Playoff injuries: How they've robbed us of basketball's greatest stories

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In the world of basketball, and sport as a whole, the scripts are rarely written for a perfect, fairytale ending. Quite the contrary, in fact; every season there can only be one winner and one happy ending for one set of fans. That's just the way it is.

The best team doesn't always win, either. For every magical tale of the underdog, there is a story of heartbreak for what could have been, too.

Injuries are part and parcel of just about every sport, contact or not. Kicking a football, swinging a golf club or even just running; competitors all fall at some time or another.

Given the exhausting nature of an 82-game regular season fitted into a six-month window, prior to the postseason, which can add on another 28 games - or atleast 16 - to the campaign, basketball is a sport more susceptible to the rigours of physical competition than most.

As a result, injuries have a tendency to rob the fans of the greatest showdowns and likely triumphs that a healthy league would, potentially, present.

Currently, the reigning, and in all likely hood the next MVP, Stephen Curry, is sidelined with a sprained knee he suffered during the Golden State Warriors' first-round series with the Houston Rockets.

Curry suffered the injury in his first game back from a sprained ankle. Although the three-point king is only expected to miss a couple of weeks, should the point guard remain missing deeper into the playoffs, the Warriors' aspirations of retaining the Larry O'Brien trophy might suffer.

Another superstar point guard to be struck down by the playoff curse this year is Chris Paul. The nine-time All-Star broke a bone in his right hand during game four of the L.A. Clippers' playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers, which is now levelled at 2-2 with Paul ruled out for at least a month and Blake Griffin rated as 50/50 for game five.

Losing their two star men has seriously hampered the Clippers' chances of a deep playoff run this year. The Cleveland Cavaliers suffered a similar fate last year when Kevin Love dislocated his shoulder and Kyrie Irving broke his kneecap to leave LeBron James as the lone gunslinger against the Warriors.

Incredibly, King James led the Cavs to the NBA Finals where they fell to the Warriors in six games, 4-2. But, what could have been if the 31-year-old had been ably assisted by his usual stellar supporting cast?

We've compiled a list of five other untimely playoff injuries that changed the course of history and, in some cases, altered legacies forever.


In light of the point guards apparent demise during this term's postseason, it's only fitting we start with one of, if not the greatest resident at the one spot of all-time.

Lifelong Laker Magic Johnson had put up numbers to the tune of 22.5 points, 12.8 assists, and 7.9 rebounds a night during the regular season, earning him his second MVP award. All signs pointed to the Lakers going on to achieve their first ever 'three-peat' by winning three championships in a row.

However, disaster called in Game Two of the NBA Finals when Johnson was struck down with a hamstring injury that left the Lakers powerless to resist the Detroit Pistons' backcourt charms of Isiah Thomas and eventual Finals MVP, Joe Dumars.

A 42-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy weren't enough to push the Lakers past the Pistons and the back-to-back champions were promptly swept 4-0.

DIRK NOWITZKI - 2002-2003

In 2003, the big German Dirk Nowitzki really arrived as a true superstar in the NBA. It was the power forward's fifth year in the league, but he displayed career-highs in just about every category with averages of 25.1 points, 9.9 boards and 1.4 steals a night.

More than that, he carried his form over to the postseason and was instrumental in the Mavericks reaching the Conference Finals against a San Antonio Spurs side that had finally overcome the L.A Lakers, who had won the last three NBA titles.

Nowitzki really made a statement during game one in San Antonio by dropping 38 points and collecting 15 rebounds on Tim Duncan to give Dallas an early lead. However, in game three, with the series all tied up, the seven-footer sprained his knee landing from a rebound after colliding with the Spurs' Manu Ginobili.

The 13-time All-Star wouldn't take to the court again that campaign, and because of that, Dallas' campaign wouldn't last much longer, either.

Steve Nash valiantly led the Mavericks in their superstar forward's absence, but ultimately, the Spurs would win the series 4-2 before defeating the Brooklyn Nets in the Finals by the same margin.

JOE JOHNSON 2004-2005

It might be crazy to some that during his time with the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson was the highest paid player in the NBA. Around seven years before that, the laser-shooter was displaying just reason for the hype.

The now seven-time All-Star wasn't actually the stand-out player in the Phoenix Suns unit that went 62-20 that season; Steve Nash - who won the MVP award that year - paint phenomenon Amar'e Stoudemire and prolific forward Shawn Marion were the stars of the show.

However, Johnson proved to be an excellent off-ball wing option opposite the slick Nash and was producing numbers that belied his standing, and at the time, his pay.

Johnson dropped just over 17 points a game that season and was shooting just shy of 50 percent from beyond the arc. He had recorded four consecutive 20-point playoff games before his untimely injury, too.

After attempting to dunk on Jerry Stackhouse during game two of their second round series with the Dallas Mavericks, Johnson required surgery to repair a left orbital bone fracture.

Ultimately, the Suns would come up short against the Spurs in the Conference finals 4-1. Johnson returned in game three of that series wearing a face mask, but was powerless to resist the eventual NBA champions.

YAO MING - 2008-2009

The 7'6" Chinese center was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year, but, unfortunately, injuries are what defined his career as a whole, let alone the playoffs.

The polarising big man spent his entire career with the Houston Rockets, but in the final years of his time on the hardwood he suffered multiple injuries to his long legs and his size 18 feet.

With 19.2 points and 9.2 rebounds, Ming averaged just under a double-double during his NBA career before he was forced to retire in 2011, before his 30th birthday.

And yet, after advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997, the Rockets were feeling great about their chances in 2009. Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest), Tracey McGrady and a young Kyle Lowry had propelled them into contention, but Ming was the literal centrepiece of the franchise.

The Rockets defeated the Trail Blazers 4-2 in the first round and then pitted their wits against a hungry L.A. Lakers led by Kobe Byrant and Pau Gasol in the semi-finals. Houston would take game one, but in game three Ming suffered yet another stress fracture in his foot that would keep the giant out for the rest of the playoffs.

The Lakers slayed the injury-hit Rockets 4-3 to advance and eventually lifted the Larry O'Brien trophy after defeating Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic.


Quite possibly, the worst of them all. Since Michael Jordan drove the Chicago Bulls to unprecedented success in the 90's the Illinois franchise had meandered in the Eastern Conference searching for an identity, a new face to rely upon.

In the 2008 draft, they found Derrick Rose with their first pick. Three years later, at just 22-years-old, the Chicago-born guard would become the youngest ever player to win the regular season MVP award. It became rapidly apparent: the Bulls had the real deal.

So of course, disaster was waiting to strike. After finishing the slightly-shortened regular season with a record of 50-16, the Bulls were the top seeds in the Eastern Conference and battled the eighth seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.

After putting up 23 points, nine assists, and nine rebounds in 37 minutes of action, Rose led the Bulls to a 12 point lead with 1:22 left on the clock. Conventional wisdom suggests that then-coach Tom Thibodeau should have pulled Rose from the action, but he didn't do that.

The three-time NBA All-Star would attempt a driving layup and land awkwardly on his left knee, tearing his ACL in the process. Rose would miss an entire year of action and most of all, was robbed of the chance to bring an NBA title to his hometown.

With a young Jimmy Butler, a fully-fit Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver, and Luol Deng, the Bulls had the unit to go on and win the title that year with Rose. Without him, the 76ers would advance after taking the series 4-2. With this injury, Rose lost the best chance he had at acheiving his dream and he hasn't regained that incredible form since.

Derrick Rose
Chicago Bulls
Central Division
Eastern Conference
Western Conference
Derrick Rose

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