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Top 5 Most Devastating Playoff Injuries
Posted By Joel Brigham On May 2, 2012 @ 10:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
If you’ve wondered what 22,000 silent people feels like, all you would’ve had to do was attend Game 1 of this year’s first round series between the Chicago Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers. When 2011 MVP Derrick Rose tore his ACL with 82 seconds left to play in the game, the wind was literally knocked out of the building because every single one of those 22,000 knew Chicago’s hope for another championship banner—at least this year—was all but shredded right along with that ligament in D-Rose’s knee.
It was a knockout punch, both for the team and the city, but was it the worst instance ever of a team losing a star player right in the midst of a legitimate postseason run?
That’s what this list intends to explore. I’m most concerned with how good a shot a team might have had at winning the ring had this particular guy not gone down. It doesn’t necessarily matter which round it happened in, just that the player being gone was enough to cause the team to lose. The more that was at stake, the more a team and its fan base lost, the higher on this list they will be.
Here they are, the Top 5 Most Devastating Playoff Injuries:
#5 – Karl Malone, 2003 L.A. Lakers – Everybody expected the Lakers to win the championship in 2003 after adding Gary Payton and Karl Malone to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, but they didn’t. They lost to the Pistons in the Finals that year, and some say Karl Malone’s nagging knee injury had a lot to do with that. Malone hurt his knee about a third of the way through the season that year, but it was more severe than team doctors originally thought and he played through the pain all season long. By the time the Finals rolled around, Malone was clearly off his game and didn’t play at all in Game 5, despite the fact that the Lakers went into it down 3-1. Almost needless to say, the Lakers didn’t win that single game without Malone, and even though he was in the lineup that whole time, he may as well have not been. Whether or not that cost them the championship is up for debate (they should’ve had enough talent anyway), but losing Malone certainly didn’t help.
#4 – Derrick Rose, 2012 Chicago Bulls – After missing about a third of the season with ailments to five completely different parts of his body, Rose damaged a sixth right as the Bulls were gearing up for what looked to be a pretty promising 2012 postseason run. They aren’t out of it yet, but it certainly isn’t looking good for this Rose-less Chicago team. They may never have gotten by the Miami HEAT anyway, but the really frustrating thing is that now we’ll never know. One game and done is pretty painful for a team that had realistic title aspirations for the first time since Michael Jordan left town almost fifteen years ago.
#3 – Dirk Nowitzki, 2003 Dallas Mavericks – There’s a reason we were all so happy to see Dirk Nowitzki win his first championship a year ago; it’s because a sprained knee kept him from winning one in the 2003 postseason, which could very well have been the most impressive individual stretch of his career. He started the playoffs that year with a 46-point outburst in Game 1 of Round 1, and then in the second round he pushed the Mavericks to a win in Game 7 over the Kings with a monster 30-point, 19-rebound game. In the very next game, the first of the Conference Finals against the Spurs, he dropped 38 and 19 in San Antonio, but by the end of Game 3 Dirk had a sprained knee that would keep him out of the rest of the series. The Spurs went on to beat the Nets in the Finals, while Dirk had to wait eight more years before finally getting that ring.
#2 – Magic Johnson & Byron Scott, 1989 L.A. Lakers – Let’s set the stage for this one a little bit: The Lakers had won the 1987 and 1988 championships already and had just swept the entire Western Conference in the first three rounds of the playoffs. These guys were 11-0 heading into the Finals, and then starting shooting guard Byron Scott pulled a hamstring in practice before Game 1 even started. Add to that Magic Johnson’s pulled hammy (yes, the exact same injury—the basketball gods didn’t even have the decency to mix things up) in Game 2, and you’ve got two very unfortunate injuries early in the series. The backcourt rotation just wasn’t deep enough to have the bench pick up the slack, and that was pretty much that. The ’89 Pistons played pretty well that Finals, but the Lakers seemed destined for a three-peat and lost it because a couple of really important hamstrings broke bad at the wrong time.
#1 – Kendrick Perkins, 2010 Boston Celtics – Despite the fact that Perkins isn’t now, and wasn’t then, a major star, his loss in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals was perhaps the single most painful playoff injury in the history of the game. The Celtics went into that game up 3-2 for the series, and were cruising right along when Perkins tore his MCL and PCL. Perkins was Boston’s best defensive weapon for L.A.’s twin seven-footers, and his loss helped drive the Lakers to a Game 6 win. The Lakers won Game 7, too, despite the fact that Kobe went 6-for-24, due largely to the fact that they just banged the ball into the post the entire game. With Perk in the lineup, Kobe’s awful shooting night probably hands Boston their second title in three years. Celtics fans still haven’t gotten over it.
James Worthy, 1983 L.A. Lakers – This one doesn’t technically count because Worthy broke his leg with about two weeks left to go in his rookie season, but that injury did affect L.A.’s ability to repeat as NBA champions in ’83. That was Philly’s famous Fo-Fo-Fo championship year, and a big reason they won the title is because L.A. was too thin up front. That might not have been the case had Worthy still been playing.
Patrick Ewing, 1999 New York Knicks – It’s hard to call Ewing’s Achilles tendon injury back in 1999 devastating since, after Ewing finally dropped out of the postseason after Game 2 of the Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, the #8-seed Knicks made their way to the Finals anyway. They lost to the Spurs 4-1, but the fact that they were arguably better after their superstar went down is both confounding and decidedly not devastating. It’s still worth mentioning here, though, because it did include a playoff team losing their star right in the thick of a title hunt.
Amar’e Stoudemire, 2012 New York Knicks – While very few of us expected the Knicks to really beat the HEAT in this series, we at the very least expected some good, competitive games, and this hasn’t been that so far. Not helping New York’s chances is the fact that Amar’e Stoudemire punched a fire extinguisher box and will miss games just as the Knicks are fighting for their lives. Not as devastating as others because nobody expected much out of the Knicks in the first place, but the fact that it was a self-inflicted non-game injury makes it all the more anger-inducing for Knicks fans.
The playoffs are supposed to be the most enjoyable and exciting time of the year for sports fans, but when a major injury takes down an integral part of a championship-caliber team, things stop being enjoyable and exciting pretty quickly. That’s what Bulls fans are going through right now (and to a lesser extent, Knicks fans, too), but they aren’t the first teams to feel that pain, and they won’t be the last.
Injuries are a part of the game. It’s always been that way. You just hope and pray that, if there has to be some big ones, they don’t come at the worst possible times.
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