With 42 triple-doubles this season, Russell Westbrook broke a record that stood for 55 years. Oscar Robertson was so impressed by Westbrook’s accomplishment that he congratulated him in person before the Thunder’s final regular-season game Wednesday, presented him with the Dr. James Naismith Achievement Sculpture, and led the crowd in chants of “M-V-P!”
It was quite a moment.
“I’ve never seen an individual player play as hard – and I think that’s what’s caught the attention of a lot of former players that have watched him play,” NBA vet and analyst Eddie Johnson said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Not the numbers more so, but just the intensity every night. It’s so difficult to pull that off for 82 games, and he was able to do it – at a time when, earlier in the season, people thought he wouldn’t be able to make it through to the All-Star break, and yet, he seemed to get stronger as the season went along.”
Unfortunately for James Harden, who averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds and led Houston to 55 wins, MVP runner-up might be the best for which he can hope.
“It’s tough for James Harden because he’s had one of those seasons that we haven’t seen in awhile either,” Johnson said. “But we can go down the line with great players that have played that, coincidentally, another guy was going through maybe little bit better season and he got the MVP. Shaq can say that because Steve Nash ran off two in a row. LeBron could argue that point with Steph Curry doing what he’s done the last few years. So I think James Harden, in my estimation, is going to fall in that same situation. He’s had a tremendous season. Mike D’Antoni has done wonders with him. James Harden really turned his whole game around. (He was) always a guy that could score, but now (he’s) a guy that can involve his teammates, that can lead a team. I never really thought that he could ever play point guard, but Mike D’Antoni has really taught him how, and it’s gotten him to a point now where he has an opportunity to be an MVP in the NBA. So hats off to him. He’s played tremendous. But in my estimation, Russell Westbrook is the MVP.”
Looking ahead to the playoffs, Boston (53-29) and Golden State (67-15) won the East and West, respectively. The latter was not surprising. But the former? Oh yeah.
“Brad Stevens is a tremendous coach,” Johnson said. “He has an old-school mentality for such a young guy. He allows his players to carve into their roles, and if they do, they’ll be rewarded for it. I’ve seen it time and time again. He’ll play guys, and I’m sure he’s basing it on the fact that they’ve worked hard in practice, they’ve given him solid minutes in the (few) minutes that they’ve gotten, and they’ve gotten rewarded. Who wouldn’t want to play for a guy like that? He had to carve out roles. He had to get them to understand that Isaiah Thomas was going to be the guy that’s going to take all the shots, and they’re all pretty much similar ages. They could have faulted the process. They could have said, ‘Why him?’ Avery Bradley could have said, ‘Why him? Why not me?’ And so, they all just melded into what their responsibilities were, and they won.”
Golden State, meanwhile, is aiming for its third Finals appearance in as many seasons. The Warriors are also hoping to atone for the 2016 Finals, when they lost a 3-1 series lead to Cleveland.
“They know in the back of their mind that anything short of a championship is a disappointment,” Johnson said. “They know this. They’re definitely going to remember what happened last year, but they’re a very talented team. They’re the best offensive team that I’ve seen in a long time.”