LOS ANGELES—Russell Westbrook capped his history-making 42nd triple-double of the season with a game-winning three-pointer on Sunday as his Oklahoma City Thunder knocked the Denver Nuggets out of NBA playoff contention.
Westbrook scored 50 points, pulled down 16 rebounds and handed out 10 assists to break the single-season triple-double record set by Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 campaign.
It was his third 50-point triple-double of the season—another record—and left Westbrook feeling “blessed, very blessed”.
It was yet another remarkable display of the all-around excellence that a triple-double—the achievement of double-digit totals in three of five key statistical categories—has come to represent.
Westbrook had already joined Robertson as the only players to average a triple-double over the course of a season.
But since notching his 41st triple-double of the season on Tuesday he had twice fallen short as he vied for number 42.
When it came, it was spectacular.
With fans in Denver cheering him on, he gained the needed 10th assist with 4:17 remaining in the fourth quarter. Three teammates had failed to connect after passes from Westbrook when he found Simaj Christon in the corner and handed off to him for a three-pointer.
That still left the Thunder trailing by 10, but Westbrook would have none of it.
He scored the Thunder’s last 13 points, draining a 36-foot three-pointer as time expired to extinguish the Nuggets slim playoff hopes.
“It’s something you dream about as a little kid to be able to do that on the road, especially from that distance,” Westbrook said.
There was a nightmarish end for the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers in Atlanta, where the Hawks became just the third NBA team to overcome a deficit of 26 or more points in the fourth quarter to win.
The Hawks roared back to down the Cavaliers 126-125 in overtime, their second win over the champions in three days.
“A fourth quarter like that is hard to explain,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer acknowledged after his team out-scored the Cavs 44-18 in the fourth, tying it at 111-111 on Paul Millsap’s jump shot as time expired.
Kyrie Irving scored 45 points for Cleveland and LeBron James posted a triple-double of 32 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
But James fouled out with less than two minutes remaining in overtime, a call that left him fuming that his brush with Millsap as they battled for rebounding position shouldn’t have been a foul.
Atlanta never led until overtime, moving ahead for good on Mike Muscala’s three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining.
“Any time you beat the defending NBA champions, it’s huge, no matter the circumstances,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who scored 21 points for the Hawks.
Millsap finished with 22 and Dwight Howard added 19 for the Hawks. Muscala scored all 12 of his in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Harden boosts Rockets
Houston’s James Harden got in on the day’s triple-double theme, scoring 35 points with 15 assists and 11 rebounds for his 21st of the season in the Rockets’ 135-128 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
While Russell’s exploits have him tipped to take home this season’s Most Valuable Player award, Houston forward Ryan Anderson is in no doubt that Harden is a worthy contender for the honor.
“He’s having a ridiculous year, and he’s leading us,” Anderson said. “He’s the MVP in my opinion.”
Harden’s shooting wasn’t stellar. he connected on just nine of his 22 shots from the field. But he made five three-pointers and his pinpoint passing kept the Rockets’ offense clicking. Six Houston players scored in double figures.
“He has a knack for making the right play every single time,” Anderson said.
Elsewhere, the Toronto Raptors assured themselves of at least the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a 110-97 victory over the New York Knicks.
DeMar DeRozan scored 35 points to join Vince Carter as the only Raptors to score at least 2,000 points.