ATLANTA (AP) — Russell Westbrook floated off the man he was covering, anticipated the pass into the lane and slipped back to pick it off.
Then he sped off the other way, with only a single defender able to get back and Victor Oladipo serving as wingman. At about the 3-point line, Westbrook whipped a bounce pass toward his teammate, who took it from there for a layup.
With that, Westbrook earned his 10th assist and another triple-double.
It wasn't even midway through the third quarter.
“He can do so many different things,” Atlanta's Thabo Sefolosha marveled after Monday night's 102-99 loss to Westbrook and the Thunder. “It's definitely mind-blowing. And the way he does it. He's everywhere.”
Seems that way, for sure.
The Oklahoma City star is working on one of the greatest seasons in NBA history, having already piled up 11 triple-doubles in the Thunder's first 22 games.
He's had six in a row, the league's longest such streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. More impressively, Westbrook is averaging 31 points, 11.3 assists and 10.9 rebounds through more than a quarter of the season.
The last player to average a triple-double for an entire season was Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. He finished at 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.
“Obviously, the league hasn't seen something like this in a long, long time,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
To give it a bit more perspective, Jordan's streak came during a season in which he finished with 15 triple-doubles.
Westbrook is only four off that total with 50 games still to go.
No wonder he heard chants of “MVP! MVP!” — even while playing on the road.
“It's crazy, man,” Westbrook said. “It's definitely catching me off guard.”
He got off to a slow start offensively against the slumping Hawks, missing seven of his first eight shots. But Westbrook was helping his team in other ways — crashing the boards and looking for the open man, giving him seven rebounds and eight assists by halftime.
“It's unbelievable,” teammate Anthony Morrow said. “He's getting it within the game. It's not like he's forcing it. It's something I've never seen before. It's a blessing for all of us to be a part of that type of greatness.”
Of course, it was just a matter of time before Westbrook found his shooting range.
That came in third quarter, when he suddenly got hot.
Westbrook made five of his last seven attempts in the period, swishing three of them from outside the 3-point arc. He had 16 points in the third, outscoring the Hawks all by himself to stretch Oklahoma City's one-point halftime lead to a 14-point cushion heading to the final quarter.
Atlanta rallied down the stretch, but Westbrook helped preserve the victory. He finished with a line that is becoming all too familiar: 32 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, not to mention a steal and a block.
“It's just picking your spots,” he said nonchalantly. “The game will tell you what to do. When it's time to be aggressive, that's what it's time for. That's what I try to do.”
When Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State, Westbrook knew he'd have to take on more of the load in Oklahoma City. He seems to have put the entire franchise on his back, prodding and cajoling his teammates to come along for the ride. The Thunder have won all six games during his triple-double streak, climbing to first place in the Northwest Division.
“He does a great job of getting his teammates involved,” Atlanta's Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “In the first half, you could see it. He's gets on `em when they don't make the pass, when they don't make plays. But they love that about him. You can see that. They take it to heart.”
Perhaps the only question is whether Westbrook can maintain this sort of pace and intensity for an entire season.
At least he's got a few days to rest up.
The Thunder are off until Friday, when they host the Houston Rockets.
“I get satisfaction from winning,” Westbrook said, shrugging off his individual achievements. “That's the most important part to me. My guys do an amazing job of working with what I give them and making my job easy.”