OKLAHOMA CITY -- The timeout was over and Russell Westbrook stood at the scorekeeper's table, looking at a printed box score. He raised his eyebrows slightly and gave a quick nod. What he saw, even in just the third quarter, was absurdly impressive. And it was only about to get better.
The final line: 25 points, 11 rebounds and 20 assists -- a new career high, and his 11th triple-double of the season -- in the Oklahoma City Thunder's much-needed 120-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
"NBA 2K," Kevin Durant said. "On rookie."
Westbrook came roaring out of the blocks from tipoff, registering an assist on each of the Thunder's first six buckets. For a good portion of the first half, he was averaging an assist a minute. If he wanted to set up a teammate for a look, he set a teammate up for a look. It was almost an effortless procedure, as in a bulldozer running through a cardboard box is effortless. There was a power to it, and one that the Clippers were helpless against.
Naturally, he was feeling himself the entire game. Early in the first quarter, the Thunder had a runout opportunity and Westbrook tried a slick behind-the-back pass that got picked off by the Clippers. Westbrook shook his head. "Should've dunked it," he told reporters sitting courtside during a timeout. During a later break, he paused by the table and air-guitared a Euro-step and pass. Westbrook was loose, he was confident. He knew he was running the game.
"I just read options, man. Try to see what teams are doing," Westbrook said. "A lot of attention is on Kevin, so I try to read where the guys are looking. Try to create eye contact, try to create different things to get us easy buckets."
It went unsaid, but there had to be some level of satisfaction for Westbrook in doing this opposite of Chris Paul, the gold standard in point guarding for the past decade or so. So much of the criticism levied at Westbrook over the years has been his perceived lack of passing, a supposed ball-hoggery that stunted his team's offense. The assumption of a needed "pure point guard" to unlock the team's potential was lobbed around Westbrook almost as an insult. But it's really a pointless descriptor that's code for, "He can't score but he can call out a play and make a post-entry pass." Westbrook has erupted this season into the league's best creator and playmaker, while somehow simultaneously stacking that onto his elite scoring and rebounding.
Paul is the traditional, establishment point guard, a brilliant floor general who captains an offense with intellect and precision. Westbrook is the revolution, the point guard who had a radioactive seven-footer bite him to create some misunderstood fusion of small and big.
"That's unheard of," Durant said of Westbrook's night. "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 statsheet and he's got 25, 20 and 11. That's like ..."
Durant paused, looking for something else to say. He came up with, "I wish he had 30, 20 and 11, that would've been even better."
That's where the world exists with Westbrook, in which ceilings are only theoretical barriers waiting to be run through. Westbrook doesn't fit into any positional box, because he has redefined the position. Last season, he was the NBA's scoring champion. This season, he could lead the league in assists. His line on Wednesday was something unseen in the NBA since Magic Johnson did it in 1988. Informed of that factoid, Westbrook cut off the question.
"I was born in 1988," Westbrook said.
But what does he think when he sees a box score with those kind of numbers in it?
"Just a win, man,"he said. "That's more important to be able to see all my teammates happy and all my teammates enjoy the game and enjoying this win. So that's the most important part for me, just making sure everybody feels comfortable about their game."
Lost in the statistical platitudes (by the way, Durant posted his seventh straight 25-10-5 game, the longest streak in the NBA since Larry Bird), was the Thunder picking up a massively needed, stabilizing win. A week ago, the Clippers roared back from 17 down entering the fourth quarter to stun the Thunder and sent them into a weeklong tailspin. On Wednesday, the Thunder opened the fourth with a double-digit lead once again, but this time extended it to put a tidy bow on a quality win.
And it was Westbrook at the heart of it all, dropping exclamation points throughout. After one particular race to the rim late in the fourth, he not-so-subtly unleashed one of his patented primal screams at the far corner of the arena, which not-so-coincidentally is right next to the Clipper bench. He had made his claim, and underlined it in bold. He may not fit your definition of what a point guard is supposed to be, but if you're going to label him, maybe "best" should be in consideration.