NORMAN — For the past five seasons, every time Kevin Durant walked onto the basketball court he could count on at least one thing. Whether Oklahoma City won or lost, whether he played well or not, he knew Russell Westbrook would always be by his side.
That comes to an end tonight. For the first time since Westbrook arrived in 2008, he will not be suiting up after injuring his knee Wednesday against Houston. Westbrook will undergo surgery for a meniscus tear in his right knee and could be out at least two weeks.
“It’s such an unfortunate thing for a guy who loves to play the game so much,” Durant said. “He’s dedicated and committed to his team and gives his all every second he’s on the floor. A lot of people may not like what he brings to our team, but inside we love what he does. He’s a different player. We love what he brings and it’s unfortunate that he can’t compete at the highest level of basketball, which is the playoffs. We just have to step up in his absence.”
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said he won’t announce until tonight who will start in Westbrook’s place. The likely contenders are second-year guard Reggie Jackson or 17-year veteran Derek Fisher.
“Reggie Jackson is ready for the moment,” Durant said. “He’s been working his tail off since he got here. He’s ready for this. We have to rally behind him.”
Regardless of who gets the start, the entire team knows everyone has to raise their game to compensate for the loss of Westbrook. That includes Durant.
In the past, Durant has let Westbrook be the more vocal leader on the court. That now falls on his shoulders.
“I know I have to do a better job being a better leader on the floor,” Durant said. “Maybe doing some of the stuff he was doing for us. I got in faith in myself and my team that I can go out there and lead us. In fact, I know I can. I know I can lead us.”
The Thunder are facing a confident and desperate Rockets team. Even though they find themselves down 2-0 in the series, they had their chances to win Game 2 in Oklahoma City.
But now that they are back home in the Toyota Center, the Rockets’ season is on the line tonight. If they wins, it’s a brand new series. A loss puts them in a 3-0 deficit, which no team in NBA history has every come back from to win a series.
Durant wants to make sure Houston isn’t the first, even if he doesn’t have Westbrook on the court.
“Offensively and defensively, I just have to give it all for my team, like I’ve been doing,” Durant said. “Just going out there and playing my hardest and leaving it out there on the floor. We’re confident. It’s tough to deal with today having your teammate the day before a game saying he’s going to miss the next few. We just have to rally behind each other and play Thunder basketball. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”