The Thunder announced Saturday that All-Star guard Russell Westbrook will miss the remainder of the 2013 playoffs after undergoing successful surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.
“Russell's health and well being are obviously our number one priority through this process and today's procedure helped solidify our belief that Russell will have many productive years of basketball in his future,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said in a statement. "Although we are of course disappointed that Russell will be unable to return to the floor with his teammates this season, the opportunity to repair the meniscus as opposed to remove it was the best possible scenario for Russell's long term health as a player and person."
The Thunder announced Friday that Westbrook would undergo surgery and there was a hope that he would be able to return during the postseason, depending on the nature of the surgery. However, doctors opted to repair Westbrook's meniscus tear rather than remove the meniscus, leading to a longer recovery time.
Westbrook was injured midway through the second quarter of a 105-102 Game 2 victory over the Rockets on Wednesday night. Westbrook casually brought the ball up the court as the Thunder prepared to take a timeout. Rather than sit back and wait for the dead ball, Rockets guard Patrick Beverley lunged across Westbrook’s body in search of an open court steal. It was a slightly awkward effort that sent Westbrook crashing to the floor after the two guards banged legs. Westbrook got up, hopped on one leg, slammed the scorer’s table, looked over at Houston’s bench in disgust, doubled over in pain and eventually joined Oklahoma City’s huddle after glaring back in Beverley’s direction once again. Westbrook continued to play, though, finishing with 28 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals in 37 minutes.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks addressed the loss of Westbrook, who has never missed a game during his five-year career, following practice on Friday.
"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 the drive that he has had ever since we drafted him. ... He's a fierce competitor. He competes on every possession, those are the guys you want your players to be around and your younger players to look up to. He's been a great role model for our team and our city."
All-Star forward Kevin Durant also expressed his thoughts for Westbrook on Friday.
"It's unfortunate for a guy who loves to play the game so much, who is dedicated and committed to his team," he said. "He gives his all every second he is on the floor, a lot of people might not like what he brings to our team but inside we love what he does. He's a different player, different person and we love what he brings. ... We're just praying for him. Hopefully he has a full and speedy recovery."
The Thunder are the Western Conference's No. 1 seed and currently lead their series 2-0. Games 3 and 4 are set for Houston, and suddenly a series that looked like it could end in a sweep must now be reevaluated.
"We have to regroup, and quickly, and our guys have," Brooks said. "We had a pretty good practice [Friday]. Everybody is going to have to step up."
Brooks will have two options at point guard in Westbrook’s absence: 23-year-old Reggie Jackson and 38-year-old Derek Fisher. Jackson, a second-year guard out of Boston College, averaged 5.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists this season and beat out former backup Eric Maynor, who was dealt to the Blazers at the trade deadline. Fisher, signed as a free agent in February, averaged 4.1 points in 24 appearances down the stretch.
The Point Forward has collected injury reaction from numerous analysts, with Rob Mahoney laying out in detail how the injury impacts the Thunder's postseason chances. SI.com's Ian Thomsen writes that Westbrook's injury will be a test of Durant's leadership. SI.com's Lee Jenkins writes that Durant's ballhandling role will increase in Westbrook's absence. Westbrook, 24, averaged 23.2 points, 7.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals for the Thunder, who finished with the Western Conference's best record at 60-22. The fifth-year guard is a three-time All-Star and a two-time All-NBA second-team selection.