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The NBA playoffs are only a couple of weeks old, and already we’ve seen them radically changed thanks to a couple of key injuries.
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Golden State’s presumptive MVP Stephen Curry, who led the NBA in scoring during the regular season at 31 points per game, sprained his ankle in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Rockets, then returned in Game 4 and suffered a knee injury that could keep him out for two weeks. More recently, during Game 4 of the Clippers’ series against Portland, Los Angeles point guard Chris Paul suffered a fractured hand, which will sideline him indefinitely, and Blake Griffin re-injured his quadriceps, which means he will miss the rest of the playoffs.
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Injuries are an unavoidable part of sports. Over the last few years, we’ve seen teams trying to preserve players by sitting them out of games and limiting their minutes. And along the way, we’ve also learned that nobody seems able to avoid the fickle hand of bad luck, particularly where injuries are concerned.
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This season is not the first time we’ve seen an NBA team in the playoffs have its destiny altered by circumstances beyond its control. Let’s take a look back over the last 15 years at some of the injuries that have had a significant impact on their team’s postseason plans…
Derek Anderson Jerseys, San Antonio Spurs
Playoff series: 2001 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas
Injury: Separated shoulder in Game 1
How it affected the series: The Spurs finished the 2000-01 season an NBA-best 58-24, with Anderson the team’s second-leading scorer behind Tim Duncan, averaging 15.5 points in 82 games. Anderson injured his shoulder on a flagrant foul from Juwan Howard, although the Spurs went on to beat the Mavericks in five games. Anderson returned during the Western Conference finals, but the Lakers swept the Spurs in four games.
Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento Kings
Playoff series: 2002 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas
Injury: Sprained ankle in Game 3
How it affected the series: Coming off an All-Star season as Sacramento’s second-leading scorer, Stojakovic’s injury kept him out nearly three weeks. He finally returned to help the Kings win Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, although the Lakers bounced back to win Games 6 and 7 and advance to the NBA Finals.
Chris Webber, Sacramento Kings
Playoff series: 2003 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas
Injury: ACL injury in Game 2
How it affected the series: Webber was Sacramento’s leading scorer during the regular season, averaging 23 points. The Kings were leading 1-0 when Webber went down, and without Webber, Dallas was able to eliminate the Kings in seven games. Although, as Dallas was about to learn, the injury bug is inescapable.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Playoff series: 2003 Western Conference finals vs. San Antonio
Injury: Knee in Game 3
How it affected the series: The Mavs finished the regular season tied for the NBA’s best record at 60-22. After beating the Spurs in Game 1, Nowitzki strained his knee going for a rebound in Game 3, and missed the rest of the series. The Spurs went on to win the series and, eventually, the NBA championship.
Sam Cassell, Minnesota Timberwolves
Playoff series: 2004 Western Conference finals vs. Lakers
Injury: Hip injury in Game 1
How it affected the series: The Wolves had won a regular season franchise-best 58 games and entered the postseason as the top seed in the Western Conference. Point guard Cassell was injured one minute into Game 1, and wasn’t nearly as effective as he was during the regular season. The Lakers won the series in six games to advance to the NBA Finals.
Joe Johnson, Phoenix Suns
Playoff series: 2005 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas
Injury: Broken orbital bone in Game 2
How it affected the series: Johnson had played 287 consecutive games for the Suns before a foul from Jerry Stackhouse caused an eye injury that resulted in a minor concussion and required surgery. Johnson missed the rest of the series, as the Suns were able to defeat the Mavericks in six games. Johnson returned in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, but the Suns lost in five games to the San Antonio Spurs.
Yao Ming, Houston Rockets
Playoff series: 2009 Western Conference semifinals vs. Lakers
Injury: Fractured foot in Game 3
How it affected the series: After the Rockets finished the regular season with 53 wins, they won their first-round matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. In Game 3 of the conference semifinals, Yao had to limp off after suffering a stress fracture. The Lakers would go on to win the series and, eventually, the NBA championship.
Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics Jerseys
Playoff series: 2010 NBA Finals vs. Lakers
Injury: Knee injury in Game 6
How it affected the series: Perkins wasn’t Boston’s most dynamic player, but his defensive presence and leadership were valued by the Celtics. The Celtics held a 3-2 lead going into Game 6, but an early Perkins injury derailed Boston, as the Lakers went on to win Games 6 and 7 and take the NBA title.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls Jerseys
Playoff series: 2012 Eastern Conference first round vs. Philadelphia
Injury: Torn ACL in Game 1
How it affected the series: Rose was the NBA’s reigning MVP, and had led the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals the previous season. In 2012, Rose led the Bulls to a first-place finish in the Central Division and they were one of the favorites to contend for an NBA title. Rose’s knee injury in Game 1 was catastrophic for Chicago, as they went on to lose the series in six games.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Playoff series: 2013 Western Conference first round vs. Houston
Injury: Torn meniscus in Game 2
How it affected the series: One season after a trip to the NBA Finals, the Thunder finished the regular season with a 60-22 record, best in the Western Conference. Westbrook had played all 82 regular season games, averaging 23.2 points and 7.4 assists. Westbrook collided with Houston’s Patrick Beverley and came up limping, and ended up needing surgery and missed the rest of the postseason. The Thunder ended up winning the series behind Kevin Durant, but lost the conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Starters: Beverley vs. Westbrook
The Starters discuss the heated rivalry between the Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook along with their respected teams.
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
Playoff series: 2014 Western Conference semifinals vs. Clippers
Injury: Calf injury in Game 6
How it affected the series: One season after losing Westbrook in the postseason, the Thunder were still harboring championship aspirations. But during the Thunder’s Game 6 victory over the Clippers, Ibaka suffered a calf injury. A day later, the Thunder announced that Ibaka was done for the rest of the postseason. But after the Thunder fell behind 0-2 to the Spurs during the Western Conference finals, Ibaka returned in a limited role but the Spurs would go on to win and advance.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys
Playoff series: 2015 Eastern Conference first round vs. Boston cheap nba jersey
Injury: Dislocated shoulder in game 4
How it affected the series: After the Cavs added Kevin Love and LeBron James to a young core, they finished the season as the best team in the Eastern Conference. But during Game 4 of their first round series against Boston, Love and Kelly Olynyk became tangled going after a loose ball, and Love suffered his season-ending injury. The Cavs had enough interior depth to win the series and eventually advance to the NBA Finals, but soon learned there were more injuries ahead…
Kevin Love leaves the game after injuring his shoulder while battling for the rebound with Kelly Olynyk.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys
Playoff series: NBA Finals vs. Golden State Warriors
Injury: Patella fracture in Game 2
How it affected the series: Irving actually missed two games against the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys in the Eastern Conference finals with a knee injury, but returned to play against the Warriors’ strong backcourt in the NBA Finals. Irving suffered the injury during overtime of Game 1, knocking him out for the rest of the series. The Cavs would go on to lose the Finals in six games.
Kyrie Irving’s Injury
Kyrie Irving drives, lands awkardly and appears to sustain an injury on the play.
Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.
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