CLEVELAND (AP) — Ricky Rubio helped the Cavaliers return to relevance. Now, he’s got to make another comeback of his own.
The veteran guard, who has been instrumental in Cleveland’s turnaround, is done for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Tuesday night — the same injury that ended his rookie season in 2012.
Rubio’s loss is a devastating blow to the Cavs, who have jumped into playoff contention after going 22-50 last season. Cleveland is 20-14 and fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The team said an MRI taken Wednesday confirmed the torn ACL, which was feared after Rubio got hurt late in Tuesday’s 108-104 loss at New Orleans.
The 31-year-old Rubio had a major impact in his first season with Cleveland, providing leadership and depth to a young squad.
It’s the second time Rubio has torn his left ACL. He first did it as a rookie with Minnesota after colliding with the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant.
Rubio’s injury is also the second significant one to Cleveland’s backcourt this season. Collin Sexton suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 7. At the time, Sexton was the team’s leading scorer.
Rubio, who was acquired during the summer in a trade from Minnesota, slipped while driving in the lane as the Cavs were trying to protect a lead with two minutes left. Rubio’s knee buckled and he collapsed to the floor.
He grabbed his knee and was in obvious distress before being helped to his feet and walking to the locker room for evaluation. He didn’t put any weight on his left leg while being assisted by teammates Isaac Okoro and Kevin Love.
Before getting hurt, Rubio, who was starting at point guard against the Pelicans because Darius Garland was in the league’s health and safety protocols, scored 27 points while adding 13 rebounds and eight assists.
The Cavs fell apart after Rubio left and the Pelicans completed their rally from a 23-point deficit.
Rubio’s infectious playing style has rubbed off on Cleveland and he’s been both a quality backup and mentor to Garland. He’s also had a positive effect on Love, his former Timberwolves teammate, who is thriving in a reserve role.
“Him and I have such a history,” Love said following the game. “I really care for him. I’m just praying that he’s going to be OK. We don’t know what the near future is going to hold for him. We’re just completely gutted. He was having such a great season.”
Rubio picked up where he left off after starring for Spain’s Olympic team last summer in Tokyo. He’s averaging 13.1 points, 6.6 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 34 games. Rubio is only under contract through this season.
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