In Game 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals, won by the Warriors 132-113 on June 4, perennial All-Stars, and former MVPs LeBron James of then defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry of the World Champion Golden State Warriors became just the second pair of opposing players to post a triple-double in NBA Playoff history, with Curry posting his first in the postseason with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and James had his eighth triple-double in The Finals, which tied Hall of Famer and five-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers Earvin “Magic” Johnson with 38 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists on Wednesday night. He set a new Finals record in the Cavs 137-116 win in Game 4 back on June 9 with his nine triple-double of 31 points, 10 boards and 11 assists. This past regular, an NBA record 119 triple-doubles were posted, with 42 of them, a new NBA record for a single season authored by MVP candidate and perennial All-Star guard Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Second to him was perennial All-Star floor general and fellow MVP candidate James Harden of the Houston Rockets with 22. Following the two former Thunder teammates was James, with 13 triple-doubles. Basketball fans and fans who like eye catching stats saw the full spectrum of that with the number of triple-doubles that occurred in the NBA. The evolution of this amazing stat and how the players of today seem to put up triple-doubles at a high rate. They have one player to thank for that though, “The Big-O.”
Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who is the all-time leader with 181 is the player who essentially was the father of the triple-double, being the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double with averages of 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists back in the 1961-62 season for the then Cincinnati Royals. He also during that season set the then single-season record of triple-doubles that NBA campaign with 41, which was top by the Westbrook this past season.
He said to NBA.com’s Shaun Powell in an interview in April that during this time he did not know what a triple-double was.
“Just playing trying to win,” he said. “We had a team that wasn’t the greatest of team’s. So, they called on you to do a lot of different things.”
Those amazing things that he was asked to do, scoring, rebounding, and getting assist was how Robertson averaged a triple-double his first five seasons in the NBA, which for most fans is an incredible stat. To Robertson though, it did not matter if he had a great game statistically if a victory did not follow.
Victories were hard to come back then for Mr. Robertson and the Royals, especially against teams that had the likes of the late great Wilt Chamberlin, Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond, and Walt Bellamy. Centers that were some of the best rebounders in NBA history, who were always around the basket area to defend.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to have a free pivot, where you could go in there anytime you want to.”
“Magic” Johnson, who is second all-time with 138 triple-double said a few years back that, “What Oscar did with the triple-double, that will never happen ever again. Never in the history of the game.”
Current Milwaukee Bucks’ head coach and NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 Jason Kidd, who ranked third all-time with 107 triple-doubles concurred by saying, “I think that’s one of those records that will never be broken.”
Then along came Westbrook this season, who averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 assists and 10.4 rebounds this regular season. In the Thunder’s five-game setback to the Houston Rockets in the first-round of the playoffs back in April, Westbrook averaged 37.4 points, 10.8 assists and 11.6 boards.
To put Westbrook’s historic season into perspective, he was the first player since the “Big O” to average a triple-double late into a season during the 2016-17 campaign. In just this past regular season, the former UCLA Bruin moved past James and Hall of Famers Larry Bird and the late Wilt Chamberlin on the all-time triple-double list.
Westbrook authored one spectacular triple-double after another and he did it in a way where his teammates, the opposition, and the fans in Oklahoma City to road crowds all felt his presence.
“He’s one of the most unique players that we’ve seen in our league. Not because of his ball handling. Not because of his shooting ability, but because of his motor. Because of his engine and his will to keep pushing,” Hall of Famer and two-time champion with the Detroit Pistons Isiah Thomas, who posted five triple-doubles in his career said.
That relentless energy and determination to led the Thunder to wins as the top dog with Kevin Durant now with the Warriors is why Westbrook had triple-doubles where he had 30-plus points; 40-plus points and three where he scored 50-plus, which is the most in NBA history and they all came this past regular season.
While Westbrook posted his triple-doubles through a relentless, high octane, non-stop Thunder storm, no pun intended, Harden’s were put up with precision.
