On Jan. 7, three teammates literally lifted Eric Maynor off the floor at the Toyota Center and gently carried him to the Thunder locker room.
The entire OKC roster figuratively has lifted Maynor ever since.
The Thunder's reserve point guard continues to recover from the torn right anterior cruciate ligament that ended his season that night in Houston.
It has been a painful, difficult and tedious process. Though there were times Maynor felt lonely, he was never alone.
"It's a family here," reserve guard Daequan Cook explained. "We take that very seriously. Eric is a part of this team and we don't want him to feel any other way."
Thunder forward Nick Collison set a pick for Maynor to go left at the top of the key. Maynor instead opted to drive to his right.
Defended by Houston Rockets point guard Goran Dragic, Maynor took one dribble and planted his right foot about 12 feet away from the basket.
Maynor's right leg immediately buckled at the knee. The ball fluttered harmlessly out of bounds. Maynor collapsed to the floor on his back, rolled over to his left side and clutched his right knee.
There was no foul, no contact. Maynor had been tackled by air, which almost always results in the worst kind of injury.
"I made the move, planted, felt something I ain't never felt before, and just dropped the ball," Maynor recalled. "I knew something was wrong."
The pain was indescribable. "It's big-time pain, man," Maynor said.
Still standing at the top of the key where the fateful sequence began, Collison knew immediately the injury was serious as he leaned forward, put his hands on both knees and hung his head while staring at Maynor curled up in a heap.
As Maynor was being examined by head athletic trainer Joe Sharpe and Dr. Donnie Strack, the entire Thunder bench soon surrounded Maynor along the baseline underneath the basket.
A trio of teammates simultaneously came to Maynor's aid. Kendrick Perkins cupped his arms under Maynor's right leg, Serge Ibaka cupped the left leg and Lazar Hayward stabilized Maynor from behind.
It was no challenge to carry the 175-pound Maynor, but the magnitude of losing him immediately weighed heavily on the minds of the entire Thunder team.
Russell Westbrook gave the back of Maynor's head a gentle pat as he was carried away. James Harden softly placed his hand on Maynor's back.
When Maynor disappeared from sight, OKC players and coaches slowly returned to their bench to discuss strategy during the timeout, but everyone was still distracted, glancing at the spot where Maynor crumbled.
The Thunder went on to win 98-95, thanks mainly to 13 four-quarter points from Kevin Durant, who re-entered during that very timeout with 7:47 remaining.
Maynor flew home with the team that night, but the victory didn't seem to register with any of the passengers. Their thoughts were with the third-year backup point guard out of Virginia Commonwealth.
"Not a good day," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "That's the day you don't want to remember."
Eleven days after suffering the injury, Maynor had surgery. Though the surgical procedure was a success, these were the worst of times for Maynor.
"The first couple weeks were real tough on me," Maynor said. "Just sitting at the house every day, not doing anything after I got done with rehab. It was the worst. I was sitting at the house, watching games, screaming at the TV, just wanting everybody to do good, especially with the second unit. You could tell stuff wasn't flowing like usual with the second unit."
No argument from reserve center Nazr Mohammed.
"He kept our second unit firing on all cylinders," Mohammed said of Maynor. "As soon as he went down, our second unit wasn't as good. Coming into this season, I thought we had the best second unit in the league with him at the point. Not so much because the skill level, but what everyone brings to the group.
"He (Maynor) brought that calmness, knowing the right play to make, who needs the ball, when to say something to you, when not to say something to you. It just made our unit that much better. Since he went down, we've had some excellent games with our second unit. It's still one of the tops in the league. We just haven't been as dominant as we would have liked to be and I credit a lot of that to Eric."
One of the first phone calls Maynor received after getting hurt came from Indiana Pacers forward David West, who had just recovered from knee surgery himself in the offseason.
Perkins, who endured two knee injuries in an eight-month span the year before, constantly shared advice with Maynor.
"Me and Perk talk all the time. Perk keeps me informed, what I need to be doing," Maynor said. "Perk was with me before I got my surgery and when I got my surgery. He was around a lot. James, Daequan, Russ – all them boys – were around a lot. They would come by the house, just chillin' before they'd go on the road for a game."
The entire team wanted Maynor along for the ride, but doctors' orders prevented it.
