In the 2nd quarter of game two, between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, Patrick Beverly attempted to steal the ball from Russell Westbrook and subsequently sideswiped Westbrook’s right knee. The collision left Russell Westbrook limping off the floor and it has now been revealed that he has a torn meniscus and will probably miss the remainder of the season. This comes as a monstrous blow to the Thunder, who were considered favorites to clinch the Western Conference.
Russell Westbrook has never missed a game in his entire career; NBA, college, or high school. That is about to change. He will undergo knee surgery and likely miss the remainder of the playoffs. The Thunder will head to Houston for game 3 tomorrow night and try to steal a road win without him. Considering they barely held on at home (with the exception of Kendrick Perkins) after the injury, they’re in for a rough go. Suddenly the difference between #1 and #8 isn’t so staggering.
In the absence of Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City will look to the 3 time NBA scoring leader, Kevin Durant, to do what he does best and step up. It’s interesting though, because this season he hasn’t needed to, for the most part. I don’t mean that KD is slacking (he’s absolutely not), but Westbrook had taken over much of the scoring duty that used to be his. Russ even took more shots than Kevin this season, coming to almost exactly one more attempt each game. This is something I have always been critical of Westbrook for; why chuck clunkers when the most efficient shooter in the game is waiting in the wings? Credit where credit is due though, Westbrook has made marked improvements this year and his once spotty decision making is converting from liability to asset. The Thunder will miss him.
The #1 one difference for OKC between this year and last year is the bearded one, James Harden. Although listed as a shooting guard, Harden essentially ran point for their bench last season, winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award in a landslide. However, in the most nauseatingly over-documented trade of 2012, Harden was shipped to Houston. Here’s where OKC is going to hurt; not only do they not have Harden when they need him most, they are in direct competition with him! Houston has an opening and they’ll do everything they can to take it.
So where does this put OKC at point guard? They traded Eric Maynor to the Portland Trail Blazers at the trade deadline because Reggie Jackson was thriving and they no longer needed Maynor’s talents. It was a great move for them at the time, to slough off the excess for a trade exception, but it may come back to bite them. Reggie will draw the start, but it’s hard to have a successful playoff team with a sophomore point guard. Even the veteran leadership of backup point guard, Derek Fisher, may not be enough to guide him through it. I don’t doubt that the Thunder can still beat the Rockets (although you never know), but their second round matchup with the Clippers or the Grizzlies may not be so forgiving.
Without Russell Westbrook for the first time in 5 years, the Thunder’s fate is up in the air. Westbrook is reportedly irate with Beverly, who is now taking the brunt of the blame. If that fire sees him through surgery there is a small chance that he could return later in the playoffs (if the Thunder make it that far). As it stands, he is out until further notice.