When new head coach moved Harden to the lead guard spot to start the season, he showed every single skill he had in his arsenal. That helped him go from a far cry not making one of the All-NBA teams a season ago to making the All-NBA First-Team this past season.
That change resulted in career-highs of 29.1 points, an NBA leading 11.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 22 triple-doubles this past regular season, which was second to Westbrook.
Two of them came when Harden scored 50-plus points, with the best of the two was authored on New Year’s Eve 2016 versus the New York Knicks where he had a career-high of 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists in the Rockets’ 129-122 win. He was a remarkable 14 for 26, including 9 for 16 from three-point range and 16 for 18 from the free throw line.
What made this somewhat back-and-forth of garnering triple-doubles between Westbrook and Harden incredibly special is that they each missed just one game during the regular season. In a season where several high-profile players sat out to so-called rest, Harden and Westbrook took the court night-in and night-out and gave those that saw them in the stands their money’s worth.
While many of us may revel in the amazing stats that Westbrook and Harden put up during the regular season, there was a time when the great Michael Jordan could have accomplished what they did.
A few months before what became known as “The Shot,” MJ hit in Game 5 of the first-round of the 1989 NBA Playoffs that ended the season for the Mark Price, Craig Ehlo, Brad Daugherty led Cleveland Cavaliers, Jordan was at a major crossroad. While he was the reigning MVP, No. 23 had yet to get passed the Semifinals of the postseason. A big-time scorer that did not have the ability to lead his team to the mountain top.
On Mar. 8, 1989, Jordan was unable to play against the Boston Celtics to do an illness, the Bulls were routed, trailing by 29 points going into the fourth quarter and the C’s were without eventual Hall of Famer Larry Bird. It was the Bulls third straight defeat and prompted then head coach and now EPSN color analyst Doug Collins to make a bold lineup change. That move was making Michael Jordan the Bulls’ point guard in place of then starting floor general Sam Vincent.
The move worked, beginning with a 17-point win versus the Seattle Supersonics as Jordan tallied 18 points and 15 assists. Two nights later, the Bulls romped the Indiana Pacers 122-90, with Jordan recording his first triple-double as a point guard with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists.
After a small slump where they dropped two of three games, the Bulls put together a winning run that got them back on course, which featured one of the best triple-double streaks in NBA history, garnering double-digits in points, rebounds and assists in seven straight games. It was the longest such streak since Chamberlin’s nine straight games with a triple-double in 1968.
Westbrook matched that streak of Jordan’s with seven straight triple-doubles from Nov. 25, 2016 to Dec. 9, 2016.
From Mar. 21 of that season through Apr. 4, the Bulls won eight of nine contest that put them 18 games over .500 and into the No. 5 spot in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. The Bulls scored at least 100 points in all nine games, with a couple of victories in the closing seconds.
The Bulls’ good run for that two-week period was halted by their arch rivals the Detroit Pistons, who swept their home-and-home set behind the spectacular playmaking of Thomas and the sharp shooting off the bench by Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson.
Despite Jordan scoring 71 total points in the home-and-home set, the Pistons ended his triple-double streak and swept the regular season series 6-0.
“We’ve been on the verge of beating this team a few times, except for down the stretch. We make mental mistakes and errors and they capitalize on it,” Jordan said after one of the losses to the Pistons.
Jordan bounced back quickly recording triple-double the next three games in a row including an effort of 47 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in a 109-105 win at the Pacers on Apr. 13, 1989. That gave Jordan 10 triple-doubles over an 11-game span that encompassed 21 days.
The Bulls did not garner victories in the fashion they did early on as the dropped eight of their last 10 games to close the season as Jordan recorded another triple-double on Apr. 21, 1989 against the then Washington Bullets of 34 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists.
In the 24 games as Bulls’ starting floor general, Jordan averaged 30.4 points, 10.7 assists and 9.2 rebounds, registering 12 triple-doubles.
While the Bulls went just 13-11 in that period, it showed the entire league and fans that watched how the great Michael Jordan can dominate a game besides scoring.
