The Thunder definitely will be missing their point guard, with All-Star Russell Westbrook out indefinitely with a knee injury that will require surgery.
The Rockets hope Lin can return for the first playoff game in Houston since 2009. He missed practice on Friday due to a bruised chest muscle and is listed as day to day.
The Thunder lead the first-round series 2-0, but the injury to Westbrook, which occurred in the first half of Game 2, could change the complexion of the series. He averaged 24 points and 6 1/2 rebounds this postseason.
It’s difficult to know just how Westbrook’s absence will change the Thunder since he’s never missed a game in his career. But it’s probably safe to say superstar Kevin Durant who is averaging 26.5 points in the series, will have to do even more than usual.
Durant said this will be his biggest challenge as the Thunder’s leader.
“I’ve got faith in myself and our team,” Durant said. “I know I can lead us. It’s just a matter of me going out there and always being positive with the guys, always being encouraging … I’ve been doing it all season. I’ve just got to rev it up a little bit more.”
The Rockets expressed sadness at Westbrook’s injury, but know his absence could benefit them.
“It can create a chance for us,” Houston’s Carlos Delfino said. “You never want anything bad to happen to people … but we’ve got to win. If this creates a little window or opens the window a little more for us, that’s welcome.”
Westbrook, who has a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, was hurt when rookie Patrick Beverley tried for a steal in the second quarter and ran into his knee.
The Rockets went with a new-look lineup in Game 2 that gave Beverley his first start. Some have questioned whether the play on Westbrook was dirty on Beverley’s part, but he insisted he would never try to hurt anyone.
“It’s definitely unfortunate,” he said. “I was definitely looking forward to playing Westbrook again and to get to battle again.”
Beverley gave the Rockets a spark in Game 2, scoring 16 points as Houston bounced back from a blowout loss in the first game, but still fell short in a 105-102 Thunder win.
He knows some blame him for the injury and are trash talking him on Twitter, but said he isn’t bothered by it. Beverley has dealt with adversity most of his life. He grew up in a tough neighborhood and wasn’t even in the NBA a few months ago, instead playing in Russia.
“It was just hard trying to go to school some mornings growing up, so I can live through some Twitter beef,” he said. “I’ve been in incidents in Europe where guys throw quarters at my face and I’ve got blood gushing down, so I’m kind of used to it. It wasn’t intentional, he knows that and I know that.”
Houston coach Kevin McHale loves Beverley’s intensity and said he’s successful in part because he plays equally as hard whether it’s practice or a playoff game.
“He’s just a little fighter,” McHale said. “That’s what you’ve got to have in our league. If you’re going to win the biggest of games, you either better be feisty and tough like he is or just ultra, ultra, ultra talented and be the most talented guy on the floor, and it’s hard to be that guy.”
The Rockets haven’t said whether they’ll go with the three-guard lineup that they used in Game 2 on Saturday. But James Harden is hoping they do, saying he believes it’s their best lineup and allows them to push the tempo.
Harden, who spent his first three NBA seasons with the Thunder, was upset upon about Westbrook’s injury.
“Sad, sad story,” Harden said. “That’s one of my friends and just to see him out injured when he hadn’t missed a game all career is definitely sad.”
Harden said Westbrook’s being out “changes a lot” and called him the Thunder’s engine. Then he raved about backup Reggie Jackson who’ll likely take over for Westbrook in the starting lineup. Jackson, who is in his second year, averaged 5.3 points in the regular season and 7.5 in the first two playoff games.
“Reggie is definitely not a pushover,” Harden said. “He’s very talented, athletic and he’s always going to work on his jump shot. He’s going to make plays because he’s so athletic. We definitely can’t take him lightly at all.”
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks wouldn’t say if Jackson would start, but said he was definitely an option. The Thunder also have veteran guard Derek Fisher
“Everybody’s going to have to step up. That’s the thing. Not one person,” Brooks said. “Whoever I start, that’s not going to be that person to play and be Russell Westbrook.”
The Rockets are in the postseason after failing to qualify in the last three years. Guard Aaron Brooks is the only current player who was on the roster during Houston’s last playoff trip.
McHale believes playing on the road first was a valuable experience for his team, and he’s looking forward to seeing how his young team responds in front of what he expects to be an “electric” crowd.
“We’re not a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination, but the guys will go out there and they’ll fight you for it and that covers a lot of ground when you have guys that are willing to compete,” he said.