Top 5 Game Changing NBA Playoff Injuries in Last 5 Years

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During the NBA Playoffs every fan has a love-hate relationship with any injuries that happen—depending on the team you want to win. Losing star players to injury during the post-season might greatly affect a team’s chance at winning a championship title. Currently, the 2016 season has been no exception to its fair share of injuries. Ankles issues were prominent from Steph Curry in the Western Conference to Nicolas Batum and Isaiah Thomas in the Eastern Conference. Sudden injuries were also mixed in, with Chris Paul’s hand fracture being one of the worst. Here’s a look at some of the most devastating injuries that have shaken up the Playoffs in the last 5 years.

2016: Western Conference First Round, Clippers vs. Trail Blazers

Looking at the 2016 post-season, the Clippers take the award for the worst (double) injury so far during the Playoffs. Core players Blake Griffin and Chris Paul were both taken out of the Western Conference during Game 4 of their 1st round playoff series. The Clippers were deprived of their 2 All-Stars at the worst possible time. Paul ended up with a fractured bone in his third metacarpal in his right hand while Griffin agitated his left quadricep injury (i.e. muscles around the thigh)—he had partially torn a tendon in his thigh earlier in the season. Both Paul and Griffin were unable to continue through the rest of the Playoffs. With a depleted roster, it was a serious setback for the Clippers as it considerably derailed their advancement through the Playoffs. The Clippers continue to be plagued with bad luck as they head into the 3rd straight post-season without advancing past the second round after losing against the Trail Blazers during Games 5 and 6.

2015: NBA Finals, Cavaliers vs. Warriors

The Cavs moved onto the Second Round and eventually made it to the Final Round against the Golden State Warriors, sound familiar? The Cavs ended the first game of The Finals with Kyrie Irving suffering a terrible accident during overtime. Kevin Love, another part of Cleveland’s Big 3 (including LeBron James), was taken out of the post-season during the First Round after suffering a shoulder dislocation. Irving had already missed two earlier games during the Eastern Conference because of knee tendinitis and had recently returned to play in The Finals. Irving was driving down the court during Game 1 and while attempting to stop, felt his knee give out. Irving limped off of the court and was eventually diagnosed with a fracture of the kneecap. It was the longest he’d actively played on the court in a month, which may have contributed to the stress behind his fracture. Irving was out for the rest of the Playoffs, which was an unfortunate end to his dynamic overall season (averaged 22 points). The Cavs were down 2 All-Stars with Irving and Love no longer able to play. LeBron James pushed forward through the series for the remaining games. The Warriors accomplished what the the Cavaliers could not—staying injury-free. The Warriors eventually defeated the Cavs during Game 6. There’s no way to tell what impact Kyrie and Love would have had on these games, but they are tremendous players and their impact would certainly have been positive. Here’s to another year of seeing the Warriors vs. Cavaliers in The Finals.

2014: Western Conference Semifinals, Thunder vs. Clippers

The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t begin their Final Round during the Western Conference at fighting strength. Serge Ibaka, a power forward, had to be subbed out of the game after suffering an injury to his leg in the 3rd quarter. He left the series clinching semifinals against The Clippers with a left calf injury. After attempting to block Chris Paul’s shot, he tangled legs with him and both fell to the ground. Up to that point, Ibaka had been a strong asset for the Thunder, shooting no worse than 40 percent from the field in any game. Many considered Ibaka to be a part of the Thunder’s “Big 3” at the time, alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. A fully healthy OKC would have been a favorite in the series, especially if Ibaka had been able to return in full capacity. He did return from his injury in a limited role (29 minutes of play time) after the Thunder fell behind 0-2 against the Spurs during Game 3, a game which they ended up winning. In the end, the Spurs ended up winning the semifinals in Game 6 and advancing forward.

2013: Western Conference First Round, Thunder vs. Rockets

The Thunder’s bad luck also plagued them the previous post-season as well. All-Star Russell Westbrook was injured midway through the 2nd quarter of Game 2 against the Rockets. After a collision with Rocket’s player Patrick Beverley, Westbrook fell to the floor after banging legs with Beverley. He limped off the court in visible pain and was eventually diagnosed with a torn lateral meniscus (i.e. cartilage around the knee). It was the first time Westbrook had missed an NBA game in his career. On the other hand, it also meant that the Thunder’s lineup had never played without Westbrook. In general, the Thunder had avoided major injuries to their core players as they built themselves up to being Playoff contenders. Westbrook eventually ended up missing the remainder of the 2013 Playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair the tear. The Thunder had been the Western Conference’s number 1 seed (i.e. ranking) leading the series 2-0. A series that looked like a sweep became shaky with Westbrook gone for the rest of the season. Although the Thunder ended up advancing to the Western Conference semifinals, the Grizzlies ended up winning and advancing to the final round against the Spurs.

2012: Eastern Conference First Round, Bulls vs. 76ers

In a postgame report, TNT’s Cheryl Miller said that the packed arena went silent when reigning MVP Derrick Rose went down with an injury in Game 1. He suffered a torn ACL (i.e. anterior cruciate ligament) in his knee with 1 minute left in the game after coming down hard on his left leg after going for a layup. Rose seemed to have been back to himself after dealing with a variety of injuries (a sprained toe, sprained ankle, strained groin, and back issues) for 27 games during the 2nd half of the season. The Bulls finished the 2011-12 lockout season with an NBA best of 50 wins and 16 losses. They had captured the top overall seed in the Playoffs for the 2nd year in a row. Rose was unable to play for the rest of the post-season after undergoing knee surgery. Uncertainty formed over the Bulls’ chances of a championship title since Rose led all scorers—the Bulls were 18-9 without him that season. The Bulls had managed relatively fine when Rose was out during the season, but playing against the NBA’s top teams during the Playoffs was another challenge altogether. As a Playoff series extends into 6 or 7 games, that’s when a player like Rose could make a huge difference. The Bulls eventually ended up losing closely to the 76ers during Game 6.

