Russell Westbrook first made triple-double history. Then he ended the Denver Nuggets' playoff hopes.
Westbrook hit a long 3 at the buzzer Sunday to give him 50 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder a 106-105 win while also setting a new single-season NBA record with his 42nd triple-double. Westbrook passed Oscar Robertson's longstanding mark of 41 that was once thought to be untouchable.
Two days after joining Robertson as the only players in league history to average a triple-double over an entire season, Westbrook secured his 42nd of the year by picking up his 10th assist on a dish to Semaj Christon for a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter. Westbrook finished with 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
After securing the record triple-double, Westbrook then went about bringing the Thunder back for the win. He scored the team's final 13 points as Oklahoma City rallied from 10 down with three minutes left. Westbrook's winner from about 36 feet cam after Nikola Jokic missed a runner on the other end that would have put the game out of reach.
The win secured the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs for the Thunder and eliminated the Nuggets from contention for the eighth spot. Portland will be the No. 8 seed when the postseason begins next week.
Westbrook came into the game averaging 31.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per contest. He clinched a season-long triple-double average Friday night against the Phoenix Suns. Robertson logged 41 triple-doubles in 1961-62 when he famously became the first player to average one for a season with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.
Westbrook's triple-double chase has been one of the biggest story lines around the league this season. He has long silenced any doubt the Thunder would still be competitive in the Western Conference after Kevin Durant's departure to the Golden State Warriors. Oklahoma City improved to 46-34, and as the sixth seed, Westbrook will face fellow top MVP candidate James Harden and the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
Harden and Westbrook have seemingly separated themselves as the top contenders for this season's MVP award. Westbrook leads the league in scoring and is third in assists and 10th in rebounds. Harden is tied for second in scoring at 29.2 points and leads the league in assists at 11.2.
The former teammates have turned this MVP race into one of the most exciting in recent memory. Robertson, however, believes Westbrook is the clear MVP and recently told USA TODAY Sports that Westbrook is "the triple-double king." The Hall of Famer said Westbrook's triple-double numbers show his overall impact on the game beyond his team's record.
"Knowledgeable basketball people understand that sometimes if you don't have the right ingredients on your team, if you're not good inside or you don't play defense, you may not win a championship," Robertson said. "But that does not demean what you've done as an individual. And I can say this without blinking, that what Russell Westbrook has done truly — even (though) Harden is close to him — but what he's done, he's got to be the MVP of the league."