The crowd may not have been as large as normal thanks to the snow and ice outside, and the opponent may not have got the blood pumping as much as others, but the chants of “MVP, MVP, MVP!” still echoed loudly throughout The Peake Wednesday night.
Yes, Russell Westbrook did it again. The Thunder's sensational point guard put his name next to Michael Jordan's in the NBA history books, recording his fourth straight triple-double in a 123-118 overtime win over Philadelphia.
Westbrook's marvelous performance overshadowed the fact OKC needed overtime to beat the worst team in the NBA. When you put yourself in the same conversation as His Airness, that tends to happen. Jordan recorded four straight triple-doubles in 1989, but even he didn't accomplished what Westbrook has now done: three straight triple-doubles with at least 39 points.
Westbrook came into Wednesday's game off a February performance that saw him put his name beside Oscar Robertson and earn him Western Conference Player of the Month honors. Just five nights ago, Westbrook had a dent in his face, courtesy of Andre Roberson's knee. The broken bone required surgery, but Westbrook missed just Sunday night's game against the Lakers, a game the Thunder won without him.
Wearing a mask and a headband that made him look half Phantom of the Opera and half Ninja Turtle, Westbrook did it all, playing with his usual reckless level of energy despite having had surgery just four days prior.
Westbrook had a double-double by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, but he didn't get his 10th assist until two minutes into the overtime period on a D.J. Augustin 3-pointer. It was clear he was gunning for the final assist late in the fourth quarter, but eventually he quit pressing and just did what was necessary to help the Thunder win.
Overall, Oklahoma City didn't play particularly well. The defensive intensity was lacking for much of the game, which allowed Philadelphia to hit 15 3-pointers, eight of those from Isaiah Canaan, who scored a career-high 31 points to lead the Sixers. Because of the Thunder's failures defensively, the game was never put away until the final buzzer sounded.
The Thunder started slow, falling behind by as many as 15 with 3:29 to play in the first quarter. A 20-2 run to close the quarter, led by 11 points from Anthony Morrow gave the momentum to OKC, as the Thunder grabbed the lead and had it for most of the second quarter. The Sixers closed strong and went into the locker room with a 59-56 lead.
The Thunder struggled mainly due to a lack of production from the starting unit. Outside of Westbrook's incredible night, OKC got just 12 points from the other four starters, eight of those from Enes Kanter. Fortunately, the OKC bench was huge, putting up 62 points, led by Dion Waiter's 20-point, 10-rebound double-double. Augustin had 17 points and Morrow finished with 11.
Waiters was the Thunder's savior in the third quarter, as OKC fell behind by as many as 16 points. Constantly chastised for his lack of efficiency from the field, Waiters was 9-of-15 for the game and single-handedly sparked an 18-0 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth quarter. The run turned a 90-76 Philly lead into a 94-90 Oklahoma City lead. Several 3-pointers from Philly in the final minute, two of them from Jason Richardson (29 points) forced overtime, where Westbrook asserted himself and willed the Thunder to another win.
Kevin Durant's run of 30-point games a season ago was an incredible thing to witness, but his own teammate is making that performance look fairly pedestrian. What Westbrook is doing right now just simply hasn't been done before in the history of the league. Then again, few players in NBA history have had Westbrook's combination of skill, size and speed.
James Harden and Stephen Curry are both worthy MVP candidates this season, but the fans at The Peake on Wednesday—albeit, slightly biased—have the right idea on who has been the best player in the league this season.