'NBA 2K, on rookie.' The best moments of Russ' road to 100

It was Jan. 20 in Cleveland, and Russell Westbrook stood in the hallway outside the Oklahoma City Thunder locker room taking pictures and signing autographs for fans after an emphatic win over the Cavs. Westbrook was about as electrifying and dominant as he can be, racking up 23 points, 9 rebounds and 20 assists as the Thunder dropped 148 points.

Two teenage boys who had just gotten their photo with Westbrook were jumping up and down exclaiming "I can't believe it!" as their dad pulled the phone down and got Westbrook's attention before he moved on to the next group.

"We were counting those rebounds!" he said. "One more for the triple-double!"

Instead, Westbrook checked out with 3 minutes, 31 seconds remaining, a rebound shy of what would've been his second career 20-10-20 game. Westbrook, who has grown a little exhausted by the triple-double narrative that follows him, politely grinned as he signed a program.

"Next game," he said. "Next game."

That's what it has become for Westbrook: a nightly opportunity to register what would be a career achievement for most players. (Get this: Westbrook has more triple-doubles in his career than 23 of the other 29 active franchises do, ever.)

He didn't really become the triple-double king until the 2014-15 season, when Kevin Durant was injured for most of the year, giving us all a small taste of what Scorched Earth Russ looked like and what was to come; 93 of his 100 have come since the 2014-15 season.

"Damn. I think I've got like two," Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony said. "Just to be a part of something like that ... I don't know, that's working. A hundred triple-doubles, that's working."

Any time there's a hundred of something, there's a lot to choose from, but here are some of the most memorable moments from Westbrook hitting triple-digits on career triple-doubles.

Volume No. 1

Triple-double: No. 1
Game: March 2, 2009 (vs. Mavericks)
Stat line: 17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Maybe it was foreshadowing. Or just fitting. Either way, Westbrook's first triple-double came in his rookie season: 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a 96-87 win over fellow 100-club member Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks, all while Durant was sidelined with an injury. Starting alongside Kyle Weaver, Nenad Krstic, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison, Westbrook led the upstart Thunder.

Collison is the only player still on the team from that first triple-double, and he doesn't remember a thing about it. Or really any of them, for that matter.

"I don't really give a s--- about them," Collison, with a wry smile, said last week.

No Thunder player knows Westbrook better than Collison, who has spent a decade watching him grow from an emotional, out-of-control, relentless rookie hell-bent on proving the world wrong into, well, an emotional, out-of-control, relentless superstar still hell-bent on proving the world wrong. That's Collison's point when he says he doesn't care.

"It's unbelievable what he's been able to produce," Collison said. "But for me, it's more just about him as a player and where we're going as a team. I can't remember individual triple-doubles, but I can remember winning playoff series and big games, stuff like that. I don't want to dismiss them. It's a great achievement, and it is amazing he can affect the game in so many ways. ...

"I [take] back I don't give a s--- about triple-doubles," Collison said with a bigger smile, "but I don't remember them as these big moments. I remember the games and seeing him evolve over the years."

That night against the Mavs was a touchstone moment for Westbrook, too. He didn't take a shot the first five minutes of the game, and despite shooting 6-of-18 from the field, he was the calming force after Dallas started the fourth quarter on a 16-2 run while he sat on the bench. There were a lot of times that first season when it looked like Westbrook might not ever figure things out, but that night in March was a sign of greater things to come.

Merry Christmas

Triple-double: No. 7
Game: Dec. 25, 2013 (at Knicks)
Stat line: 14 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

By Westbrook's standards, it was an unremarkable triple-double: 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a blowout win over the Knicks on Christmas. It was the fifth Christmas Day triple-double in NBA history and, at the time, a big deal. But what made it memorable was that a few hours after the game, Westbrook was on a flight across the country to Los Angeles to undergo a third knee surgery in nine months on his right knee.

It's not surprising that Westbrook would post a triple-double on a knee that needed surgery. The night all the knee trouble started, Game 2 of the 2013 first-round series against the Rockets when Patrick Beverley ran into Westbrook as he called timeout, Westbrook posted 21 of his 29 points in the second half -- on a torn meniscus.

"NBA 2K. On rookie."
Kevin Durant, on Russell Westbrook's 25-20-11 triple-double

"When I was playing on it, I was basically playing on one leg, kind of just hobbling around," Westbrook said of playing after tearing it. "You probably could notice, but kind of just hobbling around just trying to find a way where I can do what I can to help my team win. And at the same time I was in pain."

