MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Fans stood on their feet, screaming for Russell Westbrook to grab the one rebound needed to separate himself from Oscar Robertson and grab an NBA record that has stood for 55 years.
This was a road game.
It didn’t matter. Fans all around the league are showing how much they appreciate the Oklahoma City guard’s energy during his historic run. In a time when the NBA is grappling with players missing games to rest, routinely disappointing their fans, Westbrook seems to never take a play off much less miss a game — he’s played in all of OKC’s 78 this season.
Westbrook came up one rebound short of his record-setting 42nd triple-double Wednesday night against the Grizzlies.
He scored 45 points, tying his career-high with eight 3-pointers, handed out 10 assists and pulled down nine rebounds in Oklahoma City’s 103-100 win over Memphis on Wednesday night.
So the triple-double watch continues, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.
“Obviously, people came to see that, but it happens like that,” Westbrook said. “We got a lot of games left. We got the win. That’s the most important part to me.”
Not to the fans standing throughout the lower bowl in the final minute.
Some like 14-year-old Ashton Wyatt of Paragould, Arkansas, came with his family to see both his hero and an NBA record. Kyle Cox, 24, of Memphis has been a Thunder fan since the franchise relocated from Seattle and could hardly sleep Tuesday night after Westbrook tied Robertson’s single-season mark of 41 triple-doubles, set in 1961-62.
“It’s incredible, and he’s played his heart out, so I think he deserves it,” said Cox, who bought his tickets for this game two months ago.
Fans in Memphis have been disappointed before when LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were sidelined when the Cleveland Cavaliers came to town on Dec. 14.
The next stop on Westbrook’s road show is Phoenix Friday night when the Thunder face the Suns.
Fans in Phoenix should expect another show from the 6-foot-3 All-Star. Westbrook certainly didn’t disappoint in Memphis, scoring 11 of Oklahoma City’s final 14 points.
“We held him from getting a triple-double,” Memphis coach David Fizdale said. “So take that Russell Westbrook.”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan set his own personal mark with his 100th career victory, and the Thunder pushed their lead over Memphis for the No. 6 seed in the West to 3 ½ games.
Westbrook’s historic pace was all anyone really wanted to talk about before and after the game. A lifelong basketball fan, Donovan certainly appreciates what his star guard has managed to do this season from his spot on the sideline.
“For what Oscar Robertson did back in the ’60s, for that to stand as long as it has, I think really shows how difficult something like that is,” Donovan said. “And I think for Russell, he’s a unique talent that he gets an opportunity every night because of his ability to impact the game in a lot of different ways.”
Westbrook already has done so much in an MVP-caliber season:
• More triple-doubles this season than 10 NBA teams have in their entire history.
• Needs only six more assists over the Thunder’s final four games to join Robertson as the only players in league history to average a triple-double for the season. Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists for the Cincinnati Royals in 1961-62. For comparison, Karl Malone in 1989-90 was the last player in the NBA to average 30-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in a season, while Tiny Archibald in 1972-73 as the last to average 30-plus points and 10-plus assists for a season.
• Trails only Jason Kidd (107), Magic Johnson (138) and Roberson (181) while being tied with Wilt Chamberlain with 78 for his career.
Grizzlies veteran Vince Carter, in his 19th NBA season, said Westbrook is “playing out of his mind.” Carter recalled when some suggested Kidd could reach Robertson’s record and remembered a playoff series where Kidd averaged a triple-double over six or seven games.
A series, not the entire year.
“He’s doing it over the course of the season,” Carter said of Westbrook. “It’s pretty impressive.”
If Westbrook can’t reach the milestone at Phoenix, he could also get there on the road at Denver and Minnesota, or when the Thunder close the regular season at home against the Nuggets.
“Once the regular season ends and the playoffs start, it’s not a topic of conversation anymore,” Donovan said. “So there’s only six more days of this.”
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker