OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook sat alone on the Thunder bench some 15 minutes before tipoff Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers, with a basketball between his legs, singing and dancing along to Nipsey Hussle’s “Grindin’ All My Life,” intent on playing a game to honor the recently slain rapper.
After he recorded the second 20-20-20 game in NBA history — posting 20 points, 20 rebounds and 21 assists — Westbrook walked off the floor following a 119-103 win with a heavy heart, having dedicated the performance to his friend.
“That’s for Nipsey!” Westbrook yelled as he slapped his chest.
Westbrook, who grew up in Los Angeles, where Nipsey Hussle was a cultural staple, wore a blue shirt that said Crenshaw on it, a nod to a Nipsey Hussle mixtape.
Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed Sunday outside his clothing store in Los Angeles.
“Grateful to play the game, but that wasn’t for me, man. That was for my bro, man. That was for Nipsey,” Westbrook said on the TNT broadcast on the court after the game. “Rest in peace to Nipsey, man. I’m just thankful to go out there and compete at a high level, man. Thankful to have these teammates. Thankful and humbled to go out there and play the game I love.”
It was an awkward situation for Westbrook to grab the final two rebounds needed, though. He waved off a substitution by coach Billy Donovan with 1:04 left and the Thunder up by 16. With OKC center Steven Adams at the free throw line, Donovan emptied his bench, but Westbrook wanted to stay in the game for the final minute. A confused Hamidou Diallo initially walked onto the floor, then had to walk back off.
After becoming the second-ever NBA player to post a 20-20-20 game, Russell Westbrook dedicates the night to late rapper Nipsey Hussle.
“He came over and talked to me about it, and I knew he had a close friend pass away, and he had mentioned and explained that to me,” Donovan said of Westbrook. “I think for a few guys on our team, relationship-wise, this kind of hit them pretty hard the last couple days, just talking to them. But I think for Russell, that was something that really meant a lot to him, and he basically talked to me a little bit about it after the game.”
After Adams missed his second free throw, Westbrook hauled in the offensive rebound and missed a putback attempt, but he couldn’t corral the ball.
Adams, a 51 percent free throw shooter, was asked if he missed the free throw on purpose.
“Just say I did,” Adams said. “I know how to miss free throws.”
On the following possession, Lakers guard Isaac Bonga missed a jumper, and Westbrook snagged rebound No. 20. The Thunder bench erupted, and Westbrook dribbled out to the half-court line celebrating.
“It’s just epic,” said Thunder forward Paul George, also a Southern California native. “Man, the heart of that guy over there, honestly, is what’s so amazing about it.
“It’s the way he’s made up. There’s not many made like Russ. It takes somebody special to go out and have a performance like that, especially with how heavy his heart was for the loss of Nipsey.”
The Thunder have been mired in a rut since the All-Star break, and they were desperate for not just a win, but a good performance against the Lakers. Westbrook and George set a tone early, with George picking off passes and throwing down a reverse 360 dunk and another flashy two-hander in the first quarter, while Westbrook dished out 10 assists in the opening 12 minutes.
“We warmed up to Nipsey and, honestly, I felt that changed everything,” George said. “That changed the mood, that changed the vibe, and we were pumped.”
Assuming he plays in the Thunder’s final four regular-season games, Westbrook needs just three assists to secure his third consecutive season averaging a triple-double. He posted his 31st triple double of the season on Tuesday.
Westbrook has flirted with 20-20-20 games a few different times but never could quite get there. On Tuesday, he made sure of it. Following the game, he signed a stack of box scores to be passed out among Thunder staffers and ball boys, but he took the historic game ball home with him.
“Just an unbelievable moment that I definitely won’t take for granted, won’t let pass by,” Westbrook said. “Just completely humbled and thankful to go out and play, man. I don’t even know what to say, how to put it into words, honestly. I just do what I can, honestly.”