OKLAHOMA CITY -- After a 40-8 run over 12 minutes in the first half effectively put the Portland Trail Blazers away in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 128-94 win, attention quickly shifted to Russell Westbrook's increasingly absurd stat line.
In 10 minutes of play, he had eight points, eight rebounds and nine assists. In 14 minutes, he had 10 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. After 16 minutes, he was a rebound away from the fastest triple-double in NBA history. History literally slipped away from Westbrook, as his 10th rebound slipped from his hands and went out of bounds. He had to settle for his league-leading 12th triple-double of the season three minutes into the second quarter, and he finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists -- with zero turnovers.
Westbrook is making it almost a routine thing to wonder if anyone's ever done that thing before -- if anyone's put up that kind of line, that kind of half, that kind of game. But Kevin Durant summed it best: "Yeah, I've seen it before," he said, "from Russell Westbrook."
Westbrook's super-speed triple-double was the story of the night, but in large scope, this was the kind of stabilizing game the Thunder needed. After a few weeks of up-and-down, see-sawing frustration, it appeared the Thunder went on a 48-minute vent. Their recent performances have been maddeningly inconsistent, with lost fourth-quarter leads becoming an aggravating norm. The way to avoid that on Monday was simple: Build a 30-point lead. Even the 3-point wizardry of Damian Lillard couldn't overcome that.
"It's easy for us to get wrapped up in going -- what is it? -- 5-8 since the All-Star break," Durant said. "But you've just got to enjoy every part of it. The ups and downs, just realize it could be worse. We could be out of the playoffs right now. We could be struggling. But we've still got a good chance, and we've got to embrace that and know we can still strive to get better but enjoy the journey."
Internally, the Thunder have been surprisingly not discouraged by their struggles after the break. Despite blown fourth-quarter leads, embarrassing losses to inferior opponents and the kind of alarming lapses that leave you wondering if something is really wrong, there has been a strange optimism in the way they have played. The schedule has been tough, but they have performed well against the best teams. They just don't have much to show for it.
"I feel like we've made some progress coming out of the All-Star break, even though we haven't gotten some of the results we wanted," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "We can't lose sight of the big picture for our guys continuing to move and get better as a group. Because I think, even though we haven't had the results we needed, I still felt like we were playing pretty good basketball."
With the way the Thunder change on any given night, it's unwise to say this win re-establishes them in any way or puts their odd funk behind them. What it does say, though, is that the Thunder's good remains very, very good. When it's all there, they can flex in a way few teams can.
The pie-in-the-sky hope is that the potential Oklahoma City displayed against the Blazers is what's to come in the postseason. If it is, then this team is absolutely still in the conversation. However, if that potential was just a spike on the heart-rate monitor, then the Thunder probably aren't much more than second-round fodder for the Spurs.
The question is what they do with this. What happens the next time?
"Now, can we do it again?" Donovan said. "Can we come back and do it again, going on the road here for a few games? Can we keep building? Can we keep moving in that direction to get better as a team and really try to be the best version of ourselves?"
That's the Thunder's mission over the next month. Because their best version is one of the very best versions around.