The Bulls as the No. 6 Seed beat the No. Seeded Cavs thanks to “The Shot” Jordan hit over Ehlo from the foul line in the final seconds of Game 5 of the First-Round series that sank the Cavaliers and planted his flag on one of the indelible moments in NBA history.
“I don’t know. We just try, and try, but it is just hard to stop that guy. I don’t know what to do,” Cavs All-Star center, Brad Daugherty said after the loss.
In the Semifinals, the Bulls took down the No. 2 Seeded New York Knicks in six games as Jordan averaged 41 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists over the final four games of the series.
“Michael Jordan is the greatest player. Going to go down as the greatest player, if not of all-time. Because he makes people better,” then Knicks head coach, now the head coach at the University of Louisville Rick Pitino said. “He’s phenomenal and we are not embarrassed to lose to the Chicago Bulls.”
Unfortunately, the Bulls magical playoff run came was ended by the eventual NBA champion “Bad Boy” Pistons in a very competitive six games of the Eastern Conference Finals, with each game being decided by single digits.
“We kind of stood in their way. We gave them a little competition. We gave them a little fight,” Jordan said. “I think we humbled them. I think we learned a lot. We gained a lot of experience by going against a team that may win it all.”
What that season showed was the evolution of Jordan, who went from being known as just a scorer to being an all-around player who can make plays in the clutch for himself as well as his teammates. He became the ultimate leader and that evolution would pay off in 1991 when the Bulls won their first of six titles in eight seasons with two three-peats. In their journey to their first title, the Bulls and Jordan swept the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals 4-0 and in the final seconds of Game 4, the back-to-back defending champion Pistons walked off the floor and did not shake the hands of the Bulls.
Of all the amazing accomplishments of the great Michael Jordan, probably the most remarkable of all was that he was on the All-NBA Defensive First-Team nine times.
Traditionally the three main components that make up a triple-double are double-digits in points, rebounds, and assists. There have been times that a player has gotten a triple-double by having double-digits in either blocks or steals.
In a season where the biggest appeal to the league were the mindboggling offensive stats that were put up by Westbrook, Harden and James, Warriors forward Draymond Green to the less glamorous path to a triple-double with just four points scored, but garnered 12 rebounds, 10 assists, franchise record 10 steals and five blocks in his team’s 122-107 victory at the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 10. It was the first triple-double in NBA history with fewer than 10 points.
“A lot of people don’t realize that you can be in a defensive grove. Tonight, I felt like I was on point at that end of the floor,” Green said after one of the most blue-collar games played in league history.
Of all the triple-doubles in NBA history, Green’s effort was not just while scoring in single-digits, it was just the 10th all-time with double-digit steals. His 10 thefts on the night were also one shy of tying the all-time NBA record in one game.
To put into perspective how special this night was for Green, blocks and steals did not become an official stat in “The Association” until the 1973-74 campaign. If those two stats were official years earlier Hall of Famer and 11-time champion Bill Russell and Chamberlin would have had notch on their belts years earlier.
Those to achieve 11 steals as part of a triple-double were former American Basketball Association (ABA) and NBA All-Star Larry Kenon, who had 29 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 steals for the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 26, 1976 versus the Washington Bullets.
How good was Kenon? He owns the second highest scoring average in Spurs history 20.7 points per game, behind only Hall of Famer George “Ice Man” Gervin’s 26.3 points per game average.
Former New Jersey Net, now NBA studio analyst for Comcast SportsNet Chicago Kendall Kill, who had 15 points, 10 boards and 11 steals on Apr. 3, 1999 versus the Miami Heat;
Hall of Famer and 11-time All-Star Clyde Drexler used 11 steals twice as part of a triple-double tear, when he posted 26 points, 11 assists, and 10 steals on Jan. 10, 1986 versus the Denver Nuggets and 25 points, 10 boards and 10 steals on Nov. 1, 1996 versus the Sacramento Kings, and former Trail Blazer to post a triple-double with 10 steals, was ironically enough a guy Larry Steele, who got 10 of them in a game versus the Lakers.
