Rockets Respond To Westbrook Injury
HOUSTON - Not surprisingly, Houston point guard Patrick Beverley attracted the biggest media mob of his young NBA career Friday afternoon following the news that Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook is out indefinitely after suffering a right knee injury sustained during a collision with Beverley in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s Game 2 between the Rockets and Thunder.
The play occurred as Westbrook was bringing the ball past midcourt preparing to call a timeout. Before the whistle had blown, however, Beverley lunged for the ball in an attempt to steal it. In the attempt, his hip collided with Westbrook’s knee. Though Oklahoma’s City’s point guard was momentarily hobbled, he stayed in the game and managed to play the entire second half as well. But Friday morning brought news that Westbrook will require surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee and that there was no timetable for his return.
Like the rest of the basketball world, the Rockets were shocked to hear the news.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Beverley said. “You hate to see a type of player like that go out with any injury like that … I was definitely looking forward to playing him again tomorrow and to get to battle again.
“He’s an All-Star, top-3 point guard in the NBA … I love the battle. It’s like I’m at the park. I love the competition, especially going up against a player like that, a top-tier point guard like that.”
Westbrook’s former teammate, James Harden, called news of his friend’s injury a “sad, sad story.” He made a point to mention, however, that the play that caused the injury is one that happens on a near nightly basis in the NBA.
“A play like that, that always happens,” Harden said. “In the game of basketball, when the opponents think the other team is going to call timeout, the guy tries to go for the steal. That happens on so many occasions, not just in the last game but it’s been happening for so many years in the league. It’s just an unfortunate situation.”
Added Beverley: “A lot of people do it throughout the league. Anyone who knows me, I don’t go out and try to injure anybody. I play at one speed – that’s fast. I crash offensive rebounds and I was just trying to make a play on the ball before they called timeout … there was no intention at all to try to injure anybody. Anybody who knows me knows that’s not my type of game.”
Predictably, Beverley has found his Twitter timeline overflowing with venom and vitriol since word of Westbrook’s injury broke. But the 24-year-old rookie says that sort of electronic smack talk pales in comparison to the fear he felt at times growing up in a rough Chicago neighborhood, or even the ugly, antagonistic overtures delivered his way during his professional basketball stint in Europe.
“That type of pressure really doesn’t get me,” he said of the Twitter trash talk that has infiltrated his timeline. “(It doesn't compare to) the type of pressure I used to get growing up as a kid walking to the corner store without something happening to me. I could really care less about any Twitter reaction. It was hard just trying to go to school some mornings growing up. So I can live through a Twitter beef.
“I’ve been in incidents in Europe where guys throw quarters at my face and I’ve got blood gushing down so I’m kind of used to it. Like I said, it was nothing intentional.”
As for how Westbrook's injury will impact where this series goes from here, the honest answer is it's almost impossible to know. This will be the first time Westbrook has missed games due to injury in his entire career, so it's difficult to grasp just what the Thunder will look like, and how they will execute in his absence. The quintet of Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison has sparkled in their 109 total minutes together this season, but even that sample size isn't large enough to hold a great deal of significance in this situation. Perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that OKC has been 14 points better per 100 possessions than its opposition during the 523 minutes Durant has played without Westbrook this season according to nbawowy.com. But again, those numbers reveal only so much.
The fact remains that Oklahoma City has lost a three-time All-Star and one of the twelve best players in the game today. Westbrook's loss hurts. A lot. But they also still have the second-best player on the planet and a roster filled with talented players who can help fill the void left behind. The Rockets know they still have their hands full and that, if anything, the Thunder are likely to circle the wagons and redouble their focus going forward. Houston experienced something quite similar when it lost to a less talented Lakers team that was missing Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash on the last night of the regular season. All of which is why Houston's players and coaches are far more focused on ensuring they play at the highest level possible during what likely amounts to a do-or-die affair Saturday night for Game 3.
"I feel bad for Russell," said Houston head coach Kevin McHale. "He’s a helluva competitor and you hate to see anybody get hurt. He’s just a great, competitive kid who’s part of a team that had the best record in the Western Conference. So I feel bad for him like I would feel bad for anybody but we still have to go out there and play. That’s still a very good team.
"We have to play our best game of the year. We have one game in our season and that’s our game tomorrow night. We have to go out there and win tomorrow night – that’s as simple as it gets. We better be desperate; we’re down 2-0 and coming home in a playoff series. We have to play well. We have to do all the things we did (in Game 2) but more. We have to make shots when we’re open. We have to get our defense set so that we don’t give them easy stuff in transition. We can’t turn it over. It’s all the same things we’ve been talking about all year with this team, we just have to do it against a very good Oklahoma City team that’s going to come in without one of their main players. Believe me, the guys that are playing right now are saying, ‘I’m going to get a heck of a chance to show what I can do.’ So they’ll be ready to play."
It should be noted that the Rockets may well be without their starting point guard as well. Jeremy Lin's status remained unchanged Friday following the chest contusion injury he suffered Wednesday night. Lin was unable to practice Friday and will be a game-time decision for Game 3. McHale did not tip his hand when asked who might take Lin's place in the starting lineup if he is unable to go. He simply said his club must place a premium on movement no matter who is on the floor.
"A lot of our ball movement is predicated on body movement," he said, "not so much off the dribble. When we get more bogged down is when we try to do too much stuff off the dribble. So you don’t have to be a point guard to pass and to throw it to the wing and cut through – all of our guys are capable of doing that and we’re going to have to do more of that."
And on the other end of the floor, meanwhile, Chandler Parsons says he fully expects Durant to do everything possible to make sure Oklahoma City does not miss a beat offensively without its turbocharged point guard.
"Even before I heard Westbrook was out, I expected him to come out and be aggressive and try to set the tone early," said Parsons. "But now that he’s out, all the offense will go through him, every single play will go through him. I’ll definitely have my work cut out for me and he’s probably going to be as aggressive as he’s been all year long.
"It’s going to be awesome. I hope it’s rocking, it’s sold out and just as noisy as it was there. They have an unbelievable crowd and I think we can easily match that. It’s been awhile since we’ve been in the playoffs so it will be exciting and we’re stoked to play at home."