It was just another day at the office for Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who picked up his 15th triple-double of the season with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists in his team's 111-107 win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It was his third straight game with a triple-double and his sixth in the past nine games. It's the most triple-doubles by one player in an NBA season since Magic Johnson in 1988-89, per Rob Perez of the Big Lead:
Russell Westbrook now 2 triple-doubles away from the NBA single season record pic.twitter.com/q4lYC0F60C— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) March 23, 2016
Supported by 23 points from Kevin Durant and 17 points from Dion Waiters off the bench, Oklahoma City (49-22) outdueled Houston's James Harden, who put up 24 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 16 assists.
The Rockets (35-36) led by as many as seven with two minutes to go in the first quarter at 27-20 thanks to their ability to go inside. As the Thunder keyed in on Harden, the guard showed off his facilitating ability.
Dwight Howard had 10 early points, none nicer than this alley-oop from Harden, via the NBA:
The Houston center, who received just a warning from the league after he admitted to using Stickum, finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
That early lead he helped create didn't last long, as the Thunder ignited for a 21-6 run. With Durant getting so much attention from the Rockets defense, Waiters stepped in to keep the Thunder offense running.
Oklahoma City's transition game came alive thanks to several early Houston turnovers, which sparked the Thunder's run. Here's a look at Waiters' most thunderous points of the night, via the NBA:
Harden, though, didn't let his team fall too far behind, as his all-around excellence brought the Rockets right back, and they took a 56-55 lead at halftime. At the break, Harden had already recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists and was just five rebounds away from a triple-double.
In the second half, Westbrook quickly took the lead in the race for a triple-double and had the hard parts finished with four minutes left in the third quarter. He had 11 rebounds and 11 assists, but he started just 2-of-11 from the field and had seven points.
Things stayed close for most of the second half, as the game's biggest names couldn't light up the scoresheet in their normal ways. Neither side could get going from three-point range either, as the teams combined to go 21-of-72 from distance.
Harden had just four points, while Durant and Westbrook combined for just five in the third quarter.
Westbrook came alive in the fourth with his eighth and ninth points that came in rim-rocking style:
He extended his lead on top of the league's triple-double list with six minutes, 53 seconds left in the game to put the Thunder up 92-90.
In the fourth quarter, he went 5-of-7 from the field and gave the Thunder a four-point lead with 1:59 left thanks to four straight points, which included this big dunk:
With the Thunder up 108-104, a Harden three-pointer with 13 seconds left brought the Rockets within one. They received some more help when Serge Ibaka hit only one of two free throws with 11.9 seconds to go.
After a timeout, Harden tried to lob a pass inside to Howard from the perimeter, but Waiters deflected the pass, which was then corralled by Westbrook, who iced things at the line.
While most would consider Westbrook's offense the key to the Thunder's win, big man Enes Kanter chalked the win up to his team's play on the other end of the floor, via the Oklahoma City Thunder:
Thunder center Steven Adams couldn't help but point to Westbrook's fourth quarter, in particular his two dunks, via Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman:
Steven Adams on Russell Westbrook's post dunk reactions pic.twitter.com/AF6fyhmD8E— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 23, 2016
With their division already clinched, the Thunder, barring a huge slump, don't look like they'll be moving anywhere in the Western Conference playoff race in the final 11 games. Oklahoma City is in third place in the Western Conference, 10.5 games behind the second-place San Antonio Spurs and 14.5 back of the Golden State Warriors.
The win Tuesday gave the Thunder a five-game lead over the fourth-place Los Angeles Clippers.
Houston, on the other hand, needed this win more than Oklahoma City. The loss dropped the Rockets to one game under .500 and just a half-game above the ninth-place Utah Jazz.
Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff spoke about the Rockets' final offensive possession that ended with Harden's errant pass intended for Howard, per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins:
JBB said the final play was designed for Harden to either make a play at top of the key. When double came JBB said he made right read.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 23, 2016
Even with his solid night in which he set a career high in assists, Harden said he was limited, per Watkins:
Harden said after the game he didn't have much explosiveness because of his sprained ankle.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 23, 2016
Despite the struggles with coaching changes and talk of locker room problems, the Rockets are still in the playoff hunt. All they need to do is get hot at the right time. With this kind of talent, they could be a dangerous team in the postseason.
They'll have to finish the season out strong for that to happen, though.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.