NORMAN — When Scott Brooks got to work Friday he was hoping for the best. The Oklahoma City coach had an idea his All-Star point guard was hurting, but he held out hope it wasn’t anything major.
That hope was dashed by the afternoon when the team announced Russell Westbrook will undergo surgery in the coming days to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.
“I have a lot of respect for Russell,” Brooks said. “He gives everything he has for the team. All of our players feel the same way. We love Russell Westbrook. We love what he’s about. We love the determination and drive that he has had since we drafted him. We all understand that injuries do happen. It’s unfortunate that it happened.”
According to the Thunder, the injury occurred Wednesday in Game 2 of their best-of-seven series with Houston.
More than likely it took place in the second quarter when Westbrook was dribbling across mid-court toward the Oklahoma City bench with the intentions of calling a time-out. Normally players allow this to happen without much interference. This time Houston rookie Patrick Beverley lunged in front of Westbrook to go for a quick steal, causing the two to bang knees.
Westbrook dropped to the ground in pain and anger. He popped up and limped around before slamming the scorer’s table. He then headed toward the Rockets’ bench before being held back. But not before exchanging words and angry glares toward Beverley.
Westbrook ended up finishing the game and scoring 29 points in the 105-102 victory. But the damage had already been done.
“Our players’ health is our first and foremost concern,” Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti said. “The Thunder’s medical team and several specialists we consulted with determined that Russell undergo a procedure to address the issue. We have thoroughly discussed this with Russell.”
The three-time NBA All-Star averaged 23.2 points (sixth in NBA), 7.4 assists (seventh), a career-high 5.2 rebounds and 1.77 steals (ninth) in 82 games this season. Westbrook’s string of never missing a game since high school will come to an end. That includes 439 straight in a Thunder uniform. There is no timetable set for his return.
“If they just have to trim the tear, and they don’t have to put stitches in it, then it’s a much quicker turnaround,” ESPN Medical Analyst Dr. Michael Kaplan said. “Maybe two, three, four weeks maximum. But if they have to sew it and fix it, and they are hoping it’s something they can fix, then you are talking about a much longer recovery. Something that is going to compromise the rest of this season. Talking six to eight weeks minimum.”
Presti said the team is not going to rush Westbrook back.
“Despite being the competitor and teammate that he is, he respects and understands the decision and is committed to come back even stronger,” Presti said. “Certainly Russell is a leader and core player for this team, but we are in the midst of the playoffs and I know other players are determined to step up and contribute. We have a resilient group of players who have always taken pride in playing as a team and that approach will continue.”
Game 3 is tonight at the Toyota Center in Houston. But Kevin Durant’s first thoughts were with his inured teammate.
“We were all in shock,” Durant said. “We thought with him playing in the second half, he was going to be all right. But we are his teammates and his brother. We just want to support him. Keep his spirits up because Russell is an emotional guy. He wants to play so bad and be on the floor with his team. We have to make sure his spirits are high.”
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