It felt like a typical night with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Team principles and smart passes went out the window in the final moments of the fourth quarter, with Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony each taking stabs at downing the Sixers to secure a road win. The results were pretty much what you’d expect—missed midrange jumpers, forced threes and drives met by the long arms of Joel Embiid.
With the Thunder lead crumbing, Embiid stalked through the lane after he converted an and-1, chirping at Anthony and any Oklahoma City player within earshot. Later, when Steven Adams fouled out, he waved to the crowd and they waved back in unison, ushering the Thunder’s best defender to the bench. Known for his sharp tongue, the big man was not going quietly.
This was a familiar sight in Philadelphia, and everything appeared to point toward a Sixers win, with Embiid playing the heel role in extended minutes (49!) and Anthony inadvertently galvanizing the Sixers and sparking the first triple-overtime finish of season.
But, of course, Russell Westbrook never stops. It’s his job, as he told Doris Burke after securing a 119-117 win on sheer guts and guile. He’d witnessed Embiid’s antics and fumed. His resolve became more apparent with every play. Westbrook no longer deferred to Anthony and Paul George. He hawked rebounds, bulldozed through Thunder defenders and scolded Embiid. This is what Oklahoma City needs to be successful. The league’s MVP has to play like it, even when his superstar cast can’t provide suitable support.
And though he didn’t shoot a high percentage, Westbrook was the driving force behind most every positive OKC play late in the game. It wasn’t always pretty—he missed a key dunk and clanked several pull-up jumpers—but the tireless effort of Westbrook was on full display as he posted another triple-double of 27 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. He drove coast to coast for a dunk so demonic he had to stand and pose afterward. He kept the Thunder alive when George and Anthony faded. And most important of all, he trusted Anthony Roberson to secure a key bucket with 9.6 seconds left in triple overtime after he’d missed a similar layup to end the second extra period.
Predictably, when there was only a few ticks left and Patrick Patterson blocked J.J. Redick’s three-point attempt, Westbrook was there to grab that loose ball too. And because he couldn't help himself, Westbrook delivered a wave of his own in Embiid’s direction. He was one of nine players to spend more than 40 minutes on the court, yet he still had the energy to be petty. This was no surprise. This was Russell Westbrook. He never stops.