Russell Westbrook’s torn meniscus changes NBA Playoffs landscape


According to reports, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook suffered a tear of the lateral meniscus in his right leg during the first half of Game 2 in the Thunder’s first-round series with Houston. He will have surgery to repair it in the coming days and is out indefinitely.

If you’re just now receiving this news, thanks for coming out from under your social media rock (I kid, I kid). But for those of you who have already had time to digest this, you probably know by now the potential ramifications of this injury. First and foremost, it’s been an ugly season for significant injuries in the NBA, and the arrival of the playoffs apparently hasn’t saved players from more harm. It’s a huge bummer to watch a talent like Westbrook go down, especially when piled on top of what’s happened to Kobe Bryant, Danilo Gallinari and David Lee in recent weeks. The league is not nearly as great without these guys on the court.

But our job here is to address it from the Spurs’ perspective, and it pretty much goes without saying, this news is massive in terms of the 2012-13 postseason outlook. We must still await word on the length of Westbrook’s recovery time, but this injury is possibly crippling for an OKC team with title aspirations. But the door has suddenly been blown off its hinges for the Spurs.

San Antonio’s path through the postseason has become quite enviable in recent weeks. First, a Kobe-less Lakers team matches up with the silver and black in the first round, and the Spurs seem to be well on their way to an easy series win. If they do advance, they’ll either face a Warriors team without its All-Star in Lee, or a Nuggets team without Gallinari, maybe its most versatile offensive player. Now, on the other side of the Western Conference bracket, Oklahoma City is in a ton of trouble. The Thunder do have a 2-0 advantage over the Rockets with Game 3 approaching, but the series is heading to Houston and Westbrook has basically zero chance to play again in the series, regardless of how successful the impending surgery is. But even if they are able to move into the second round they’ll have to face either the Clippers or Grizzlies, which would be incredibly difficult matchups without Russ. The timing could hardly be worse for Oklahoma City, but it’s a different story for the Spurs.

With a roster steadily getting healthier, San Antonio suddenly has a golden opportunity to take one step closer to another chance at a fifth ring for Tim Duncan.

It’s important to keep things in perspective for the time being, however. I spoke with a practicing orthopedic surgeon and former physician of an NFL team and U.S. Olympic team, and he told me, given the news that has been reported, Westbrook could be back sooner rather than later. He said that if the tear is small enough and minimal repair is needed, a one-to-two week timetable isn’t out of the question. But he also added, it’s impossible to know the severity of the injury at this point prior to surgery.

But at the same time, there’s a chance he misses the rest of the postseason if this is serious enough, and if the Thunder want to preserve the health of their franchise point guard. The meniscus must be repaired, and that does not bode well for Oklahoma City’s chances, even if he isn’t on the shelf for more than a couple of weeks. For a guy with superior athleticism to basically anyone else at his position in the NBA, it’s difficult to imagine, even if he is able to return sooner rather than later, that he’ll be the same guy on the court.

This from Zach Lowe’s piece at Grantland today:

It’s unclear how long Westbrook will be out. Recovery time for a meniscus injury depends on so many things — the location of the injury, the severity of the tear, and whether doctors decide to simply remove the damaged portion of the meniscus cartilage or to repair it. Recovery takes longer following a repair, and Westbrook appears to have suffered damage on the lateral side of his knee — the outside of it. As I reported when it came out, a groundbreaking study published last year in the American Journal of Sports and Medicine, authored by two leading surgeons and the Lakers’ trainer, Gary Vitti, found that NBA players were unusually prone to tears on the lateral side — and that damage on that side was more serious, and usually entailed longer recovery times, than damage on the medial side.

There is no precedent set for what the Thunder will look like without their point guard. Westbrook has never missed a game in his NBA career, after all. Rumor has it he hasn’t even missed a game since junior high. But we can look at it from another perspective. Westbrook has been a pretty solid barometer for success for Oklahoma City this season, because when he does well, the Thunder do well. This might be a pretty damn obvious statement but I think it points to something. In the games OKC lost this season, Westbrook’s shooting numbers have plummeted. Very basically, he shot nearly 46 percent in wins but just 39 percent in losses, and he committed one more turnover per game in their 22 defeats (not diving into advanced stats for this). Some might point out the fact that “bad Russ” can be detrimental to the Thunder, so we can’t go ahead and compare bad Westbrook games with those in which he doesn’t play at all. And that’s fair. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Regardless, the Thunder have (has?) their work cut out for them. Even if they are able to advance, they’re going to struggle against whichever second-round matchup they draw, but I have a feeling we’re about to see some fireworks in Houston.

The Spurs will be watching and doing their best to avoid a similar type of fate so many of their counterparts have suddenly experienced. Because if ever there was a time to get back to the NBA Finals, now is as good as any.


  • neverthehero

    I’m not sure why you have to throw in living under a rock sentence. I’m pretty connected but had been at work and just seen this. If this had been a week ago or something then ya… Anyway minor rant aside, this sounds like Tim Duncan’s injury back in ’00, so even if he can come back, do the OKC let him? I venture to say yes.

  • Graham

    Was wondering if this would get some burn. I kind of worry that this may HELP the thunder, forcing them to be more consistently pass oriented instead of hero ball, and we won’t get the inevitable ‘bad russ’ game that we can take advantage of.

    Part of me just hates playing teams not at their peak, since it gives a definitive ‘yeah but’ to the other giys. I wanted to go in and shock the pundits and beat straight up a full strength Thunder team in the finals, if it came to that. Maybe we still get that if he only has to have minor surgery, but a series without him loses something.

