As unimaginably impressive as Russell Westbrook’s season has been, it has certainly come with a lot of controversy.
After nearly every game, triple-double or not, Westbrook deals with reporters asking him whether he’s chasing stats or not. The most consistent question has come about his rebounding, since occasionally it appears that the Thunder big men are boxing out to allow Westbrook to swoop in and gather the rebound rather than taking it themselves.
On Friday, the assists were the point of contention.
Westbrook is one triple-double away from breaking Oscar Robertson’s 55-year-old record for a single season, but he fell just short in a 120-99 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Friday, tallying 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. It was an awful start for the MVP candidate, missing his first 10 shot attempts and turning the ball over five times in the first quarter alone. He finished 6-for-25 from the field with eight turnovers, but even in a subpar game (by his standards) he still managed to get enough assists to, becoming only the second NBA player to ever accomplish the feat.
Despite the Thunder being down by 20 points in the fourth quarter, coach Billy Donovan left Westbrook in the game, and many presumed it was to try to let Westbrook get two more assists to break the triple-double record. As it turns out,, and the media asked Westbrook after the game if he was passing up shots intentionally, trying to get two more assists late in the loss.
One reporter said to Westbrook, “It felt like in the fourth quarter you were hunting assists, that you were passing up shots,” and Westbrook, clearly annoyed, interrupted him with his response.
“I mean, I was 6-for-25. F--- I mean, what you want me to do? I ain’t making a shot. So somebody else can help,” Westbrook said. “My job is to see what’s going on, and try to find guys that’ll make some shots and maybe we can get something going. But it wasn’t falling for me tonight.”
Westbrook was then asked point-blank if he was trying to get two more assists toward the end of the game, to which he gave the very Russell Westbrook response, “If I wanted to get 10 assists, I can get 10 assists.”
OK, from the outside let’s just say that it REALLY looked like Russ was passing up shots at the end of the game in an effort to get assists, but does it really matter? Even if he was, can you blame the guy for wanting to break the record and get it over with so he can focus on the playoffs?
It’s also ironic that the Suns, the team that just a couple weeks ago continued to stop the clock in a blowout loss to get Devin Booker to 70 points, seemed so adamant about denying Westbrook his record-setting triple-double.
In any case, Westbrook will once again have an opportunity to break the record on Sunday in Denver after falling short in his previous two attempts. And questions about stat chasing will surely follow.