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THUNDER COLUMN: As a tribute to his slain friend, Westbrook makes basketball history

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THUNDER: As a tribute to his slain friend, Westbrook makes history

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) passes to a teammate between Los Angeles Lakers forward Mike Muscala, left, guard Rajon Rondo (9) and center JaVale McGee in the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY — For one half of the fourth quarter Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder threatened another collapse that would have replaced all the other worst losses of the season with a new one.

In the second half of that same quarter, Russell Westbrook put the finishing touches on an individual performance that had not occurred in the NBA in 18,687 days.

Because it was on Feb. 2, 1968, that Wilt Chamberlain, playing for the Philadelphia 76ers registered the first 20-point, 20-rebound, 20-assist game in league history.

Nobody had done it since until Westbrook grabbed his 20th board with 41 seconds remaining against the Lakers.

On the day Chamberlain did it, he registered 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists, playing all 48 minutes against Detroit.

On this day, Westbrook scored 20 points, dished 21 assists and grabbed 20 rebounds in 12 seconds short of 37 minutes.

“He can impact the game in a lot of different ways,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.

Oh, yeah, the Oklahoma City beat Los Angeles 119-103.

The moment Westbrook grabbed his final rebound, the Thunder bench erupted.

Only 24 seconds earlier, Donovan had initiated what was to be wholesale substitutions of his players on the floor. However, Westbrook waved Hamidou Diallo back to the bench, still two rebounds from the landmark.

As he would go on to tell a national television audience during postgame comments on the floor, Westbrook wanted to make history as a tribute to his friend, the rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was shot to death in Los Angeles on Sunday.

“I’m humbled and grateful that I play the game,” he said. “But that wasn’t for me, that was for my Bro’ man, that was for Nipsey, man: 20 plus 20 plus 20. They know what that means, man.”

The way the fourth quarter began threatened to not only get in the way of Westbrook’s history, but of a Thunder victory, too.

OKC entered the the final frame leading 94-78 after a dominant third quarter in which it outscored Los Angeles by 12 points.

Yet, with 6:41 to play, the Lakers had cut the deficit to 101-96 on, of all things, a slashing driving dunk from Alex Caruso, who averaged eight points a game over four years at Texas A&M and once made the Oklahoma City Blue his professional home.

Westbrook, though, had entered two minutes earlier and was about to get busy all over again, registering four points, six rebounds and three assists in the final period.

Donovan didn’t like the way the Thunder defended the 3, as the Lakers stayed close by shooting 41 percent (16 of 39) from long distance.

Yet, he liked the effort, liked the turnover discrepancy — Thunder 12, Lakers 21 — and like the shots his team got, even as it canned 58.6 percent (34 of 58) of its 2-point attempts, but only 29.5 percent (13 of 44) of its 3-point attempts.

“Tonight, I thought we moved the ball and generated a lot of good shots,” Donovan said.

Jerami Grant led the Thunder on the scoreboard with 22 points, Paul George finished with 19 and Terrance Ferguson added 15, making a welcome 5 of 9 shots.

The Lakers got 23 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 15 from Caruso and 13 from Reggie Bullock.

All that, and everybody in the arena got to see basketball history play out, too.

“It’s not many made like Russ … It takes somebody special to go out and have a performance like that,” Paul George said. “Especially with how heavy his heart was for the loss of Nipsey.”

Horning is senior sports columnist for The Norman Transcript.