Drexler is the only player in NBA history with two steals triple-doubles, posting them a decade a part, and in both cases nearly posted a quadruple-double and Steele is fifth on the Trail Blazers all-time steals list. He was also part of the franchises 1977 championship team that defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.
Unknown to the average NBA fan, but well known in NBA circles, former guard Lafayette “Fat” Lever, whose is ranked No. 8 all-time in triple-doubles with 43 of them, and is 24th all-time in steals posted one on Mar. 3, 1985 for the Denver Nuggets in a loss at the Bulls with 13 points, 15 assists and 10 steals.
One of the best thieves in league history Alvin Robertson had one of the best all-around games in the history of the game. He recorded just one of four quadruple-double in the 71-year history of the National Basketball Association with 20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 steals on Feb. 18, 1986 versus the Suns, which happened on this blogger’s fifth birthday.
Former Phoenix Suns’ All-Star guard and the current Mayor of Sacramento, CA Kevin Johnson on Dec. 9, 1993 versus the Bullets had a triple-double with 17 points, 13 assists and 10 steals and the last triple-double in the league with 10 steals was former Atlanta Hawks’ lead guard and No. 11 all-time in steals Daron Oshay “Mookie” Blaylock, who registered 14 points, 11 assists and 10 steals on Apr. 14, 1998 versus the Sixers.
While those players garnered their triple-doubles with steals, some of the best centers and forwards in the game got theirs by blocking shots.
Since the 1973-74 season, there have been 88 triple-doubles registered where a player had double-digits in block shots, and that list did not include Russell or Chamberlin.
The players who have done it frequently are the all-time leader in the NBA in blocks shots with 3,830 in Hall of Famer and two-time champion with the Houston Rockets Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, who recorded 10.
He is tied with fellow Hall of Famer who made shot blocking an art form and put an exclamation point on it with the wag of his right finger is four-time Defensive Player of the Year recipient Dikembe Mutombo, who is 541 rejections behind Olajuwon with 3,289.
Third on the list with nine of these is Hall of Famer, two-time champion, former Defensive Player of the Year, and the 1993-94 scoring champion David “The Admiral” Robinson, whose sixth all-time in blocks with 2,954 and won the league MVP in 1995.
Next on this list is Hall of Famer known as “The Captain,” in six-time champion; six-time league MVP and the all-time leading scorer with 38,837 points Kareem Abdul-Jabbar posted seven 10 block triple-doubles.
Another former Laker Elmore Smith authored six 10-block shot triple-doubles, and once blocked 17 shots in a game for L.A.
Former Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton, whose 3,064 career blocks are one spot behind Abdul-Jabbar’s 3,189, which is third all-time, authored six 10-block shot triple-doubles in his career, who against the Trail Blazers in 1985 had 20 boards and 14 blocks as part of his triple-double.
Former No. 2 overall pick by the Sixers in 1993 out of BYU recorded six 10-block shot triple-doubles. One of them came in 1998 against the Trail Blazers where he had 22 points, 22 boards and 13 blocks off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks.
There are two players who share the NBA record of blocking 15 shots in registering a triple-double. Hall of Famer and current NBATV/NBA on TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal did it for the Orlando Magic when he had 24 points, 28 rebounds and 15 swats on Nov. 20, 1993 at the then New Jersey Nets. It was one of two triple-doubles he had in his 19-year career.
The other was the late 7’7” Sudanese-born center Manute Bol for the Bullets on Feb. 26, 1987 recorded his only triple-double with 10 points, 19 rebounds and 15 blocks versus the Pacers. Bol finished his 10-year NBA career with more blocks (2,086) than points (1,599).
The one thing that the giants of our game to those that got a headline for their unbelievable night they put together have in common is they put on a show; displayed that they can do a multitude of things on the court and stood out as one of the best on the hardwood. That best describes Fat Lever, who was Westbrook before Westbrook, minus the athleticism.
