A Season Defined by Injuries
*Photo via Ap
I was disgusted with it already. Sick of it. I had never seen anything like it. I didn't think it could get any worse. Then, it did.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, who already lost opening-night starter Anderson Varejao and All-Star Kevin Love, were battling tough in Game 1 of the finals when Kyrie Irving went down. As Kyrie hobbled off the court, it felt like déjà vu. This championship would be no different than this year’s regular season or playoffs, defined by injuries.
Winning a championship takes a lot of luck. We have heard that over and over. The playoffs have never provided sympathy to any team. But this year, the marquee stage for the sport has been amplified with disappointments and major setbacks. In the past, I would say the eight month NBA season is a journey, a marathon. Now I would describe the season as a battle of attrition. Which team can outlast the others with some amount of health – not about talent, chemistry, quality coaching and a few fortunate bounces of the ball.
It started before opening night even arrived. Paul George broke his right leg in August and missed all but six games and returned too late to help the Indiana Pacers make the playoffs. And we have to wonder if the Golden State Warriors would even be here if Kevin Durant hadn’t started the year inactive and missed all but 27 games.
As a lifelong Kobe Bryant fan, I watched the Los Angeles Lakers first game attentively to see if my childhood hero could return to have some semblance of himself. While doing so, I watched rookie Julius Randle (seventh pick) go down only 14 seconds into his career. Kobe may have looked decent that night, but he made it only 35 games before losing his season to a rotator cuff tear. The Milwaukee Bucks surprised everyone reaching the playoffs despite Jabari Parker (second pick) suffering a season-ending ACL tear. The Philadelphia 76ers third overall pick, Joel Embiid, never even saw the court this season.
The Miami Heat acquired Goran Dragic in a midseason trade and seemed like they were well on their way to making a big playoff push late, but then lost Chris Bosh to blood clots. The season also ended prematurely for All-Star Carmelo Anthony, two-time most valuable player Steve Nash, Brandon Jennings, Wesley Matthews, Thabo Sefolosha, Patrick Beverly, Donatas Motiejunas and as if Oklahoma City didn't have enough bad luck for one year, Serge Ibaka’s season ended early.
So we lost a championship contender in the Oklahoma City Thunder and two playoff teams in Indiana and Miami. So once the playoffs start it could not get any worse right? Wrong.
The Dallas Mavericks lost Chandler Parsons to a knee injury early in the first round. Whether or not Rajon Rondo’s postseason ended because of a back injury is a whole different conversation. Mike Conley was hit in the cheek against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Conley missed the end of the first round and Game 1 of the semi-finals due to the severe sweeping and accumulation of blood around his eye.
Kevin Love’s first postseason run was over in Game 4 of the first round as Kelly Olynyk, whether intentionally or not, pulled his left arm out of the socket. Chris Paul had to finish Game 7 of the first round against the San Antonio Spurs with a partially torn hamstring before missing time in the second round. John Wall landed on his hand bracing from a fall in Game 1 of the Washington Wizards’ second-round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.
So all four conference semifinal series were drastically affected by injuries. The Wizards took Atlanta to six hard-fought games, despite losing Wall in Game 1. The way Washington was playing at the time, having won 5 straight playoff games, this is a series you can easily argue was lost because of Wall’s injury.
It appeared the Chicago Bulls were taking advantage of the Cavs missing Love. Until they ran into their own problems. After taking a 2-1 series lead, Pau Gasol missed two games. They lost both and eventually the series in six games.
It is safe to say the conference finals would have been different if some amount of health had been maintained. The teams that did make it, however, received no relief. The Hawks lost All-Star Kyle Korver. The Warriors, who seem to be the only team all year to maintain health, got their first big scares. Stephen Curry left Game 4 against the Rockets. It seemed that he had landed on his wrist and we were seeing John Wall all over again. His wrist was fine. He did suffer a concussion though. The very next game, Klay Thompson suffered a concussion. Neither player missed a game and the Warriors stretch of luck continued.
What can the NBA do? Freak accidents have always happened and always will. But the New
York times reports a 91% increase in playoff injuries just from last year. The best answer may be to reduce the 82 game schedule down to 60-66 games, push the start back to Christmas Day, drag the regular season out to May, and let the finals drift out to July. By doing this, commissioner Adam Silver could almost eliminate back to back games.
This will never happen though. Owners will refuse to reduce the schedule as every game not played is money not going in their pocket. So the league can wrap the players in bubble wrap and replace the hardwood with a special bouncy foam. Just kidding. Untimely mishaps are commonplace in the playoffs. Ask the 2003 Sacramento Kings who lost Chris Webber. Or the 2009 Boston Celtics, who lost Kevin Garnett. We all know what happened to the 2012 Chicago Bulls. But rarely has such a variety of teams been impacted with championship aspirations on the line.
The league has accomplished one of its long-term goals of parity. And in a year where the championship was up for grabs, one injury may have been the difference between otherwise evenly matched teams. With so many quality players succumbing to injuries, the already wide open field became even more cluttered and new powers have emerged and thrived. I do not believe in an asterisk being applied to any championship. They are too precious and require too much work, sacrifice, and dedication. However, if the Warriors hoist up the trophy in the upcoming days, it may be because they dodged disaster during a cursed season more than they earned it.