CHICAGO — Russell Westbrook can check the Chicago Bulls off a list he doesn’t need to look at anymore.
After Saturday’s 12-point, 13-rebound, 13-assist performance, the reigning MVP has become the first player ever to post at least one triple-double against the entire NBA, 29 other teams. The only squad he’s yet to triple-double against? The Oklahoma City Thunder, who dismantled the Bulls 101-69 on Saturday to even their season record at 3-3.
Carmelo Anthony, however, is disputing the record books.
“He had one against us in practice,” he joked.
Saturday’s was a win the Thunder didn’t necessarily need — it’s far too early in the season for such dire language — but it was one they certainly wanted after dropping a second heartbreaker in three games to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. The Bulls came into the season with a chance to be at the bottom of the NBA. They came into Saturday shorthanded.
Oklahoma City, specifically Westbrook, took advantage.
The triple-double came easy, completing midway through the third quarter when Westbrook floated a lob to a rolling Steven Adams, who he has consciously looked for all season and who finished the blowout with 12 points and eight rebounds.
He was able to get out on the run following 19 Chicago turnovers. It was a night when the Thunder stepped into passing lanes and grabbed deflected balls, an aspect of the game they were self-critical of following Friday’s loss to the Wolves. This time, it was different — for whatever reason (sheer talent is probably the reason).
“It’s hard to make that connection, mate. There’s so many things that go into getting a loose ball,” Adams said. “I guess tonight, I think it was more aggressive and more direct.”
Westbrook once again took on a distributing mode. He attempted 13 shots. Paul George took 15 and finished with 20 points and five rebounds. Anthony took 16 to get to 21 points, making him the first player ever to begin a Thunder career with six consecutive 20-point games.
It’s just another sign that this year’s Westbrookian triple-doubles have come differently than they did a year ago, when Westbrook broke the record for most in a single season, even if they have arisen almost as often. He’s not simply picking up numbers because he’s the only one there to compile them.
He’s doing it inside a group – even if it’s a still-developing group — instead of inside a one-man show.
“His effort that he gives when he gets those triple-doubles, yeah, I don’t look at it and say, ‘Eh, it’s just him being him,’” coach Billy Donovan said. “I realize the amount of effort it takes and the commitment it takes on his part to go out there and do that.”
Of course, Saturday’s game was supposed to be easy — for Westbrook, for George, for Anthony, for everyone.
Basketball is a tad easier when the opponent forgets to make shots. The Bulls came about as close to that as anyone could imagine. They shot 28 percent from the field. They scored a grand total of eight points in the second quarter. Once the Thunder began the second quarter on an 18-2 run, Chicago didn’t stand a chance.
The run allowed Westbrook to get on the move and force mismatches, which he exploited over and over again. It’s part of how he found Adams or others.
He played similarly Friday at Minnesota and in the previous game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, distributing first until he absolutely needed to take another approach. It’s his current way of triple-doubling. And now, it’s brought him something he didn’t necessarily need but maybe, kind of, sort of could have wanted: yet another triple-double record.
“That’s special. He’s a special player,” George said. “He’s solidifying himself early as a Hall of Famer.”
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.