"We want him to be part of our team on the court as much as we can," Brooks said. "I like him on the road, on the bus, in our huddles, in our locker room. The guy just has a good spirit about him. I'm texting him every other day just to make sure he's still with us. He's a big part of the reason we've had so much success."
On a March 15 trip to Denver, Maynor finally was allowed to re-join the team on the road. "I was up, moving, traveling with them, able to do things with them again," Maynor said with a huge smile. "It made me feel a lot better."
His first two seasons in the league, Maynor had become of the NBA's premier back-up point guards with a calm demeanor that defies his age (24).
Though Maynor's career averages are modest (4.5 points; 3.1 assists; 1.5 rebounds; .408 FG), his consistent effectiveness is undeniable. Maynor's career assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.04-to-1 would have ranked seventh this season. His career 3-point field-goal percentage of .353 is good enough to warrant full-time coverage.
After Maynor was lost, Brooks essentially tried to replace him by committee.
First came rookie Reggie Jackson. Maynor had been a rookie backup to Westbrook himself two seasons earlier. Veteran Royal Ivey was ready in a pinch, particularly when Brooks was looking for energy and aggressive defense in the proper matchup.
Though frequently rattled, Jackson appeared to have gained confidence and composure when 16-year veteran Derek Fisher suddenly was signed as an unrestricted free agent on March 21.
Since his arrival, Fisher has played in all 24 games and averaged 21.0 minutes (including postseason). Jackson has played a total of 19 minutes in five games.
Maynor is limited to being an observer, which he insists will make him a better player when he returns.
Asked if sitting has been educational, Maynor's eyes widened and he said: "This whole year, I have learned so much – just different stuff I see, different stuff I know on the floor. Now when I watch a game, it's like I'm out there. Hopefully I can be better than I was. That's what I'm training to do, get stronger. I'm stronger upper-body wise. I'm getting better with that."
Maynor said his daily regimen consists of soft-tissue work for 30-45 minutes every morning, followed by an hour in the weight room, some shooting, observing practice and ice treatments twice a day.
"I try my best to keep him involved," Brooks said. "I want him at every practice. I want him at every game on the road. I talk to him about different things that he sees during the game. I even asked him to throw some offensive sets at me."
Brooks smiled and added: "I tried to run a few of those sets, they didn't work out too well so I don't ask him those questions any more."
Maynor said he knows Thunder fans mean well, but it's OK to not ask about the knee.
"I don't think I go a day without somebody asking me about it," Maynor said. "When am I going to be back? How's it going? But it's good to be thought of, cared about, stuff like that."
Last week, Maynor rejoined Westbrook, Harden and Cook in their usual shooting competition that begins long before practice. "It was the first time we had done it since (last season)," Maynor said.
Maynor initially said Cook won, "or maybe it was James."
Understandably, Maynor is a little rusty.
"He's not really getting out of too many spots, but he's having a great time," Cook said. "Just to see Eric back out there with us and how fast he's recovered, it's amazing."
Maynor's scheduled return remains the team's 2012-13 training camp.
"He's progressing very well," Brooks said.
Maynor said he doesn't have a specific return date in mind.
"I know I'm doing good, I can tell you that," Maynor said. "Getting better day-by-day."
Brooks shakes his head when he thinks about how his team – unsolicited – responded to Maynor.
"He's such a great teammate," Brooks said of Maynor. "When the injury happened, it was devastating because these guys love each other. It's a pretty special group of guys. To see him go down in Houston, that was not easy to take for our entire team. It's special to see how these guys react to each other. We have a deep affection for all our guys.
"This business is so geared toward wins and losses, sometimes you lose perspective on the human element. To see how our guys responded to him, words can't describe. It's really cool our guys supported him initially, and four months later they still give him that support."
How difficult would Maynor's rehab have been without the support of his teammates?
"They picked me up and helped me out," Maynor said, literally and figuratively. "They've been with me this whole process. This is just a great organization to be with, man. They're people who care about each other."
Mohammed said one of the biggest reasons Thunder players became so close is Maynor himself.
"It's that close a group and a lot of it is a credit to him," Mohammed said. "Sometimes a guy goes down, he's away from a team and it's out of sight out of mind. With Eric, even when he was away, he's such a great guy, such a big part of our team. He's always on our minds. We always want to see what's up with him, want to hang out with him, talk to him, mess with him. That's the type of guy he is."