Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Meniscus That Changed the 2013 NBA Playoffs

As I write this, I'm listening to One Republic's "Au Revoir" off their new album Native. Russell Westbrook can bid farewell to playing for the forseeable future. The former Bruin collided midway through the second quarter with rookie Patrick Beverly in an attempt to call a time out. Westbrook was clipped in the knee as Beverly went for the steal, and fell to the ground. He immediately got up, limped towards Beverly, pounded the scorer's table (no one flinched remarkably), then headed for his bench with help. After he completed the game and the Thunder won, it was later discovered that he tore his meniscus and would require surgery.

Some (mostly Thunder fans) call the play dirty. Some (mostly Rocket fans) call it a clean, hustle play. My thoughts on it reflect what you see in the footage. Yes, Westbrook was about to call a time out, but the ball was still in play and Beverly was doing what he was taught as a youngster: play to the whistle. Beverly clearly went for the ball, making incidental contact with Westbrook's knee. As soon as the whistle sounded, Beverly jogged to his bench. For the rest of the game, there was a great amount of tension between Westbrook and Beverly.

This one quick play has single-handedly changed the face of the Western conference playoffs and possibly the 2013 NBA playoffs as a whole. What better way to discuss it than pull lyrics from "Au Revoir"?

"Today I'm not myself and all these wounds don't fake."

After it was discovered the severity of the injury Westbrook encountered, one would assume he is in a different place mentally. He has never missed a game in his career, starting 394 in a row. (Interesting fact: Rockets center Omer Asik is second with 230- trailing by 164 games, or more than two full seasons.) Dating back to college and high school, those close to him don't recall him missing any of those games, either. After surgery, he will be physically feeling different. Based on the severity of the tear, the first being less severe would see him miss anywhere from 2-4 weeks. The more serious tear would result in him being sidelined 3-4 months and ending his hope for any further postseason play.

"And all the stars can quit."

This is the exact opposite of how Kevin Durant will react to the news on the court. The Thunder have to work with whose available. If Durant's attitude speaks for the team, then we all know the second brightest young star in the league won't back down.

"Let's play a game where all the lives we meet can change."

Play is exactly what Patrick Beverly has done all season. Him "meeting" Westbrook changed both of their lives. Russell is sidelined, and Beverly has somewhat of a target on him from Thunder fans. He comes in and brings energy off the bench. He knows he isn't the biggest or strongest and maybe not even the fastest. The heart and determination the 6'1 Beverly brings to the court is very evident, which accounts for his 12 rebounds on Wednesday. He flies to the ball and never remains stagnant on the court.

From "Anyone who knows me knows I don't go out there and try to hurt anybody," Beverley said. "I play at one speed and that's fast. I was just trying to make a play on the ball before they called a timeout and it's just unfortunate."

This wasn't Derek Fisher elbowing Luis Scola intentionally four years ago in the playoffs. This was a young guy trying to make a play, and contact happened. It's a physical game.

"We'll find all the pieces to the puzzle."

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks' biggest task will be how to replace Westbrook's energy and numbers on offense. He can't be physically replaced, as he's one of the fastest players in the league. Michael Wilbon made a good point on NBA Countdown saying "the Rockets can focus all the attention they paid Westbrook and containing him to other players now, especially Kevin Durant." The Thunder will need Reggie Jackson to elevate his game along with Derek Fisher. They have been great in spurts to relieve Westbrook, but Jackson has only played 30+ minutes in one game all season. I look for Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefalosha to be bigger parts of the offense.

"I can show you how many moves to check mate right now."

To the adjustments Rockets coach Kevin McHale made heading into the second game after a 29 point blowout in Game 1. Going small for the majority of the game with Beverly and Lin (who was injured and left in the beginning of the third), along with Brooks and Delfino really proved to be a game changer. The offense was faster and moved the ball better compared to the opening game and that is what their offense thrives on. What moves will McHale make for Game 3? We will see.

"And pack it up inside a box."

If the Rockets lose Game 3 to a Westbrook-less Thunder at home, they can all but assure themselves the series is likely over and pack their 2012-2013 season up. They would have to win four in a row, along with two of them being in a hostile OKC arena and one of those being a game 7 hypothetically. Harden and company had a chance to steal one Wednesday on the road, but cannot lose Game 3 on Saturday if they intend on winning the series.

"What a peculiar state we're in."

Thunder fans will find it strange to see Westbrook not on the court. As mentioned earlier, he has never missed a game. Even if they defeat the Rockets, they would have to deal with either the Grizzlies (Conley/Vasquez) or Clippers (Paul/Bledsoe/Billups) in the second round. The inexperience of Jackson would be apparent, as would the age of the veteran Fisher. Past that, they would likely have to deal with a Spurs team with one of the best point guards in the game in Tony Parker. If the two likely teams to win it all were neck and neck (Miami/OKC), Miami certainly now has the scale in their favor.

"All that really matters is we're doing it right now. Let's play a game."

Regardless of the major news that Westbrook is sidelined, a lot of people believe the Thunder are still a shoe-in to win the series. While the circumstances by no means guarantee anything for Houston, you cannot possibly argue that it has no effect on the series. Along with being an offensive force, Westbrook is also not to be taken lightly on defense either as he is great at jumping passing lanes, defending one-on-one and leading the fast-break off turnovers.

There is a lot of talk about what this means and what will happen, but all we can do is focus on the present watch the two teams play Saturday at 9:30 on TNT.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact Sean on Twitter @SeanNeutron

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