad dubious, an offensive board awarded with 2:35 left where Westbrook went up to tip back a missed 3-point attempt by D.J. Augustin. Westbrook was given a missed shot on it, so everything is on the up and up, but still, hard not to raise an eyebrow.
So, was he campaigning for the rebound or what?
"Uhh, no," Westbrook said.
"No," he said, unleashing a trademark glare.
It's easy to understand why Westbrook might be sensitive to the perception he was stat-conscious, with so many wild stereotypes and accusations still somehow flying around about him. Despite historic, brilliant, breathtaking, glorious play, he can't shake certain critics. He wanted that triple-double, no question about it, and what's so wrong with that?
The Thunder were handling business in a blowout, and Westbrook had played another impressive part in getting them there.
The idea is that stat-padding breeds selfishness, a label Westbrook already battles against, but his play actually separates the two things entirely. The stats are a means to the end, a necessity in winning. Westbrook is single-minded when it comes to winning, and with that in the bag on Friday, there's nothing wrong with wanting another bullet point added to the growing MVP resume.
Because while an extra "10" in the box score is pretty arbitrary, it means a lot when you start talking history. Westbrook became only the fourth player in the last 30 years to record six triple-doubles in a season with at least 25 points (LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson). As he continues to build an MVP case, that's another feather in his cap. And we can't act as if individual accolades don't matter. It's all part of the game, and Westbrook knows how to compartmentalize and separate that from the bottom line.
Westbrook actually nearly had a quadruple-double with eight turnovers, giving him an eye-popping 27 over his last three games. It has been a stat that has sort of been glossed over because of how much he's doing for the Thunder, along with how he's giving the ball away. It's not really the classic out-of-control Westbrook that's barreling down the lane and leaving his feet with no plan. It's forced pocket passes, soft post-entry passes, unselfish extra passes fired at point-blank range.
"I do know one thing, I know I need to stop turning the ball over. I can tell you that much," Westbrook said, unprompted. "It's so frustrating, trying [to] find and make passes and turn the ball [over], but at the same time, we won, so I'll go back to the drawing board and take care of it."
See, Westbrook's stat-consciousness isn't limited to the good stuff. He's a player that takes responsibility, and can divide the good from the bad. His best attribute is also sometimes his greatest weakness; in playing with such an unyielding disposition, he doesn't know how or when to stop, for better or for worse. He keeps coming, and coming, and coming.
"I just takes notes on what he's doing and what it takes to get where he's at right now," Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins said. "He works hard. He's competitive. He's a great player. I just truly watch him. He's always in attack mode. He never takes a play off. He's always improving his game."
The running misconception with Westbrook's recent stretch is that he's mutated into something bigger and better. But really, he's just playing the current role required of him. He has taken on full leadership of the Thunder, helping integrate a slew of new pieces. Enes Kanter is at the heart of that, a new toy with impressive skill that Westbrook is taking full advantage of.
"I'm pretty new here and not just me, there are three guys that are new here," Kanter said. "He just helps us out on the court and off. He's the leader of this team right now and it isn't just me, he's trying to help everyone on the team. He's trying to get everybody on the same page. I think he's doing a really great job."
Westbrook might've been trying to use his influence to persuade the hometown scorekeepers to grant him another rebound, but all that really was, was the payoff for another brilliant, dominant performance. It was a little lighthearted fun to cap an important Thunder win, a game that ties them with the New Orleans Pelicans for eighth in the West (though the Pelicans own the tiebreaker).
And if it's a silly rebound to round off a number that's necessary to fully appreciate what Westbrook is doing, then that's on us, not him.