But after having surgery before the season started to remove a loose stitch, Westbrook was regularly having his knee drained and getting MRIs every month. And a few days before the Thunder played the Knicks, it was scheduled: Westbrook was going to have another surgery, with this one forcing him out almost seven weeks. It seems so far off now, but at the time there was genuine worry about the outlook of Westbrook's career -- if he'd ever be the same again, if he'd be able to maintain his trademark explosiveness and aggression.

The answer was a resounding "yes."

'Good execution'

Triple-double: No. 9
Game: Jan. 16, 2015 (vs. Warriors)
Stat line: 17 points, 15 rebounds, 16 assists

Two things made this one memorable, and they really don't have much to do with the game (a 127-115 win over the Warriors). First, Westbrook showed up to the arena wearing a yellow hoodie and a black ski mask pulled over his face. And second, it was maybe his most famous postgame interview.

After Westbrook posted 17 points, 15 rebounds and 16 assists -- a career-high in dimes at the time -- while dominating a matchup with Stephen Curry, he should have had every reason to be happy. Instead, his postgame availability went like this:

Westbrook: "Execution, I thought we did a good job of executing. ... Did a good job of execution. ... It was good. ... I thought we did a good job executing."

Confused, Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel asked Westbrook whether he was upset about something.

Westbrook: Nah. I just don't like you.

Tramel: You don't?

Westbrook: No.

Tramel: You don't like Nick [Gallo, the Thunder's sideline reporter and writer] either?

Westbrook: I love Nick. I don't like you.

Tramel: Well you gave us about the same answers.

Westbrook: You got another question?

Tramel: You played a great game. ... Is this one of the better games you can think of in your career?

Westbrook: Good execution.

The masked man

Triple-double: No. 14
Game: March 4, 2015 (vs. 76ers)
Stat line: 49 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists

Westbrook took the inbounds pass in the first quarter, and with five dribbles and five seconds, he went all 94 feet to launch from a few steps inside the free throw line and hammer a two-handed dunk. As he landed, he was reaching for his face to adjust his mask and headband.

A few nights before, in Portland (where he had 40-13-11), Westbrook had dented his face -- a literal, actual dent. He had broken his cheekbone, and he underwent surgery to repair it. The Thunder were already without Durant, who was down with his foot injury, so there was no time for Westbrook to rest, dent or not. He sat one game and was back five days later. With a clear plastic mask, Westbrook took the floor against the Philadelphia 76ers and posted 49-15-10 -- his fourth straight triple-double -- in a 123-118 overtime win.

"It was OK," Westbrook said of the mask. "It was weird. Had to keep wiping it. It was a total big process of trying to keep everything from fogging up. That's not going to stop me."

Campaigning for one more

Triple-double: No. 16
Game: March 13, 2015 (vs. Timberwolves)
Stat line: 29 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists

Should Westbrook still be at 99 career triple-doubles?

It was March 13, 2015, against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Westbrook was still wearing the mask, and the Thunder were en route to a blowout win. Westbrook was dominant, and with 2:13 left and the game in hand, he unlatched his mask and walked to the Thunder bench with 29 points, 9 rebounds and 12 assists.

Standing midway between the bench and the scorer's table, Westbrook looked at the official hometown scorekeepers and held his arm up.

"Tip?" he said, nodding. "Tip?"

The scorekeepers had a quick chat, and wouldn't you know it, right around when the final buzzer sounded, the official stats were updated: 29 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. It was Westbrook's eighth triple-double of the season, the most in a season (at the time) since Jason Kidd had 13 in the 2007-08. It was a dubious rebound to be sure, a play in which Westbrook went up to tip back a missed 3 by D.J. Augustin with 2:35 left. It was really just him sort of getting his hand on the ball.

After the game, Westbrook was asked whether he was doing a little campaigning for the rebound. He shot his trademark death glare.

"Uhh, no," he said. Really now?

"No," he said, intensifying the glare. After it was over, he shook his head. "Don't do that. ... Don't do that."

The masterpiece

Triple-double: No. 30
Game: March 9, 2016 (vs. Clippers)
Stat line: 25 points, 11 rebounds, 19 assists

"NBA 2K," is how Durant described it. "On rookie."

The final line: 25 points, 11 rebounds and 19 assists. It's hard to really nail down Westbrook's best game ever because there are a lot to choose from and singling one out over the other is more a matter of personal taste, but this one really was special. It was clinical. It was surgical.