NBA Playoffs: How To Come Back From An Ankle Injury

Ankle Injury Steph Curry Warriors

If you keep up with the NBA Playoffs, it’s clear that these seasoned athletes perform with incredible agility and endurance. Unfortunately, during the heat of the Playoffs, these athletes also have to deal with recurring injuries flaring back up. Steph Curry’s sprained ankle gave Warrior’s fans cause for concern earlier in the Western Conference Playoffs. What is the best way to treat an ankle injury? It comes down to two concepts: strength and balance.

Breaking Down Steph Curry’s Right Ankle

Stephen Curry sat out 2 games during the Western Conference Playoffs when the Warriors were matched up with the Rockets. Although Curry returned from his ankle “tweak”, Curry has had a 5 year history of issues with his right ankle. In basketball, ankles are one of the most commonly injured body parts . With sprain after sprain, his season in 2011 ended with surgery to repair a tendon in his damaged right ankle. This season, he played 80 games compared to just 26 games in 2011. It’s clear Curry has put his nagging ankle pain behind him. Yet, as seen by his sprain earlier this season, ankle injuries do have the potential to happen again.

Ending The Cycle Of Spraining

The chances of re-spraining your ankle are at least 30% and sometimes as high as 80% if the ligaments of your ankle are severely stretched and unstable. Basketball players are especially prone to ankle injuries because of the movements they engage in. Unexpected changes in direction and potential contact with other players leads to a risky environment for the ankles. There’s a lot of side-to-side movement with players cutting around other players at quick speeds. Player’s take an opening when they have the chance, which means a lot of high impact jumping and landing can occur in awkward positions. Landing on another player’s foot is also another common way to sprain the ankle.

Physical rehabilitation for any ankle injury involves manual therapy to improve the ankle’s range of motion, prevent scar tissue buildup, and reduce any swelling in the joint. Combatting future sprains involves taking a full-body approach to treating your ankle. What makes rehabilitation unique to basketball players is teaching them how to control their bodies during unnatural movements when they jump or land. Players work on extending their range of motion within their body so they won’t be injured if they jump at weird angles.

How NBA Players Train Their Glutes

Preventing an ankle injury involves strengthening the whole body so players aren’t as dependant on their ankles when they move. Emphasis is placed on strengthening the hips, gluteal, and abdominal muscles to give a player more control when they move. Basketball players have to focus on controlling their bodies during unnatural movements when they jump or land so they don’t injure their knees or ankles. For that, it’s not only the ankle that needs stability—the knee, hips, and core need strengthening as well. Your glutes provide stability throughout the lower half of your body. The Warriors prefer exercises such as the trapbar deadlift to build up strength. It involves stepping into a diamond shaped bar and lifting the weight straight up around your body. One of the primary muscles groups that this exercise strengthens are the glutes.

Sacramento Kings shooting guard Seth Curry also practices the single-leg deadlift to continue to improve his strength and balance. You start off by standing up straight and keeping your arms by your side while holding a single weight in one of your hands. Then, you lower your torso as far as you can go while balancing on the opposite leg as the hand that’s holding the weight. As you do this, you lower the dumbbell slowly down while keeping your arm straight.

If you practice this exercise while balancing on the sprained ankle, you balance train and strengthen the glutes at the same time. With weak glutes, your hips can drop out, and your knees can turn inward as you move. Once that happens, there’s more pressure put on your ankle to compensate for the imbalance—which increases the chances of a resprain.

Keeping Balanced On The Court

Balance retraining is another key component to treatment to help your ankle stay stable as you move around. For basketball players, they need to have exceptional balance control for the lower half of their bodies. They battle against the forces of gravity while on the court by constantly jumping and landing. An ankle injury disrupts your body’s sense of balance and puts you at risk for re-spraining it. Your ankle has small muscles surrounding it that help keep it in place. Those small muscles are constantly activating and sending signals to your brain to help keep you balanced.

One of the primary goals of physical therapy is to re-educate your ankle’s sense of balance that was damaged during the injury. Special receptors in your ankles send information to your brain about how your ankle is positioned when you’re walking or moving. After an injury, communication between these receptors in your ankle and your brain is disrupted. Since the receptors are damaged, they can’t tell your body how your ankle is positioned. Your ankle may lose its sense of where it’s positioned relative to your movements (i.e. proprioception). This may leave your already injured ankle prone to instability since your body can’t balance it correctly. Ankle stability training involves dynamic activities such as balancing while throwing a ball or moving on a balance board.

Kevin Durant incorporated this type of balance training into a lunging exercise. Watch it here. He would lunge forward and place his foot onto a wobbly balance board in order to improve the stability of his ankle on an unstable surface. By doing this, he prepared himself for the unstable footing he might have to deal with on the court. As you get better at balancing, you’ll lose the feeling of instability or wobbliness in your injured ankle. Your body will get better at controlling the positioning of your ankle without having to consciously think about it.

Staying In The Game

Without properly treating your initial ankle injury in the first place, future ankle instability may lead to future sprains. It doesn’t come down to simply strengthening the ankle muscles. Steph Curry began rehabilitating his ankle by not only strengthening his ankles, but his hips and glutes as well. Your sense of balance and ankle stability go hand-in-hand. Retraining the way your balance system communicates with your brain is a key part of the physical rehabilitation process.