Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook awoke from his usual pregame nap to learn his close friend Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls had suffered a knee injury in Saturday’s opening NBA playoff game.
“I was hoping he would be all right, then I didn’t know exactly what happened,” explained Westbrook, who works out daily with Rose in Santa Monica, Calif., during the offseason.
Westbrook was on the court at Chesapeake Energy Arena roughly 2½ hours before tipoff, going through his pregame ritual of drills in preparation for Game 1 against the Dallas Mavericks, when word began to spread that Rose had suffered a torn left ACL.
The league’s reigning most valuable player will be lost for the playoffs and the Summer Olympic Games in London.
“Very unfortunate, man,” Westbrook said softly. “I just pray for him and his family.”
Reaction to Rose’s injury cast somber pregame moods in the locker rooms of both the Thunder and Mavericks.
“It’s heartbreaking to see,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy is such a great player and such a good kid — stands for all the right things — and that team plays so hard, it’s gut-wrenching.”
Rose was sidelined with back spasms, a pulled groin, turf toe and various foot injuries during the regular season and missed 27 starts, during which the Bulls (50-16) still managed to go 19-8.
He suffered the knee injury while trying to leap off his left foot in the lane with 1:22 left in the Bulls’ 103-91 victory in Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center.
“It’s crazy how you can build your whole organization around a guy, to be geared up for playoffs all year, and then he goes down,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said. “It’s one of the heartbreaking things about sports, an injury like that.”
There was no contact on the play in which Rose was injured, much like the sequence in which Thunder guard Eric Maynor also was lost for the season with a knee injury against Houston on Jan. 7.
“Like with Eric’s injury, there’s not a lot you can do about it,” Collison said. “I’m sure you think, ‘If we ran a different play’ or ‘If he didn’t have the ball,’ it wouldn’t happen, but you don’t know.”
Mavericks guard Delonte West shook his head at the number of injuries Rose suffered in a 66-game season shortened by a lockout.
“The basketball gods must be trying to talk to him,” West said. “At the end of the day, this (the NBA) is like a fraternity, man. You battle against guys, you end up playing with the same guy a year later, so you hate to see one of your brothers go down.
“He’s a tough kid, a tough guy from out of Chicago, man. One thing about those Chicago guys, they’re tough as nails. He’ll be back to MVP status before you know it.”
The loss of Rose potentially opens up that side of the playoff bracket in the Eastern Conference, where the Bulls-Sixers winner faces the Atlanta-Boston winner.
“They (the Bulls) had the best record in the league and he missed a lot of games, so I wouldn’t count them out yet,” Collison said.