JUSUF Nurkic suffered a horrific leg injury while helping the Portland Trail Blazers clinch their sixth consecutive playoff berth with a double overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday.
Nurkic led the scoring for the Blazers with 32 points while adding 16 rebounds and five assists in a 148-144 triumph at the Moda Center in Portland.
But the 24-year-old Bosnian’s evening ended in despair when he collapsed to the court in agony after suffering a gruesome-looking injury in the second period of overtime.
Nurkic’s left leg buckled beneath him as he landed after attempting to tip in a shot.
Several players from both sides visibly recoiled after seeing the severity of Nurkic’s injury, which sent the arena into a concerned hush.
Nurkic was treated by medical personnel with a towel masking his face before being stretchered off the court.
The Bosnian big man had been enjoying the best season of his career, averaging 15.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game before Monday.
Nurkic’s injury left his teammates distraught.
“Seeing one of your brothers go down like that, I just don’t know what to say,” said Blazers Turkish star Enes Kanter.
“Tonight I’m just going to go home and just pray for him because this is way bigger than basketball.”
Blazers ace Damian Lillard described Nurkic as “my little big brother”.
“We talk every day, text, Facetime,” Lillard said. “I can get on him in a way that I probably can’t get on nobody else because of our relationship. I hate to see that happen.”
Elsewhere on Monday, the in-form Orlando Magic sent the Philadelphia 76ers spinning to a 119-98 loss.
Nikola Vucevic dominated a Sixers line-up missing Ben Simmons through illness to finish with 11 rebounds and four assists as well as a double-digit points tally.
The defeat left the Sixers in third place in the Eastern Conference standings with 47 wins against 27 defeats.
The Magic’s fifth consecutive win has kept them firmly in the hunt for a playoff berth with the same number of wins (36) as Miami, who occupy the eighth and final playoff berth.
The two teams meet in Miami on Tuesday in a game that could ultimately decide Orlando’s chances of making the playoffs.
Montenegrin Vucevic was backed by a 24-point display from Evan Fournier. Michael Carter-Williams chipped in with 15 from the bench.
Orlando’s defence, which has been the best in the league since the All-Star break, restricted the Sixers to just six three-pointers while forcing 15 turnovers.
“The second half was about as well as we’ve played,” Magic head coach Steve Clifford said.
“I think tonight we were balanced. Our defence was good, we made shots.
“We were good with the starters and then when we broke the line-up we sustained the play well.”
There was another upset in Memphis, where Brazilian international Bruno Caboclo scored a career-high 24 points as the Grizzlies dented Oklahoma City Thunder’s likely playoff ranking with a 115-103 win.
Caboclo, who only landed a permanent multi-year deal with Memphis last month after a frustrating few years spent trying to break into the NBA, rewarded his new employers’ belief with a game-winning display.
The 2m 6cm 23-year-old small forward from Sao Paulo also pulled down 11 rebounds and provided two assists to give the already-eliminated Grizzlies a deserved win over the higher-ranked Thunder.
The defeat leaves Oklahoma City in eighth place in the Western Conference standings with 43 wins and 31 defeats.
In Salt Lake City, Devin Booker exploded for 59 points but could not prevent the Phoenix Suns suffering a blowout 125-92 defeat against the Utah Jazz.
Booker’s brilliant half century of points included five three pointers as he drained 19 of 34 field goal attempts at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.
The 22-year-old Booker is only the fourth player in NBA history to post multiple 50-point games before his 23rd birthday.
The Suns star joins an elite band of players which includes Rick Barry, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.