The Oklahoma City Thunder has been lucky to have an incredible track record of health over the past several years, but it was only a matter of time before a devastating injury happened.
Of course, that injury happened at perhaps the worst possible time for OKC.
The Thunder announced Friday that point guard Russell Westbrook would undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus and would be out indefinitely.
The injury occurred during the now-famous play in the second quarter of Wednesday's Game Two, when Westbrook dribbled over toward the OKC bench with the intent of calling a timeout. Houston's Patrick Beverley—following the old adage of ‘playing until the whistle blows' quite literally—tried to steal the ball from Westbrook and collided with the All-Star point guard. Westbrook went down, got up limping and banged on the scorer's table in frustration.
Westbrook limped around for a bit, but remained in the game, despite a pronounced limp the rest of the night.
You don't have to try hard to describe this injury. It's devastating for the Thunder's chances to win an NBA championship this season. However, there are plenty of other things to look at.
Obviously, this forces Reggie Jackson to be Mr. April and May. His time to step up is now and OKC needs him more than ever. However, it also forces Derek Fisher into a different role as well. Fisher has been getting minutes as more of a shooting guard, not the point guard. With Jackson probably taking Westbrook's place in the starting lineup, Fisher will most likely be in command of the second unit.
What that does to the rest of the Thunder's rotation will be up to Thunder coach Scott Brooks. This injury won't be just a test for the rest of the team; it will be a test for Brooks as well, and a hefty one at that.
Second, Kevin Durant's leadership is about to be tested in a big way, as well as his reputation. Durant has made himself known as dynamic scorer, but one that doesn't take a high volume of shots like Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant have done over the years.
Without Westbrook's scoring, Durant is going to have to shoulder more of the load and that means taking more shots. It may pain him to be more selfish on the court, but if the Thunder want to keep working for a championship and not mail it in and try again next year, Durant has to flex his scoring muscles.
Third, if seeing how much OKC drops off without Westbrook doesn't silence the final batch of anti-Westbrook people, nothing will. The Thunder won't be terrible without him, but they are certainly no longer the frontrunner in the Western Conference.
The extent of Westbrook's injury is unknown, although Thunder general manager Sam Presti made it seem as if Westbrook wouldn't be back at all this season. However, Westbrook is an incredible athlete and if that translates to his ability to heal, it's possible to see him later in the playoffs. Several other players have come back quickly from meniscus injuries, including Metta World Peace this season. World Peace had surgery on a torn meniscus in his left knee earlier this spring and returned to the court just 12 days later. That is certainly not the norm, so Thunder fans would do well to not expect that from Westbrook.
The playoff schedule is ridiculously spread out over the next two months, which bodes well for a possible return for Westbrook. At this point, though, it would be foolish to expect him back. The most likely scenario would have Westbrook returning at the beginning of next year.
The Thunder hasn't had to deal with a huge blow like this before, so it will be interesting to see how the team responds. A deep playoff run is still possible, but requires a perfect response from not just Durant and Jackson, but from the entire team.