"That's unheard of," Durant said after the game. "Words can't even describe it. Because it looks so effortless and easy and smooth in the game, you don't even know it's going on. Then you look at the stat sheet and he's got 25, [19] and 11.

Half game, half amazing

Triple-double: No. 37
Game: April 11, 2016 (vs. Lakers)
Stat line: 13 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists

Westbrook has flirted with the fastest triple-double in history a number of times, helping Thunder fans become well acquainted with the name Jim Tucker, who previously held the mark before Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic broke it this season. Westbrook has made a habit of speed-running triple-doubles, racking them up often before the fourth quarter even begins.

On April 11, 2016, for the first and only time thus far in his career, he got one in before halftime. With 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, Westbrook became the first player since Kevin Johnson in 1996-97 to record one in the first half, and Westbrook needed just 17 minutes and 35 seconds to pull it off.

Westbrook wouldn't add much else to the statline in the Thunder's blowout win, finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, but history was made.

The (first) 50-pointer

Triple-double: No. 38
Game: Oct. 28, 2016 (vs. Suns)
Stat line: 51 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

It was the second game of the post-Durant era, and with the freedom to run wild, Westbrook seized the opportunity. With 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in an overtime victory over the Suns, Westbrook recorded the first 50-point triple-double since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975.

"It was good," Steven Adams said. "Standard."

He also attempted 44 shots. It served as tidy metaphor for his career, and the season to come, with his relentless individual will to win dictating decisions at the cost of inviting valid criticism. The game became a reference point for Westbrook and the Thunder for what the season couldn't and shouldn't be.

It was a classic vindicating "Westbrookian" triumph, in which his ferocious competitive spirit conquered common sense, but it was something the Thunder didn't want to see replicated consistently throughout the season. This was Game 2 of 82, and the burden was already obvious.

"You've got to want to win,'' Westbrook said after the game. "Very simple. When you want to win, you don't think about being tired. To me, being tired is a mind thing. It's in your mind."

"I don't remember them as these big moments. I remember the games and seeing him evolve over the years."
Nick Collison, on Russell Westbrook's road to 100 triple-doubles

Even Westbrook was a bit sheepish about the shot total after the game, showcasing a rare moment of self-rebuke.

"I think I should've [trusted teammates] a lot more, honestly," Westbrook said.

His teammates didn't have a big problem with it, though.

"Not being here, you hear a lot about him. You hear a lot of rumors. You hear a lot of things," former Thunder guard Victor Oladipo said after the game. "But sitting by him and working with him every day and building a friendship with him every day, you realize what type of man he truly is. And this dude right here wants to win more than anyone in the world. And he'll do anything to do that.

"The misconception of what he used to be or what he is, is false. This is coming from me; I was with him for two months straight in the summertime. Just looking in his eyes and talking to him, you see how smart he is, what type of basketball player he is. He'll do anything to win."

Asked how he felt after such an exhausting night, Westbrook shrugged.

"Hungry, I'll tell you that much" he said.

The streaks

Triple-doubles: Nos. 43-49, Nos. 72-78

The streak started on Nov. 25 and went to Dec. 9, 2016, a run of seven consecutive games with a triple-double, tying Michael Jordan for the longest of all time. Triple-double streaks weren't all that new to Westbrook, as he'd put together two other stretches of four straight in his career. But this one extended into a phenomenon and set the table for his historic MVP campaign.

It started with 36-12-18 in a win over the Nuggets, and ended with 27-10-10 in a loss to the Houston Rockets as Westbrook air-balled a game-tying 3 with Beverley all over him.

But here's the catch: He did it again. From March 22 to April 4, 2017, Westbrook reeled off another seven straight triple-doubles, missing the record-setting eighth by one rebound in a 45-9-10 performance against the Memphis Grizzlies. The second streak contained some of Westbrook's MVP-making moments, including his game winner against the Mavs and his 57-point triple-double against the Magic, which included a ridiculous 3 to force overtime.

"The games that stand out to me are the ones where we were really dead in the water," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.

"Dallas, being down 13 with 3 ½ to go, the Orlando game on the road -- I think those kind of games when he's had those triple-doubles and he's [decided on] taking over the game and willing us to win when maybe it didn't look like we had any chance."

