MIAMI — The reactions from Victor Oladipo's teammates told the story as he sat on the court Saturday night, holding onto his left knee as fans watched in stunned silence. Kyle Lowry yelled a profanity. Max Strus covered his face with a towel. Jimmy Butler held his head in his hands, staring at the floor.
They feared he was hurt badly. They were right.
The Heat announced Sunday that Oladipo tore his left patellar tendon, a diagnosis that came after an MRI earlier in the day. The injury ends Oladipo's season and calls his availability for the start of next season — and likely beyond — into serious doubt. He will need a third major surgery in just over four years, the previous two coming after a quadriceps injury over his right knee.
No timetable will likely be known until after the surgery.
"Yes, there are injuries. That is a part of this game. We understand that," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Miami's 121-99 victory over Milwaukee. "But the human side of it, when you see somebody that's overcome so much and he's done it time and time and time again, and he always does it with an incredible positive spirit and a smile on his face — even last night ... that's why I admire him so much."
Oladipo's is the second significant injury for the Heat in the first three games of this postseason against Milwaukee. Eighth-seeded Miami holds a 2-1 lead over the top-seeded Bucks going into Game 4 on Monday night. Tyler Herro was lost for at least six weeks, which probably means the rest of the season no matter how far Miami advances, when he broke his right hand in Game 1 at Milwaukee.
Herro's injury seemed to open a door for Oladipo to have a bigger role in Miami’s guard rotation; Oladipo played 26 minutes in Game 2 and 19 before getting hurt in Game 3.
Oladipo has missed 255 of a possible 374 games since initially getting hurt while playing for Indiana in 2019. He’s been listed as inactive for 226 of those games, the second-most in the NBA over that span behind Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac.
"The physical toll of rehab is tough but mentally, it's even tougher," said Heat center Cody Zeller, who played with Oladipo in college at Indiana and has been close with him for years. "And he's always so positive. He'll attack this rehab like he has the others. Mentally, I don't know how he does it. There's a lot of long days, a lot of slow days and it's tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm just sick for him."
The injury came shortly after Oladipo pulled off perhaps one of his top highlight-reel plays of the season, controlling a rebound at one end, dribbling downcourt at full speed, blowing past three Milwaukee players on his way to the rim and scoring — punching the air in celebration to end that play.
The next shot he took was his last: He drove down the lane, getting past two Bucks, then appeared to slip as he tried to plant for his jump and grabbed at his knee right away as he landed.
"I think of all these times behind the scenes when no one's watching," Spoelstra said. "I feel like I've had a front-row seat to that on all these off days the last three years, on weekends when no one is here — but he's on the training table, and then working his way to the weight room, usually like a four- or five-hour process and then finishing up with all the post-rehab work. ... Those can be very frustrating times, but you never would see that on his face."
Miami's guard rotation is now very thin. Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry are the point guards. Strus and Duncan Robinson — who has been in and out of the rotation this season, but had 20 points in Game 3 — will be the primary shooting guards. There aren't many other options.
Oladipo, who has a $9.5 million player option for next season, was a two-time All-Star with Indiana before getting hurt in January 2019. He returned a year later, wasn't anywhere near the same player and Indiana traded him to Houston in January 2021. The Rockets didn't keep him long before moving him to Miami, with whom Oladipo played four games in March 2021 before getting hurt again.
Oladipo appeared in just eight regular-season games in the 2021-22 season while recovering from a second surgery to repair his right quadriceps tendon. He got into 15 playoff games for Miami last season, then agreed on a two-year deal to stay with the Heat last summer.
He played in 42 games this season with Miami, his most in any regular season since 2017-18.
"Never count him out," Robinson said. "But it hurts."