The Thunder's hopes of returning to the NBA Finals and perhaps besting the Heat in this year's championship round took a major hit Friday. Before tonight's Game Three, it was reported that Russell Westbrook has torn the meniscus in his right knee and will undergo surgery to repair it. The injury could cause him to miss the remainder of the postseason. No timetable has been set for his return.
Obviously it is a huge loss for the top-seeded Thunder as Westbrook was averaging 24.0 points per game and 7.0 assists per game in the first two games of this Playoffs. He averaged 23.2 points per game and 7.4 assists per game this season and is one of those superstar players that is extremely difficult to replace. Reggie Jackson and the Thunder will have to find a way to do that starting in tonight's Game Three in Houston.
It is unclear when the injury occurred. However, in Game Two, Westbrook pulled up lame grabbing his knee after Patrick Beverly ran into him going for a steal in the second quarter. Westbrook played the rest of the game which the Thunder won to take a 2-0 series advantage.
What this injury means will probably not be entirely clear until the extent of the injury is known. Meniscus tears can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to much, much longer to recover from. If the Thunder continue to advance, there is still a remote chance Westbrook could return.
Obviously though players will need to step up in his absence. Reggie Jackson will take over the point guard role in all likelihood. He is hardly a game changer, but a capable backup. Serge Ibaka will likely need to take on more of a scoring load in the starting lineup. And Kevin Martin likely will get more possessions to use. He is capable of stepping into that role as he proved in his time in Sacramento and Houston.
This injury though will put more onus on Kevin Durant to be the team's main playmaker however. It is something Durant is probably capable of doing, but have never had to do before thanks to Westbrook's presence on the team. It will be interesting to see how Oklahoma City plays these next few games without the team's All-Star point guard. It will be an adjustment for sure.
In the West, though, this might mean the door opens just a sliver for the Memphis-Los Angeles Clippers winner to get into the Western Conference Finals. That is a matchup still a week away. Westbrook certainly will not be ready for that.
Injuries are part of the game however and the Thunder will have to find a way to move on. Just like the Bulls have without Derrick Rose and just like the Lakers have without Kobe Bryant.