The Shammgod

Triple-double: No. 50
Game: Dec. 17, 2016 (vs. Suns)
Stat line: 26 points, 11 rebounds, 22 assists

The 50th came with a punctuation mark, and plenty of flash. With 26 points, 11 rebounds and 22 assists (current career high), it was Westbrook's second 20-20 triple-double, but the 22nd and final assist featured one of the nastiest moves of his career. As the Thunder cleaned up an easy win over the Suns, he hit them with "The Shammgod," a dribble move rarely seen in an NBA game. And in this case, Westbrook used it to blow past one Phoenix Suns defender before drawing help in the lane and offering a no-look dish to Steven Adams for a dunk.

"Sometimes I like to try stuff," Westbrook said. "Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it don't. But tonight it went well, and that's just how it goes."

The rebound

Triple-double: No. 67
Game: Feb. 28, 2017 (vs. Jazz)
Stat line: 43 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists

The dunks are what lead SportsCenter and what trend on Twitter or erupt on YouTube. The dunks are the prototypical Westbrook play, the release of pent-up kinetic energy that demoralizes an opponent. But the greatest Westbrook highlights any given night are often the rebounds.

Against the Jazz in February 2017, with a slight nudge in the back and an explosion off two feet, Westbrook snared a rebound over 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert with 19 seconds remaining and the Thunder down one. Four seconds later, he finished an and-1 in traffic to beat Utah with 43-11-10.

Westbrook's rebounds have become a source of skepticism, with the authenticity questioned as teammates suspiciously step aside after free throw misses, or Westbrook hovers around the paint while shots go up. But when it comes down to it, there isn't a better rebounding guard in the world than Westbrook, and he's at his best hauling one in and turning it into a one-man fast break some four seconds later.

The perfect triple-double

Triple-double: No. 72
Game: March 22, 2017 (vs. 76ers)
Stat line: 18 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists

As Westbrook constructed an MVP season, each bullet point on the résumé seemed to become important. Westbrook loves to project an appearance that he doesn't care about numbers, doesn't think about them or even doesn't know what they are; he just plays.

In reality, Westbrook is a creature of habit and ritual and likes to find a box score at some point during every game. The first thing he looks at are his turnovers, and then he scans for a few other areas -- shot attempts for his teammates, himself, the opposing team's shooting percentage, etc.

This time, with the Thunder in the middle of a blowout win over the 76ers, Westbrook peeped a box score in the third quarter. Like a flashing light, he saw he was shooting a perfect 6-for-6.

Westbrook has never been a highly efficient player, largely because his lack of inhibitions prevent him from it. A 6-for-6 start can easily become 6-for-15. This night against the Sixers, Westbrook, in a hyper-aware state coupled with the Thunder's control of the game, embraced a passivity that was a bit jarring.

An open dagger 3 turned down in favor of resetting the offense? What? After the game Westbrook played it coy.

"Just play, honestly," he said. "Just trying to take my time. [I] watched some film and just trying to pick my spots better. Find ways to get my teammates involved throughout the game. Just happy to win."

Triumph in Denver

Triple-double: No. 79
Game: April 9, 2017 (at Nuggets)
Stat line: 50 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists

It was the culmination of an exhausting, improbable, historic season. It was the perfect way for it to finish, almost to the point that it seemed weird it was so perfect. On a night when Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson's single-season triple-double record, he also broke Denver's heart, drilling a quick 3 from some 35 feet away at the buzzer. The heave gave Westbrook another 50-point triple-double (50-16-10) and even had the Denver crowd cheering in respect and admiration, despite the defeat officially eliminating their team from playoff contention.

It's the highlight every teammate or coach references when asked about the best moments in his path to 100, and it's the one that ultimately slammed the door shut on Westbrook's MVP campaign.

Welcome to the club

Triple-double: No. 100
Game: March 13, 2018 (at Hawks)
Stat line: 32 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists

Westbrook came running down the hall as Donovan was doing his pregame availability, yelling, clapping and screaming: "Here we go coach! Here we go!" He bounced around the media scrum and sprinted into the locker room, and one staffer that knows him well said, "He's in a really great mood today."

Sometimes, with Westbrook you just know when something is coming.

It was the standard, every-day 32-12-12 that Westbrook has made look so routine over the last few years. And it came with Steven Adams sidelined and Paul George missing most of the second half with an injury. It was Westbrook, back in his element, him against the world, running the game as he completely took over in the fourth quarter.

Westbrook joins Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd in the 100 triple-double club. How high Westbrook climbs that short list is anyone's guess, but it'll sure be a show.