This is a guy who had a triple-double with 23 assists in a game against the Bulls in 1988 and against the Warriors in 1989. Lever had a near quadruple-double with 31 points, 16 rebounds, 20 assists in a game.
“It’s nice to be recognized, and I’m a low-key type of guy at times. But, whenever those statistics comes up, it’s bringing you back to reality to show some of your accomplishments,” the two-time All-Star who averaged 19. Points, 9.3 boards and 7.9 assists in the 1988-89 season said to NBATV’s Vince Cellini back in April. He jokingly added to that by saying, “As long as I stay in the top 10, I’ll be okay.”
Lever said that the triple-doubles that stand out the most are the ones he authored where his team was on the wrong end of the scoreboard, like the one he had at the Bulls, where on Jordan was not the only star on the Chicago Stadium floor that day.
“We lose the game and you look at the stats, I had no idea the stats were there, until you look back at them and see them now,” Lever said to Cellini about that game at the Bulls. “But during the game, never really thought about it. Your worried about winning and losing, especially winning at Chicago, and beating a Michael Jordan team. That’s all you wanted. The satisfaction of the triple-double was there, but it wasn’t like, ‘Hey. You win the game and get the triple-double on national tv.’ I think that’s more accomplishing.”
It is why that Lever also said to Cellini that a triple-double type player is one that must possess a winning attitude; winning mindset; a hardnose attitude that puts his team first.
Statistically, that is Westbrook in every sense. When he got a triple-double this past season, the Thunder were 33-9 this past season.
There have been times however when players garnered a triple-double, but tarnished the moment and their reputation in the eyes of their opponent. For many role players, achieving a triple-double is something that is like a feather in their cap for that season, and sometimes that one real highlight for their career. There are times when it has occurred, it becomes a stain that rubs the opponent the wrong way.
In the Mar. 19, 1996 contest between the Pistons at the Magic, reserve guard Anthony Bowie was one rebound and one assist away from his first career triple-double.
The game was going to be in the win column for the Magic, who were up by 20 with less than 10 seconds remaining. In every instance like this you dribble out the clock and end the game. Bowie though grabbed the rebound with 02.7 left; called a timeout.
Then head coach and current Magic analyst for FOX Sports Florida Brian Hill had the kind of look on his face that said, “Why?”
Pistons head man, now color analyst for ESPN Doug Collins instructed his team to remain near their sideline for the remaining seconds.
The Magic inbounded the ball and Bowie passed it to forward David Vaughn who dunked it with 00.8 seconds left, giving Bowie the triple-double of 20 points, 10 boards and 10 assists. When went over to shake the hand of Collins, he shrugged him off and went into the locker room.
It was nowhere near what Ricky Davis, who had two stints with the Cavs did versus the Jazz on Mar. 16, 2003.
With the score 120-95 in favor of the Cavs with 06.1 seconds remaining, Davis caught the inbound pass from Jumaine Jones, drove to the basket and shot it. Rebounded his own miss and that gave him a triple-double. He paid for it later when DeShawn Stevenson fouled him with 02.0 seconds left. Jazz head coach for 22 seasons in Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan, who was known as a player and as head coach who always preached and played the game with a level of respect for it like any other had a shocking look on his face that asked, “Why would you do that?”
“He shot at the wrong basket. He was trying to embarrass somebody by doing that. DeShawn fouled him. I would have fouled him too. I would have knocked him on his ass,” Sloan said.
One year later, then Hawks guard Bob Sura, a former Cav was trying to become the first player in seven years to rack up three straight triple-doubles.
Their Apr. 12, 2004 tilt versus the Nets, that they won 129-107, Sura was one rebound short of that accomplishment.
After catching a long inbound pass, Sura took a shot that hit the iron. He rebounded it, and appeared to register his third straight game with a triple-double. However, the NBA the following day reviewing the video, Sura’s field goal attempt as well as the rebound was stricken, thus ending Sura’s triple-double streak at two games.
