Westbrook's history-making season of healing reaches fitting culmination
With the departure of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder's hopes of winning an NBA title at any point in the near future went out the window.
But the Thunder fans who have suffered through the agony of losing a superstar who had become an integral part of not only the team but the community have been given a season-long one-man show as medicine to aid the healing process, and it reached its culmination as Russell Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson's triple-double record with his 42nd of the season against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
Fittingly, Westbrook marking the occasion in style by hitting a deep buzzer-beating three to clinch a 106-105 win, a shot that took his personal tally for the game to 50 points.
Westbrook's quest to earn an incredible slice of history has been a showcase of everything that makes him one of the most enjoyable players in the NBA to watch, the point guard's combination of athleticism, bravado and a desire for possession that regularly borders on ball-hogging coming to the fore in this astonishing statistical campaign.
His stunning solo performances will, in all likelihood not bring the Thunder anywhere close to the stage they reached last season - when Oklahoma City were defeated in the Western Conference Finals in seven games by the Warriors.
But in a campaign that has seen the Warriors beat the Thunder in all four of their regular-season meetings - with Durant hitting a pivotal three over Westbrook in the third encounter - his furious push to break Robertson's record has been a much-needed tonic for the Thunder fans.
This shot:-- NBA.com (@NBAcom) April 9, 2017
A) Won the game
B) eliminated Denver from the playoffs
C) gave Westbrook 50 points
D) all of the above pic.twitter.com/NmcCpcmpls
The losses to Warriors, all of which have been emphatic in their margin, have served as a constant reminder that Golden State have Oklahoma City's number, have Durant and are primed for another push for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Westbrook's exploits have allowed them to forget about Durant and the Warriors and provided the Thunder with a plethora of magnificent memories and potentially a second Oklahoma City MVP in four seasons.
There is a strong chance that come the end of the season, the Thunder will be watching a former favourite in Durant win the NBA title with arguably their biggest rival.
But when they look back on the year it is not whoever lifts the trophy that will stick in the mind of the Thunder and their fans, it will be games such as the 21-point comeback Westbrook fuelled against the Orlando Magic and the history-making contest in Denver.
His numbers are a direct and obvious result of the Thunder not having anybody worth taking the ball from Westbrook in the post-Durant era.
Yet the level of individual brilliance he has reached should, going forward, heal some of the wounds left by one of the most acrimonious departures in sporting history.
Durant will most likely still be booed in Oklahoma City next season but the Thunder supporters can at least be safe in the knowledge that they have the consolation of still boasting a superstar player in his prime, who now owns one of the most prestigious records in NBA history. And it will require a Herculean effort to ever take it away from him.