It is comforting to think that results in sports are definite and fair. And for the most part, in the NBA, individual talent and team cohesiveness usually win out. But injuries play a huge part in the postseason almost every year, and they truly rob us of magical moments.
The Warriors won the 2015 Finals against the Cavaliers, without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love. The Cavaliers won the 2016 Finals against the Warriors, with Stephen Curry hobbled with a knee injury. Most champions throughout NBA history have some injury luck.
Obviously, not all injuries change the course of a series. But you never know: dozens of alternate futures are robbed when players cannot play to the fullest of their abilities. And other than LeBron James (it seems), nobody is safe.
With Chris Paul out for Game 6 and possibly Game 7, the Warriors suddenly have the healthier squad. The Warriors had a bunch of health problems on the wing: Patrick McCaw out for the entire postseason, Andre Iguodala is out for at least two games, and Klay Thompson suffered a left knee strain in Game 4.
But Chris Paul is a much more important player in the series. He’s had amazing Games 4 and 5, finally showing that he can perform on the biggest stage with a good team around him. But his age and health history have carried concerns all season, and they’ve struck at the worst time.
We don’t talk enough about how injuries affect players: imagine the years of preparation athletes go through, only to not be able to perform at the time they’re needed for reasons outside of their control. They can ruin careers and take a terrible mental toll. Chris Paul has been hoping for this moment his entire career, and now it’s in doubt because he can’t run and jump. Injuries are truly the worst thing in sports.
And they happen all the time. This season has been absolutely terrible injury-wise: from Gordon Hayward’s injury in his first game as a Celtic to Patrick McCaw’s fall near the close of the season, we’ve seen a ridiculous number of serious, scary incidents on the court. Almost every postseason team was nursing an injured player or two, and it absolutely affected the outcomes of series.
The Rockets-Warriors series has been rough on the players: little rest, lots of isolations, and short rotations have proved exhausting. The NBA should definitely think about putting more rest days in between games in the conference finals in the future.
This is why nothing is ever a guarantee in the NBA: unpredictable injuries can strike at any time. Not only do you have to have great talent to win a championship; you need to be healthy.
I’m sure the Warriors and many of their fans believe they’d beat the Rockets in 7 with Chris Paul healthy. Now that he’s not, this could go down as one of the most vexing “what-ifs” if the Warriors advance to the NBA Finals. Sadly, we will never know.