Before resurrecting his career with the now World Champion Warriors this past season, center JaVale McGee on Mar. 11, 2011 with the now Washington Wizards at the Bulls authored a memorable triple-double.
A slam dunk, plus a foul gave the former UNLV star nine points, 12 boards and 12 blocks. He needed just one point for the triple-double.
In the last 3:43 seconds of the game, McGee missed a free throw; was short on a running one hander; air-balled a fade away jumper and mishandled a driving layup going to his left. Finally, he received a pass in the lane from then rookie lead guard John Wall, that at first was fumbled, but McGee got it and dunked it hard to garner the triple-double, and received a technical foul for doing a pullup on the rim after the dunk.
“Your down 20 and you get a triple-double. I am not impressed,” NBATV/NBA on TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Kevin McHale said during the highlights of the McGee’s triple-double of 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 blocks in the Wizards 98-79 loss on that edition of “Gametime,” he did with Chris Webber and Rick Kamla.
The most pathetic attempt at a triple-double though was not by McGee, but by his one-time teammate Andray Blatche on Apr. 4, 2010 versus the Nets.
Sitting at 29 points, 13 assists and nine boards, Blatche with less than 30 seconds left and up by 10 points, Blatche attempted to get a rebound off a miss, but a foul was whistled on him.
A right corner three-pointer by Chris Douglas-Roberts of the Nets was an air ball that was rebounded by his teammate Cartier Martin that denied Blatche of the triple-double and he was not pleased at all.
McGee was fouled with 08.1 seconds left sending him to the foul line. McGee made the first and prior to the second attempt, Blatche in a selfish move was bargaining with the Nets’ Yi Jianlian to allow him to grab the rebound if McGee missed to get the triple-double.
McGee made both with 08.1 seconds left and after a made layup by current Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris, Blatche’s attempt at a triple-double was thwarted in the Wizards 109-99 win versus the Nets.
“My teammate robbed me man,” Blatche said to reporters in the locker room after the game. “My own teammate robbed me. I can’t even believe it. I’m shocked and appalled.”
If there is one difference from those that got triple-doubles back when Robertson, “Magic” Johnson, Lever and even Kidd were getting them compared to Westbrook, Harden, and James of today, those triple-doubles came with solid scoring nights of high teens and maybe mid-20s with some rare 30-plus, 40-plus point contest. Now, those kinds of triple-doubles are happening at a high clip now, especially with Westbrook and Harden this past year. On top of that, triple-doubles have become as Lever said to Cellini, “It’s sociable. It’s the talk of the town and I always say because analytics are numbers. And, right now we talk about in all aspects of the game.”
What the phenomenon of the triple-double has done more than anything is allowed this generation of NBA fans to have a major look at some of the past greats like Robertson, “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, Chamberlin, and Fat Lever and give us an appreciation for the evolution of what we are seeing today from the likes of Westbrook, Harden, James Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and how they are taking the art of getting a triple-double to a whole other level.
What can also be said about this feet that has taken the sports world by storm this past year is that while it may be common place for some, can be impossible for many others and in the pursuit of garnering one, many have been done masterfully and some have been done or attempted foolishly. There have been many masterpieces and others that have left as Cellini said in scattered pieces.
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of the 4/4/17 3:30 p.m. NBATV special, “The Art of the Triple-Double,” hosted by Vince Cellini, with interview of Oscar Robertson done by Shaun Powell; 4/16/11 SBNation.com article “JaVale McGee and The Most Pathetic Triple-Double in NBA History,” by Andrew Sharp; www.espn.com/nba/player/gamelog/_/id/3992/james-harden; www.espn.com/ba/player/gamelog/_/id/3468/russell-westbrook; www.espn.com/nba/player/gamelog/_/id/6589/draymond-green; www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/bolma01.html; www.basketball-reference.com/players/k/kenonla01.html; www.basketball-reference.com/players/g/gervige01.html; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shawn_Bradley; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Kennon; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_National_Basketball_Association_career_scoring_leaders and www.landofbasketball.com/all_time_leaders/block_total_career_season.htm.