    Still, we gotta focus on what’s in front. Wrap up a sweep, then get ready for either Denver or Golden State, and finish getting our offense to it’s true peak.

  • Matthew R Tynan

    Sorry, sorry… I didn’t mean to offend. Just joking about how immediate news consumption has become.

  • assistman

    This is sad news, I hope Westbrook is back on the court in short order. I believe we have a good chance of beating OKC’s full roster in the 3rd round for the honor of losing to Miami in the Finals. As is, I doubt OKC makes it very far. I had been rooting for Memphis to beat LAC, because I thought they’d be the tougher matchup for OKC, and because I just don’t like this Clipper’s team. LAC advancing to the third round makes them look better than they are – good luck ever getting that deep again, CP3!

    Our guys better stretch, stay loose, and stay healthy.

  • neverthehero

    I gotcha. I thought I missed something last night and when I looked at I was wth, did he get injured in practice.

  • Jacques

    This is why i feel they need to change the whole format. One player injured, and the title hopes are gone. I hope NBA changes to the format currently run by Liga ACB. (1.League winner- each game in regular season would be meaningful and Spurs would definitely benefit from this, 2. Cup winner- sort of like playoffs , 3. promotions/demotion- prevents tanking etc.)

    Nonetheless, tough luck for OKC. Looks like the all eyes will be on the winner of LAC and Memphis. Hope Tony and Manu don’t suffer setbacks. Go Spurs

  • Andrew G

    Wahwah let’s all be politically correct and say it’s sad; Westbrook is a douchebag, and while I wouldn’t wish this kind of harm on someone or their career, I definitely don’t have to feel bad. Part of me REALLY hates him because I watched him inhibit KD (Longhorns!) from another scoring title.

    However, I agree with Graham, this could quickly turn them into a Knicks type threat. They have the defensive presence inside and just need to give KD the ball on offense. The Knicks beat us both times this season, and without an outstanding point guard–or one that hogs the ball as much as Westbrook–OKC suddenly resembles them.

  • popopete

    KD was the only person limiting KD’s shots this year. When KD turns down lower than ideal percentage shots who is going to score? Not Perkins. Not Sefalosha. Not Ibaka. KD is a stat queen. Westbrook doesn’t give a f****.

  • Andrew G

    So what if he is? You speak as if turning down low percentage shots is a bad thing. Westbrook’s thought process stops after he realizes he’s got room to shoot.

  • Bob

    Change the rules to benefit the Spurs. Makes perfect sense. Jordan won 6 titles and managed to not get injured. Injuries are part of the game and you have to deal with them.

  • assistman

    I just wanted to go through OKC from a basketball perspective. I believe we had a chance to get revenge against this year’s full roster. If Russ is out or they don’t make it, it’s anticlimatic, kinda like when TD was injured in 2000. Ain’t no PC about it.

  • Spurs4Life19

    Looks like the edge is going to my Spurs to make another trip to the NBA Finals. You have to admit things are going the Spurs’ way now. After all…you got the Lakers without Kobe, Warriors without Lee, and Nuggets without Gallinari. It’s a possible Western Conference Finals matchup between Spurs and Clippers, and if that’s the case the Spurs are my pick to win after watching the tapes from last years playoffs. But hey, maybe next year the Thunder can pull off a ring, I respect Durant for being a former longhorn. Go Spurs Go!

  • idahospur

    OKC will do the same thing the Spurs did against Memphis a few years back (sorry to bring up very, very painful thoughts). They will try to survive as long as possible without Westbrook and then get him in when things look bad, just like with Manu. As much as I like beating down a “better” team, if it gives us the chance to take down Miami then so be it!

  • idahospur

    Another comment I would like to ask of others, including the staff. Never have been to an NBA game due to my living in Idaho and continuous underemployment/unemployment, how does the pregame go with the non-dressed players? Specifically, does someone like T-Mac get dressed to play, warm-up with the team, then go change into non-game attire? Is it pretty much known who is dressing beforehand or do coaches get to mess with the other team and make them think, “that guy is playing!” Just wanting some clarity. Thanks.

  • samhl

    that is what u get for playing ur stars 40 plus minutes a game for a full season. I know that westbrook has no history of injuries, but even if he is young playing around 40 minutes a game?? I think this injury was waiting to happen. The same for kobe, he is 34 but at the end of the season he was playing 40 plus minutes a game , because they wanted to be in the playoffs but they didn’t trust the reserves to play 10 to 15 minutes. And we got penalized for resting our players, lol , it makes me laugh, I have never watched other sport where teams are penalized for resting player. (the obvious reason is because freakish injuries happen when players are not rested).

    that being said, i think we got our share of injuries ourselves, since march we had a lot of injuries (Parker was limping till end of season, Jinobli out last 3 weeks, Diaw still out, Duncan was out for a while, Kawai out for a while too, ) but our team management took that into consideration and we have a good bench. isn’t it management’s responsible to get bench players to rest their stars during long season and keep them fresh and out of injury??

  • Ricky Aguilar


  • popopete

    Westbrook’s injury wasn’t caused by fatigue. It was caused by Beverley running through W’s knee when his weight was on it.

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  • stijl

    Sad that injury happens to any player. But especially true to a team,s top player(s). Wish Westbrook a healthy recovery. If having to meet OKC this playoffs, wish it could be at full strength of both teams and pry no injuries are sustained by the Spurs.

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  • millsteinortho

    good post..
    keep it up…