As the first round of the 2016 NBA playoffs begins to take shape, injuries to some of the leagues brightest stars remind us of the vulnerability of any teams’ championship aspirations.
As Cleveland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City booked their places in 2nd round with routine victories against seriously overmatched opponents, injuries to arguably the two finest point guards in the NBA left a much murkier picture for the L. A Clippers and Golden State Warriors.
Chris Paul is out for the season with a broken right hand and Steph Curry will sit for at least two weeks with a strained left knee. The injury to Curry, whilst obviously a huge blow to GSW, may have actually come at a reasonably opportune moment. With the Warriors poised to eliminate the Rockets on Wednesday night, a team they have dominated over the past 2 seasons, and the Clippers and Trail Blazers (their two possible opponents in the next round) locked at 2 games apiece in a series that looks to be going the distance. The Warriors should have a decent chance of having Curry back in the line up at some point, possibly by game 3, of the second round series. If this is being played against a Paul-less Clippers squad, with reports also emerging that their perennial all-star Blake Griffin will also be sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs, then there really should be no issue for Golden State. Their squad is simply to deep and too talented for a Clippers team that would be far too reliant on JJ Reddick and DeAndre Jordan. If the Blazers pull off the upset then the Warriors should still feel confident of advancing against a team that has punched well above their weight to make it this far.
The Clippers are the big losers in this situation, their season looks to have ended with Paul’s injury, be it in the this round or the next. I would actually make the Blazers a slight favourite to make it through to face Golden State. With Chris Paul sidelined L.A has lost it’s leader, primary scorer and the guy who facilitates nearly all of their offence. Add in to this that Chris Paul is one of the premier defensive players at his position, with size and intelligence which has so far kept Portland’s own star point guard Damian Lillard’s impact to a minimum, only rubs salt into open wounds. The thought of Lillard going up against Clippers back up guards Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford will have Clippers fans expecting the worst.
These twists and turns that occur during the postseason can elevate and dash fans hopes within a matter of hours. On Sunday night when Curry went down Clippers fans would have dared to dream. The prospect of playing against a Warriors team missing the MVP of the league, with Chris Paul playing at a high level along with Blake Griffin returning to his dominant best, would have given the Clippers a glimmer of making the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. 24 hours later and with both key players done for the year it looks like another season of playoff heartbreak in L.A.
Meanwhile for the Warriors, who would have briefly feared the worst, the path now looks clear to the Western Conference Finals and a much anticipated match up with the Spurs.
What these injuries remind us is that there is always going to be an element of luck in the NBA playoffs. The shortened format does not give teams time to adjust to injury problems like in the regular season, bringing in players via trade or significantly changing the rotation. The two injuries to Curry and Paul were absolute freak accidents. Curry slipped on a puddle of sweat and Paul got his hand caught on the back of Portland jersey. There is no way you can plan for or prevent these injuries through control of minutes or lighter practice schedules. What the best teams do is adapt and survive until their stars return, finding a way to advance and keep their season alive. This is what Cleveland did in the Eastern Conference last year and I fully expect Golden State to do the same.