Late Monday night, the Portland Trail Blazers confirmed Jusuf Nurkic suffered a serious left leg injury during the second overtime of Portland's 148-144 win against the Nets, one that forced him to exit on a stretcher under the concerned watch of teammates, opponents and fans.
Per the Blazers, Nurkic "sustained compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula." The injury was described as "season-ending" and they said there is no current timetable for his return. Nurkic underwent successful surgery on Tuesday, the team announced.
The Blazers big man was attempting to tip in a teammate's missed shot when he came down awkwardly in traffic, causing his leg to bend between the knee and ankle. He finished the game with 32 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals.
Nurkic is enjoying a career season, averaging 15.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and one steal per game for fourth-place Portland. Despite Monday's win, Damian Lillard and the rest of Nurkic's Blazers teammates were subdued in the aftermath of losing one of their most valuable players in such a fashion.
"It's tough, man," Lillard said after the game. "We fight so hard all season long and our starting center, one of our main guys, goes down. On a big night for us, going into the postseason, it looked bad. It's kind of discouraging to see that. Especially with CJ [McCollum] being out, it's just another thing. More adversity, it seems like, at the wrong time. Like I said before, we've got to lean on each other even more. We've got to trust guys and count on guys to step up into his role and do it by committee.
"He wouldn't want us to say, 'All right, let's feel sorry for ourselves and feel sorry for Nurk and not care as much.' So we're going to finish the job, try to get the game, but I think after the game, that's when it kicks in."
The Blazers held a collective moment of silence and prayer for Nurkic in the locker room following the game.
Fellow Blazers big man Zach Collins was also taken aback by Nurkic's injury, telling Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "It’s terrible. Obviously you never want to see that happen, especially with your own teammate that you go to war with every night. Nurk, he’s been having a hell of a season. He had an amazing game tonight. And for it to end like that for him, it’s just tough. All we can do is be there for him and hope he’s in as little pain as possible and knows that we’ve got his back."
Nurkic's injury means Collins as well as Enes Kanter, whom the Blazers signed off waivers on Feb. 13, will have a much bigger role for Portland as the regular season ends and the 2019 playoffs approach. Portland is 2 1/2 games ahead of the No. 5-seeded Jazz in the West and would face Utah if the playoffs were to start today.
“I’m going to go home and pray for him because this is way bigger than basketball,” Kanter said after the game. “We clinched a playoff spot and we’re not even celebrating. He was a big part of our family — not our team, our family — and I just don’t know what to say. It’s definitely tough.”
The Nets, who watched guard Caris LeVert wheeled off the court after an injury earlier this season, had the same concern for Nurkic.
"That's what our guys are talking about in the locker room," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "Not the game or the loss. They're talking about a player who was having a great game and a heck of a player so you just pray it's not a long-term thing and he can bounce back. It just takes the wind out of your sails."
Players from other teams, accustomed to going against Portland's physically imposing center, didn't hesitate to send well wishes, thoughts and prayers via social media. His teammates also took to social media as well to do likewise.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.