HOUSTON • The triple-double statistic is synonymous with Russell Westbrook, yet it was the lesser talked about defensive side to his game that came up clutch for the Oklahoma City Thunder at Toyota Centre.
Westbrook recorded 24 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and four steals to help the Thunder post a crucial 108-102 National Basketball Association (NBA) victory over the hosts Houston Rockets on Saturday night.
The other two members of Thunder's "Big Three", Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, added 24 and 22 points respectively. But it was their smothering defence which held the Rockets to just 40 second-half points, including 19 in the fourth quarter, that proved to be decisive.
In a match-up between reigning Most Valuable Player Westbrook and MVP front-runner James Harden, the Thunder guard took it upon himself to frustrate his former team-mate in the fourth quarter, and showed why he deserved to be in the MVP conversation despite the lack of buzz around his name this season.
Westbrook hinted as much and stopped short of calling Harden the favourite to lift the award.
"I'm not sure. Obviously, he's (Harden) having a good year, a great year," said Westbrook.
He was, however, in a more generous mood towards his team-mates, hailing their efforts in limiting the offence of the league's leading team.
"Defensively is something that we stand by and something that I stand by," he said.
"I try to go out every night and leave it out on the floor on both sides and do what I need to do to help my team win games."
The win, their second in the past six games, leaves the Thunder (46-34) tied with the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs, who both won on Saturday, for fifth place in the Western Conference play-off race.
Oklahoma now need to win only one of their final two games - against Miami or Memphis - to clinch a play-off berth.
Harden had 26 points and nine assists, but couldn't prevent the Rockets (64-16) from losing for just the third time in their last 33 games.
The setback also ended Houston's 20-game home winning streak.