Injuries Defining NBA Playoffs' Second Round
We’re set to hit the back end of the second round in the NBA playoffs, with all four series having concluded four games. It’s shaping up as being more about attrition than anything else, with high-profile players either injured or wounded.
Ironically, the injury we were all aware of prior to this round has had the least impact. Chris Paul missed the first two games of the Clippers-Rockets series with his sore hamstring and played limited minutes in the third and fourth games. It barely registered an impact as Los Angeles is the one team in a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Other series though, are affected by the injury bug. John Wall is likely out for the rest of the playoffs. Can Washington continue its run without him? Chicago’s Pau Gasol will miss tonight’s critical Game 5 with a hamstring problem of his own.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are each going to play, but each have ankle issues. And on the positive side of the injury equation, Memphis got back into its series with Golden State when point guard Mike Conley put on a mask and played with his facial injuries.
The health problems of key players is the one wet blanket on what’s otherwise shaping up as an exciting push to the conference finals over the next few days. Three of the series are knotted 2-2. Maybe the NBA should take this as a sign to shorten the regular season and start it around Christmas, so bodies aren’t breaking down at the time when everyone is tuned in.
Here’s a rundown on what and who has been important in each series…
Washington-Atlanta: Wall’s hand injury in Game 1 stands as the turning point. Washington had taken Game 1 on the road and both Wall and Bradley Beal were in a good offensive rhythm. Beal is continuing to play well, as is the great veteran Paul Pierce, who hit a buzzer-beater to win Game 3. But Wall’s playmaking is irreplaceable.
The series is in the hands of top-seeded Atlanta. The Hawks spent the first three games constantly launching threes and mostly shooting poorly, including Kyle Korver, who is one of the game’s best. In last night’s gotta-have Game 4, Atlanta was more patient. They attempted 19 treys as opposed to 30-plus and they converted nine. Korver and Jeff Teague combined to go 4-for-8 behind the arc.
I know Atlanta can generally shoot well, but if you have an undermanned opponent and put all your chips on the fickleness of three-point shooting each night, it’s a mistake. Get the ball to DeMarre Carroll, the Hawks’ best player in the postseason and keep working with Paul Millsap and Al Horford down low.
Chicago-Cleveland: The back-to-back buzzer beaters in Chicago were a great sports moment—Derrick Rose winning Game 3 and LeBron James answering in Game 4. What’s actually deciding these games though is rebounding.
The Bulls crushed the Cavs on the glass in the third game, keeping Chicago around long enough for Rose’s heroic. With Gasol out of the lineup the next time, rebounding went slightly the Cavs way and enabled LeBron to win it. That trend doesn’t bode well for the Bulls, since Gasol is also out tonight. Watch for Tristan Thompson, Cleveland’s underrated rebounder, to continue to work the offensive glass.
Memphis-Golden State: Unsurprisingly, this series has been about whether Golden State’s three-point shooting, specifically that of MVP Steph Curry, is going. The Warriors won Games 1 & 4 when Curry shot well behind the arc, as did the team. In Games 2 & 3, won by the Grizzlies, Golden State went 6-for-26 from three-point range both times and Curry was a combined 4-for-21.
What’s more surprising is that Golden State is holding its own with Memphis down low. To be sure, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have had their moments, notably a decisive Game 3 win when they combined for 41 points. But the rebounding battle is fairly competitive through four games.
If Memphis can’t get separation here, they certainly aren’t going to win a battle of the backcourts, even with the underrated Conley playing again.
LA Clippers-Houston: This is just a case of one team—the Clips—being ahead of the other in playoff maturity. How else can you explain the Rockets no-showing a home Game 1 when Paul was out, or being completely destroyed in the two middle games back in LA? Blake Griffin has been nothing short of fantastic, with his 26 points/14 rebounds/13 assists performance in the opener setting the tone.
You can tell that this group of Houston players has never advanced this far, while Los Angeles has taken their lumps and is now ready to advance. That’s the way it is in the NBA.
Game 5s start tonight. It’s Chicago-Cleveland and Los Angeles-Houston on Tuesday, with Washington-Atlanta and Memphis-Golden State tomorrow and that schedule continuing on alternating nights.