Pacers lose All-Star Victor Oladipo to season-ending injury
After learning the All-Star guard faces season-ending surgery for a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee, Oladipo’s teammates quickly banded together in hopes of surprising the NBA again.
“It’s very, very tough to see this happen to a guy who is so positive and means so much to this team,” co-captain Thaddeus Young said Thursday. “But we can’t just go be sad. We have to go out and grind out wins and stay together through thick and thin.”
Young and his teammates demonstrated what that might look like Wednesday night after Oladipo crumpled to the ground awkwardly as he tried to defend an outlet pass against Toronto. He was taken off the court on a stretcher with 4:05 left in the first half. Team officials announced during the game it was a “serious injury” to his right knee but waited until Thursday’s MRI to provide more details.
Even without their leader, Indiana managed to end a five-game losing streak against the Raptors by holding on for a 110-106 victory. They will need to play the same way throughout the much more challenging second half of the season and presumably into the playoffs.
“What we’ll miss most is him getting a bucket down the stretch,” point guard Darren Collison said. “He’s a guy you can give the ball too to and he’ll get a bucket down the stretch. Teams that don’t have a best player like that struggle with that. But we know what we have to do.”
The Pacers weren’t the only ones disappointed by the news.
“You obviously never want to see any players get injured, especially ones that you have relationships with and guys you know put the work in,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. “It’s unfortunate that injuries are a part of this game and it sucks. But guys like Vic are so mentally strong that eventually, if it is anything that sets him back for a while, he’ll work his way back to where he is or even better.”
It’s not the first time the Pacers have played without Oladipo. They went 7-4 when he sat out with a sore right knee in November and December.
Coach Nate McMillan said nobody had told him if the two injuries were related. Some observers noted Oladipo appeared to be favoring his right leg as recently as last week.
“I haven’t talked to the trainers about it, but he wasn’t complaining before last night,” McMillan said, acknowledging Oladipo remained upbeat Thursday.
McMillan said he does not know when the surgery will take place or whether Oladipo will be ready for the start of next season.
Tyreke Evans will replace Oladipo in the starting lineup and first-round draft pick Aaron Holiday will get more playing time off the bench, McMillan said. In addition, the Pacers intend to promote Edmond Sumner, a second-round pick in 2017, from the G-League to the active roster.
Indiana also will consider making a move before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
“We will talk about that,” McMillan said. “We will talk about where we go from here.”
Oladipo was hurt as he scrambled back to defend an outlet pass to Toronto’s Pascal Siakam and crumpled to the floor awkwardly. Trainers quickly draped a towel over the leg and players from both teams surrounded Oladipo while he was down. Thursday’s news only confirmed the Pacers’ worst fears.
“We kind of knew last night but we got the word this morning,” McMillan said. “It’s unfortunate. He’s a special player and a special person. It will be tough, but we have to continue to move on.”
The Pacers currently hold the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and are 17 games above .500 for the first time in 4½ years. Oladipo led the Pacers in scoring at 19.2 points per game, was a first-team all-NBA defensive selection last season and is the other co-captain.
A year ago, many projected the Pacers to be a lottery team after trading All-Star Paul George to Oklahoma City for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis and wound up making the playoffs as one of the league’s biggest surprises. And the Pacers believe they can do it again.
“The season’s not over,” Collison said. “They don’t know our mindset in the locker room. They don’t know what we have.”