ATLANTA (AP) — Russell Westbrook darted into the lane time and time again, hitting the shot, drawing a foul or finding an open teammate.
At the other end of the court, he lingered under the boards, pulling down one rebound after another — usually against players taller than him.
In other words, just another night for Mr. Triple-Double .
Westbrook joined a very exclusive club Wednesday by putting up double figures in points, assists and rebounds for the 100th time in his career, a feat accomplished by only three other players.
Oscar Robertson. Magic Johnson. Jason Kidd.
Not bad company.
“I’m just happy to be a part of the crew with those guys,” Westbrook said after leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 119-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
It was another vintage performance by the 6-foot-3 point guard .
After Paul George went down with a groin injury in the third quarter, Westbrook took over in the fourth.
He guided a 16-0 run that suddenly turned a back-and-forth game — it was tied, in fact, after Taurean Prince hit a 3-pointer with 5:18 remaining — into a comfortable victory for Oklahoma City by the time the horn sounded.
Westbrook put the Thunder ahead for good with a pull-up jumper. He fed a pass to Jerami Grant for a 3-pointer. He bolted for the basket to draw a foul and sank both free throws. He spotted Grant again on a fast break after an Atlanta turnover, threading a pass that set up a three-point play. He drew another foul, sinking one more free throw. And with the lead in double digits, he stayed on the court long enough to grab three more rebounds.
“I try to read and react and see what teams are doing defensively, and obviously find the ways to make the game easy for my teammates,” Westbrook said.
Finally, after Carmelo Anthony knocked down the last of his six 3-pointers to cap the run, Westbrook headed to the bench with just under a minute to go.
His work was done after a night like so many others.
He finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists .
“What it takes to do that on a night-in, night-out basis, the focus that you have to have, the intensity that you have to play with,” Anthony marveled. “For me, being able to be a part of that, be alongside him, it’s a special moment. It’s something that we should all appreciate, moments like this, and appreciate what we have and who we have.”
Westbrook insisted his gaudy numbers are not the most important thing.
He’s proudest of the Thunder’s record when he goes off for a triple-double — 82-18.
“I like winning,” Westbrook said. “The most important part about this game is winning, embracing and enjoying it with your teammates.”
Westbrook is barely halfway to Robertson’s career record of 181 triple-doubles, but he’s definitely got Johnson (138) and Kidd (107) in his sights.
Last season, Westbrook won the MVP award and set a league record with 42 triple-doubles, joining Robertson as the only players to average a triple-double over a full year. This season, with more offensive help around him after the Thunder acquired George and Anthony, Westbrook has still managed 21 triple-doubles.
At this rate, he’ll go by Kidd and Johnson in the next couple of seasons, having already become the third-fastest to reach the century mark behind Robertson (a mere 277 games) and Johnson (656 games). Westbrook needed 736 games to get there, but he’s really stepped up the pace since Kevin Durant left for Golden State.
The sellout crowd in attendance-challenged Atlanta — a turnout befitting one of the league’s brightest stars — broke into loud applause when Westbrook locked up his triple-double with 2 1/2 minutes remaining, snatching away a rebound after the Hawks missed.
“It’s always crazy for me, man, to go on the road and just see — not just fans cheering, but kids wearing my jersey,” he said. “I never, ever imagined me even playing in the NBA. To see that every time, it’s always amazing for me. I never take it for granted.”
Westbrook not only made it to the NBA.
He cracked a very elite club.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
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