TORONTO – Even when he misses, Russell Westbrook is worth watching.
The Oklahoma City star guard clanged a free throw off the rim and then gathered in the rebound with one hand before guiding the ball into the hoop.
Chalk up another rebound and two more points en route to Westbrook’s 16th triple-double of the season in an emphatic 119-100 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday night.
“That was unreal,” said Thunder teammate Kevin Durant, who clutched his head in disbelief at the play. “You’ve got to time that right and you’ve just got to be as athletic as hell. I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that can do that. You’ve got to make the free throw but I’ll take the two points and the acrobatic play instead. He’s a freak of nature, man.”
Westbrook collected 26 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. His triple-double tally is the most since Magic Johnson’s 17 in 1988-89. And it was his seventh triple-double in March, the most in a single month since Michael Jordan in April 1989.
Good company to be in.
“I like to win the game and make sure my teammates feel good about themselves,” said Westbrook.
Durant showed off his own skills with 34 points – along with eight assists and eight rebounds- as he scored 20-plus points for the 59th straight game.
Oklahoma City (52-22) extended its winning streak to eight games – its best stretch since a 10-game run from Jan. 16-31, 2014. It has outscored the opposition by an average of 17.1 points during the current streak.
Toronto (49-24), the only NBA franchise without a 50-win season on the books, was hoping to become the fifth team this season to hit 50 victories – joining Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland and Oklahoma City. The Raptors, who have lost three of the last four, will look to hit the plateau Wednesday when Atlanta visits.
DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 19 points. Rookie Norman Powell had 18 and Kyle Lowry 14 for the Raptors, who led just once in the game.
Lowry had his right elbow drained after the game in a bid to relieve inflammation.
“I’m not going to make any excuses but it’s definitely something I don’t want to play with and I don’t like playing with. But it is what it is,” said Lowry.
Trailing 97-74 after three quarters, Toronto cut the lead to 14 in the fourth. But the night belonged to Oklahoma City.
The Thunder outscored Toronto 21-14 in second-chance points and 27-11 on the fast break.
Asked beforehand if the game was a litmus test, Toronto coach Dwane Casey replied: “Well I don’t know if it’s a litmus test. It’s a hell of a test, I know that, against OKC?”
Toronto failed the exam when it came to matching the Thunder’s physicality, according to Casey.
“Tonight is a learning experience,” he said. “It tells us how hard we have to compete with force on both ends of the floor, for longer periods of time.”
Powell, meanwhile, was handed the thankless job of guarding Westbrook before an Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800, the Raptors’ 76th straight sellout.
“That’s an elite team and I thought he competed as well as you could ask a rookie to do against one of the top point guards in the league,” said Casey.
Asked about Westbrook following the morning shootaround, Casey called him a “ferocious competitor.”
“He’s coming at you 100 miles an hour. His speed, quickness, athleticism is off the charts. He’s been that way since he came out of college … He plays with a huge chip on his shoulder. That helps him be a great competitor. You’ve got to meet his force with your force and with multiple guys. One guy is not going to stop him from getting where he wants to go.
“Is he going to score? Yes. But he’s going to have to score against two, three bodies in front of him,” he added.
Maybe four was needed.
It was a sloppy start for both teams but the Thunder regrouped quicker. Toronto missed its first five shots and trailed 15-3 early. An 11-2 Raptors run helped reduce the lead to 27-21 at the end of the first quarter that saw Toronto hit on just seven-of-22 shots.
It took Lowry two minutes into the second quarter to finally make a field goal. But that three-pointer was part of a 10-0 run that gave Toronto its only lead at 31-30.
The Thunder promptly reeled off 11 straight points to restore their lead.
Casey was assessed a technical late in the second quarter after Toronto big man Bismack Biyombo was mobbed under the Thunder basket without a call. The half ended on a Westbrook dunk that gave the visitors a 61-48 lead.
Oklahoma City increased the lead to 25 in the third. Casey’s issues with the officials continued and he was left holding his head when Jonas Valanciunas was called for a foul on what seemed like some stiff defence. The Thunder led by 23 after three quarters that saw Toronto mired in 28-of-71 shooting.
Toronto finished with 38-of-93 shooting or 40.9 per cent. Oklahoma City’s starting lineup combined for 94 points and shot .516 (32-of-62) from the field.
Durant, with his 11th point of the night, passed Canadian Steve Nash (17,387) for 79th on the league’s all-time scoring list. He did it with an acrobatic off-balance alley-oop in the second quarter.