It is nothing new for injuries to determine the NBA playoffs. The Toronto Raptors’ unforgettable championship in 2019 might not have happened if Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson didn’t suffer serious season-ending injuries in the NBA Finals. The Warriors’ 2017 championship run benefitted from Kawhi Leonard going down with an ankle injury after he landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot in a second round series against the Spurs. Could the Miami Heat have won last year’s Finals with a fully healthy Goran Dragic?
These are just a few recent examples of injuries altering the playoffs, and history is littered with plenty more. Unfortunately, the 2021 playoffs are continuing the trend with a number of superstars either sidelined or playing hurt in the most important games of the season.
Injuries were always going to be a major concern during a season abbreviated by the pandemic. The NBA crammed a 72-game schedule into a condensed time frame and made sure the playoffs would finish up before the Tokyo Olympics this summer. The Lakers and Heat only had 72 days off between the end of Finals in the bubble and the start of the this season, which amounted to the shortest offseason in league history. The second half of the schedule felt particularly rushed, with teams often playing three games in four nights to close out the season.
While the first round of the playoffs has provided undeniable excitement, it’s also a huge bummer that injuries are playing such a huge role for so many teams. This is how injuries have shaped the playoffs so far.
Anthony Davis injury: Groin strain is superstar’s latest injury
Davis went down grabbing his groin just before halftime in Game 4 of the Lakers’ first round series against the Phoenix Suns. Davis would not play in the second half, and the Suns would go to win to tie up the series at 2-2.
Davis is being listed as day-to-day with a Grade 1 strain, and Shams Charania reported he’s unlikely to play in Game 5. His status for the rest of the series is unknown. Even if Davis does return to play, it’s hard to think he’ll be anywhere close to 100 percent given all of the injuries he’s sustained this season.
Davis was already listed as questionable with a knee sprain coming into Game 4. He has also had to fight off a calf strain this season that limited him to only 36 games before the playoffs. AD played like a true superstar in the bubble last year, but he hasn’t been right physically ever since. The Lakers’ repeat chances hinge on him returning to full force.
LeBron James injury: Ankle issue has limited James in playoffs
LeBron James has played in every postseason game for the Lakers so far, but it’s pretty clear he’s not 100 percent. James suffered a high right ankle sprain on March 20, which he called one of the worst injuries of his career. James spent six weeks rehabbing the injury, and then tweaked it in the final game of the regular season.
James returned to lead the Lakers to a play-in game victory over the Golden State Warriors. He’s averaging nearly 38 minutes per game in the series against the Suns, but his numbers (21.8 points per game) have taken a dip. James simply isn’t attacking the basket with the combination of speed and power that has defined his career. LeBron can still win a series without his typical explosion, but it’s not going to be easy against a team as good as Phoenix, especially with Davis dinged up, too.
Chris Paul injury: Shoulder nearly kept CP3 out of Game 4
Paul injured his shoulder in Game 1 of the first round series against the Lakers, and he’s been struggling to get it right ever since. The injury has hampered Paul’s dribbling and shooting ability throughout the series, and it got so bad after Game 3 that head coach Monty Williams told his veteran point guard he was going to rest him in a pivotal Game 4 with the Suns trailing 2-1 in the series.
Paul insisted he could play, and turned in a vintage performance to tie the series. While CP3 looked healthier than he has all series in Game 4, his shoulder is going to continue to be major factor as the series continues.
Chris Paul says Suns HC Monty Williams wanted to sit him before game 4 and he said “hell nah” pic.twitter.com/byAqa3v87m— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 30, 2021
Joel Embiid injury: 76ers star tears meniscus
The 76ers center injured his knee in Game 4 against the Washington Wizards on Monday, and did not play in the second half. The Sixers failed in their bid to sweep Washington without Embiid, and now head home for Game 5 after receiving some bad news on Embiid’s injury.
Embiid has a meniscus tear. He reportedly won’t opt for surgery.
June 2, 2021
This is just an awful situation for an MVP finalist with a long history of injuries. Embiid carried the Sixers all season to the top seed in the conference, and wanted the chance to show he could win at the highest level during this playoff run. He was kept out about three weeks during the regular season with a bone bruise in his left knee.
Philadelphia has had a wonderful season, and it feels just awful to see Embiid go down like this. Get well, big man.
Luka Doncic injury: Mavs star has nerve issue in neck
Luka Doncic averaged 38 points per game through the first three games of the Dallas Mavericks’ first round series with the Los Angeles Clippers, but he didn’t look right towards the end of Game 3. The Mavericks listed him as questionable for Game 4 with a neck injury, and while Doncic did play, he clearly did not look like himself.
Doncic is dealing with a nerve issue in his neck. Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said he couldn’t go left in Game 4:
“He’s in pain,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said. “It appeared to me that he couldn’t turn left, could look to his left, couldn’t turn his head to the left. That’s difficult for a guy that relies on peripheral vision and basically has played his whole life with his head on a swivel. We’ve got to hope in the next couple of days that he can get better — hopefully substantially better.
Doncic is reportedly feeling better ahead of Game 5. The Mavs and Clippers are tied 2-2 after four games in their first round series. Dallas needs Luka at his best if they’re going to win the series.
Donovan Mitchell injury: Jazz star limited by ankle injury
Mitchell’s regular season was ended by a right ankle injury on April 16. The Jazz took a cautious approach to getting him healthy for the playoffs while holding the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, but it was still a shock to see the team hold out Mitchell in Game 1 of their first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies. After Memphis’ shocking win, Mitchell voiced his displeasure with the team and has been in the lineup ever since.
Mitchell has averaged 28 points per game in his first two games against the Grizzlies since returning, but he’s shooting only 39 percent from the floor. Utah should be able to take care of a tough Grizzlies team with a 3-1 lead regardless of Mitchell’s status, but they’ll need him at 100 percent if they want to run through the West.
Donte DiVincenzo injury: Bucks guard out for the playoffs with a foot injury
DiVincenzo isn’t a big name like the rest of the players on this list, but he is a starting guard for a Milwaukee Bucks team that thinks it can reach the NBA Finals. DiVincenzo suffered a tendon injury in his foot in Game 3 against the Miami Heat that will keep him out for the rest of the season.
The Bucks would love to be at full strength with a second round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets looming. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen. It’s going to be on Bryn Forbes and Pat Connaughton to step up in a big situation.
Jaylen Brown and Jamal Murray suffered season-ending injuries just before the playoffs
The Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics each lost a star player to injury just before the playoffs.
Jamal Murray tore his ACL on April 12 against the Warriors. It’s one of the most depressing NBA injuries in a long time. The Nuggets were looking like a dark horse championship contender with Nikola Jokic set to win MVP and Aaron Gordon giving the team a defensive stopper on the wing after coming over at the trade deadline. Murray was electric in the bubble last season, and seemed poised for another big playoff run. Here’s hoping he’s able to make a full recovery because next year’s playoffs.
Jaylen Brown suffered a torn ligament in his wrist just before the playoffs, and was ruled out for the season. Brown was enjoying a breakout year, and helped form one of the game’s best young duos with Jayson Tatum. The Celtics likely wouldn’t have had a chance against the Nets in the first round anyway, but it would have been exciting to Brown going up against Brooklyn’s stars after such a good season.