LAS VEGAS -- You always know in an instant when something has gone horribly wrong. You can see it in the way the player falls to the ground and the looks on the faces of his teammates. You can hear it in the gasps from the crowd, and feel it in the sickening quiet that follows.
When Paul George fell to the ground after jamming his leg into the bottom of the basketball stanchion Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, you knew in an instant how serious and devastating the injury was. James Harden, who was the closest to the play, took one look and bent over in disgust. Kevin Durant threw his hands in the air and looked up to the sky, already knowing this was a time for prayer.
The crowd knew it was bad, but most hadn't seen how gruesome it really was, and no replays were shown in the arena. When the bright orange stretcher appeared from the tunnel, there was an audible cry from those watching, realizing the severity. Moments later, fans started pulling up photos and videos of what happened on their phones. Pockets of screams flared up around the otherwise quiet building.
Derrick Rose squatted down and covered his face with his hands. If anyone in the arena knew what was going through George's mind in that very moment, it was Rose. After two years lost to devastating knee injuries, the Bulls point guard had finally made it back. Friday had been his coming-out party. He looked incredible slashing to the basket with that supersonic burst that made him the MVP at 22. He was confident. He had his swagger back.
But in the first few moments after George's injury, every player on the court was feeling the same sense of basketball mortality. They all know every time they step on the court that something awful can happen. They all have to find their own ways of blocking that fear out. When you're coming back from an injury like Rose's or George's, that confidence is the last thing to come back. That trust that the knee is going to hold. That faith that it won't happen again.
It was truly heartbreaking to see the look on Rose's face as he watched George lie on that court. He knows what is in front of George now. He knows what effect this injury will have on the Indiana Pacers franchise this season. He knows all the doubts an injury like this can plant in the minds of every other player on the court.
Will all the players in this USA Basketball camp want to continue on with the national team this summer? Will their franchises allow it?
Was this just a freak injury any of them could have suffered at any time? Was the basketball stanchion at UNLV too close to the court? Which of those possibilities is worse?
The Pacers' initial statement Saturday morning made it clear that they are focused on George, not on why the injury happened or whether it could've been prevented.