NEW ORLEANS — An already subdued Clippers locker room -- quieted after a 110-102 loss to the Hornets on Tuesday night at New Orleans Arena -- became even more downcast when Kareem Rush arrived on crutches, moving slowly to his spot near the corner.
There were a couple of murmurs in the room and finally one of his teammates asked, "You OK?"
Said Rush: "No."
Rush then told his teammates that he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, which puts him out for the rest of the season. Conclusive word came less than an hour later when the MRI test result came in and confirmed what Rush feared and had told the other players.
He suffered the injury late in the first quarter, with 2:31 remaining, hurting it not with glaring contact but when his knee buckled awkwardly as he went up to shoot on a drive.
It was obvious it was a serious injury as he was in visible pain and remained on the court for several minutes, and, of course, had to be helped off and back to the locker room.
Rush, who will accompany the team to Memphis before it returns to Los Angeles, had had knee injuries before but he knew this was different.
"I've never felt pain this bad like this before," he said after returning from the hospital.
Sadly for Rush, he was coming off his most productive outing for the Clippers, Sunday at Oklahoma City, finally giving them some scoring punch at the 2-guard spot, with Eric Gordon out because of an injured groin.
In fact, there was some thought Rush might not even play against the Hornets. He had to return home to Los Angeles after the Oklahoma City game to attend to a personal matter involving a family member, and some of his teammates were surprised when he rejoined them here not long before game time.
It is yet another devastating blow for the injury-ravaged Clippers, who are already missing the No. 1 overall draft pick, power forward Blake Griffin, and shooting guard Gordon.
This has added up to a most turbulent start for the 4-8 Clippers, who have won only one of their last five games, raising questions about the job security of General Manager and Coach Mike Dunleavy.
This was their second loss to the Hornets in eight days. At least their 28-point loss to New Orleans could be blamed, in part, by the dynamic excellence of All-Star point guard Chris Paul. But Paul is sidelined because of a sprained ankle.
They were out-hustled, out-rebounded by the Hornets by a substantial margin (51-36), and often appeared clueless on defense. The Clippers were forced to play catch-up virtually the whole night, falling behind, 7-0, and 10-2 to start.
Bad start and all, they still managed to cut the deficit to three points early in the second half, pulling to within 58-55. New Orleans then went on a 12-1 run and the Clippers were in chase mode once again.
For the Hornets, it was the first coaching win for Jeff Bower, who took over when Byron Scott was fired last week, and the first victory as a starter for guard Darren Collison, the former UCLA star. David West led the Hornets with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
The Clippers squandered a strong showing from small forward Al Thornton, who is starting to flicker to life. Thornton, who had a season-high 20 points Sunday, was even better against New Orleans, scoring 30 points and shooting 12 for 17 from the field.
"We got off to a terrible start and from there, it was an uphill battle all game," Thornton said. "Point blank, we just have to start the game better. I don't know why we came out lackadaisical. We just have to find a way to start games better. That's it.
"If we got out to a great start to the game, there's no doubt in my mind it's a win."
His showing was undercut by the aforementioned rebounding, or decided lack thereof, and bench play. Then there was a bad shooting night from point guard Baron Davis, who looked as if he regressed in terms of shooting and decision-making.
Davis had 23 points and nine assists, but 11 of the points came in the fourth quarter with the Clippers playing a wild catch-up style.
He went seven for 21 and made three of 12 three-point attempts, and those numbers were propped up by the fourth-quarter showing. Through three quarters, he was 0 for 5 from three-point range.
"We gave up too many offensive rebounds tonight," said the Clippers' Rasual Butler, who had 12 points. "A lot of it was stemming from our pick-and-roll coverage making mistakes, bigs having to step over and help, and wing guys having to plug."
He said it was not strange coming home to play against his former teammates. "I love to compete whether it's here or on Mars or wherever."