MINNEAPOLIS — Caris LeVert’s breakout season was cut short in tragic fashion Monday night at Target Center when he suffered a gruesome-looking injury to his lower right leg. Television replays showed LeVert landing awkwardly as his leg bent grotesquely just above his right ankle.
The Nets public relations department issued an update saying LeVert “sustained a lower right leg injury” and was taken to a Minneapolis hospital to undergo a full evaluation.
Before LeVert’s injury, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said this game would be a “test of character.” It was all that and more after the Nets lost their best player.
They showed heart to fight back and cut a 10-point deficit to one midway through the fourth quarter, but that was as close as they got in a 120-113 loss that might be a harbinger of many more to come without LeVert in the lineup.
Atkinson obviously was crestfallen after the game. “He’s the heart and soul of our program,” Atkinson said. “Really tough blow. I feel for him. He’s had a fantastic start to the season. He’s obviously made a huge jump. I just know Caris — if anybody’s coming back from this, knowing the human, the character, the person, the player, he’ll come back from this. Tough, tough blow for the Nets.”
Atkinson took two more questions and cut his postgame presser short, saying, “Our only thoughts are with him. Nothing else matters. The game doesn’t matter tonight. That’s it.”
LeVert’s injury occurred with 0.3 seconds left in the first half as he was attempting to stop a drive by rookie Josh Okogie. LeVert landed atop Okogie as his right foot jammed into the floor. LeVert sat up in pain and reached for his right ankle area before collapsing back onto the floor.
The Nets’ Russell immediately covered his head with his hands and walked toward the bench, where he sat down unable to look at the unfolding scene. “I saw right away what it was and tried to erase it from memory as soon as I could, but it doesn’t work like that,” said Russell, who led the Nets (6-8) with a season-high 31 points and hit a career-high nine three-pointers in 15 attempts. “It’s something that hurts. It’s hard to speak about.
“You don’t want to see anybody get hurt, but for us to see our brother go down that we practice with every day, that we’re on flights with every day, it’s devastating to the stomach. We can put up our prayers for him and step up and try to build off of it.”
From the start of training camp, Nets players and coaches raved about LeVert’s offseason work and how he appeared poised for a breakout in his third NBA season. LeVert delivered big-time, averaging 19.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He scored at least 20 points in seven of his first nine games and set career-highs three times. LeVert had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in another stellar first-half effort against the Timberwolves.
The esteem in which LeVert is held made it all the more difficult to stomach when the Nets went to the locker room at halftime. Recalling the scene in the quiet arena as medics tended to LeVert, teammate Joe Harris said, “I don’t think anybody talked to him. There were really no words. I don’t even think we talked when we came in at halftime. There was nothing really to be said.
“You could just feel the emotions of everybody. Guys were crying. It was really just that horrific to see. Like I said, the circumstances of everything, the type of person Caris is and what he’s been for our team, it just . . . you’re heartbroken and you’re overwhelmed with emotion to be honest.”