PHOENIX — The Suns refused to allow Russell Westbrook to break the triple-double record on their home court, disappointing a crowd that cheered and chanted for him during a bizarre fourth quarter on Friday night.
Several fans booed Oklahoma City Thunder players who didn’t shoot after receiving passes from Westbrook.
Westbrook ended the night two assists shy of his 42nd triple-double of the season, which would have broken Oscar Robertson’s 55-year-old record. On several occasions in the fourth quarter, he didn’t shoot when open and instead passed to teammates, but the Suns made denying Westbrook assists their priority down the stretch of their 120-99 victory, which snapped a 13-game losing streak for Phoenix.
“Fourth quarter, we had such a big lead and the only thing he needed was assists, so the whole game plan changed,” Suns forward Jared Dudley told ESPN. “He was still in the game down 20, 25, and you could see he was being real passive, so we just stayed home; and if he was going to do a drop-off, we were going to foul and make them earn it. If he was going to earn it, it was going to be somewhere else.
“I hope he gets it, just not here, not versus us. We’ve dealt with enough problems this year, so to have another history against us and have to watch it 20 years from now, I’m glad it’s not us.”
Suns star shooting guard Devin Booker, who had 21 of his game-high 37 points in the fourth quarter to ensure the Thunder never mounted a serious comeback threat, said he took it personally that the Talking Stick Resort Arena crowd cheered so enthusiastically for Westbrook.
After a few of his buckets in the fourth quarter, Booker yelled at the crowd: “This is my house!” adding a profanity on one occasion.
“I’m a competitor, and I’m at my home arena and you’re hearing chants to another guy,” Booker said. “Which I totally respect Russell. He brings it each and every night, and you can’t discredit what he’s been doing. I’m sure he’s going to pass Oscar for the most triple-doubles. I just didn’t want it to be here. I took that personal. Like I said, I’m a competitor. I’m sure if someone was chasing a record at home in OKC, he’d feel the same way.”
Suns point guard Tyler Ulis offered his take.
“You don’t want to be on the opposite end of history when things like that happen,” Ulis said. “Like when Devin dropped 70, no matter what, Boston’s going to be part of that. We didn’t want that to happen on us.”
The Suns believed that Westbrook was hunting assists in pursuit of history in the fourth quarter. Westbrook denied that was the case.
“I mean, I was 6-for-25. F—, I mean, what you want me to do?” Westbrook said after spending almost an hour working on his shot in Phoenix’s practice gym after his poor shooting performance. “I wasn’t making the shots, so somebody else can help. My job is to see what’s going on and try to find guys that make some shots, and maybe we can get something going. But it wasn’t falling for me tonight.”
The Suns readily admitted they were aware in the fourth quarter of how many assists Westbrook needed to record a triple-double.
“Yeah, he knew too,” Ulis said. “That’s all he was trying to do. He was wide open trying to find guys. We stuck to them, ran guys off the line, and it didn’t happen.”
The Suns decided to foul any time Westbrook fed a teammate in the lane. Fans loudly booed Dudley when he wrapped up Thunder center Steven Adams, who also got booed for not attempting a 3-pointer off a Westbrook pass, even though Adams has never made a 3 in his career.
“Hey, I’m not just going to let him lay it up,” Dudley said. “I know what’s at stake right now with history. It won’t involve me, I’ll tell you that. It was nothing dirty, nothing malicious. It was just, hey, I’m going to grab those arms and make you shoot free throws. If I had to, I’d foul at half court and make them get in the bonus.”
Westbrook said he wasn’t concerned with the Suns’ defensive strategy in the fourth quarter, saying, “That’s on them.” He also insisted that the triple-double record wasn’t on his mind late in the blowout loss.
“I wasn’t playing for records since I’ve been in the league,” said Westbrook, who finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists and 8 turnovers. “This is my ninth year. I play the same way every single night. Record or no record, I compete at a high level, and that’s what I do.”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said the chance to break Robertson’s record had nothing to do with his decision to play Westbrook deep into the fourth quarter, despite the lopsided score, citing some of the remarkable comebacks that Westbrook has pulled off this season.
“No, I wasn’t trying to get him a triple-double,” Donovan said. “I’ve seen enough miraculous things this year: At Dallas, at Orlando and some other places. You know? And I thought about taking him out. I think there was maybe a stoppage of play around 3:45, 3:40, somewhere around that point. And I just said, you know what? He gets hot from 3-point line, something happens, we make a couple shots, get a couple stops. And then at that point, around 2:35, 2:40, I actually thought about calling a timeout on the play he got fouled to get him out. But just wanna give him and our team every opportunity to try to have a chance to win.”
The Suns, on the other hand, made no bones about the fact that their primary goal late in the game was to make sure Westbrook finished with single-digit assists.
“I want to see him reach history,” Booker said. “Just not here in Phoenix.”