The stars are all out: How injuries to some of the top NBA players are impacting the playoffs

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Not Atlanta’s Trae Young.

No, not Giannis Antetokounmpo, too.

And not Denver’s Jamal Murray, Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis, Los Angeles ClippersKawhi Leonard, Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving and James Harden and Utah’s Mike Conley.

The list goes on and on of NBA stars who have been sidelined in the playoffs because of injuries.

Young had been such a joy to watch 15 games into his playoff debut, and with one normal pivot after a turnover, he stepped on referee Sean Wright’s foot, causing a bone bruise in Young’s right foot and forcing him to miss Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Milwaukee.

Hawks guard Trae Young missed Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals after suffering an ankle injury in Game 3.
Hawks guard Trae Young missed Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals after suffering an ankle injury in Game 3.

And when you think it couldn't possibly get worse, it did. In the third quarter of that Game 4, Antetokounmpo sustained a hyperextended left knee – the same left knee that kept him out of nine regular-season games due to a strain or soreness. He could miss the remainder of the series.

Injuries continue to alter the course of the NBA playoffs, which is nothing new. It has happened before with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson missing part of the 2019 NBA Finals due to injuries.

But it’s still jarring this season with so many big names, All-Stars, All-NBA players, Finals MVPs and regular-season MVPS. Add it all up, and a record nine NBA All-Stars have already missed at least one playoff game.

Based on data the NBA compiled in mid-April, the NBA concluded injuries were not inordinately higher this season and on par with injuries in other seasons.

“Injury rates were virtually the same this season as they were during 2019-20 while starter-level and All-Star players missed games due to injury at similar rates as the last three seasons," NBA communications officer Mike Bass said in a statement. "While injuries are an unfortunate reality of our game, we recognize the enormous sacrifices NBA players and teams have made to play through this pandemic.”

That did not stop Lakers star LeBron James from criticizing the NBA schedule two weeks ago, which coincided shortly after the Lakers lost in the first-round to Phoenix amid significant ailments. James had remained limited in the playoffs after missing a combined 26 games because of a high right ankle sprain. Davis also missed the second half of Game 4, all of Game 5 and almost all of Game 6 after straining his left groin, which he said was related to a left knee injury he played through in Game 3. Davis had also missed a combined 36 games, most notably for his strained right calf.

Though some fans accused James that his criticism may been cloaked in self interest, he had questioned the NBA throughout the year for starting the 2020-21 season only 71 days after the Lakers won the NBA championship in the league’s campus bubble. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that marked the shortest offseason in history among the four major professional U.S. sports leagues in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL.

James also made those comments following Leonard’s injury.

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The Clippers were not immune to the challenges of the condensed year both during their 72-game season and in the playoffs. After they host the Suns in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday, the Clippers will have played 20 playoff games in 41 days. They also have played every other day since June 2. Did that contribute to Leonard’s injury?

Hard to say. Leonard sat a combined 19 games this season, most of which had to do with minor injuries to his right foot and left leg and two other games for rest purposes. Unlike other NBA stars, Leonard reported entering the postseason feeling fully healthy. That all changed in Game 5 of the Clippers’ second-round series against the Utah Jazz.

Leonard showed discomfort with his right knee and sat out for the final 4:58 shortly after Jazz forward Joe Ingles fouled him. Leonard then walked off the court and clutched his right knee. After missing both foul shots, Leonard spent time either sitting on the Clippers’ bench or standing up while stretching out his knee.

Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) grabs his leg after being injured during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks during game four in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. 20210613_neb_sh5_072.JPG
Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) grabs his leg after being injured during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks during game four in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. 20210613_neb_sh5_072.JPG

During that series, the Jazz also dealt with injuries. Utah guard Mike Conley missed the first five playoff games against the Clippers after experiencing soreness in his right hamstring toward the end of a decisive Game 5 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in their first-round matchup. Mitchell also conceded feeling limited during that series after missing the final 16 regular-season games and the Game 1 of the Jazz’s first-round series against Memphis because of right ankle soreness.

No one disputes the Jazz’s injured backcourt played a role in the team’s second-round exit to the Clippers. But did the NBA’s condensed schedule play a role in Mitchell and Conley being among the nine All-Stars that missed at least one playoff game because of injuries?

“It's really difficult for me to speculate on that,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Some of those things you just can't control. I think across the league, everybody does their best to mitigate on whatever level that's possible. But it's hard for me to comment on that with any real credibility.”

And the Brooklyn Nets also may have had a potential championship run derailed by injuries. Harden missed Games 3, 4 and 5 of their second-round series against the Bucks with a hamstring injury and was limited in Games 6 and 7. And Irving suffered a knee injury in Game 4 and missed Games 5, 6 and 7.

Despite the influx of post-season injuries, this development does not mark the first time that it played a role in the NBA playoffs. After winning three NBA titles in the previous four years, the Golden State Warriors lost in six games against the Toronto Raptors amid ailments to Durant and Thompson.

Durant ruptured his right Achilles tendon in Game 5 after sitting out the previous nine games with a strained right calf. Durant stressed he did not fault the Warriors’ medical staff for an injury that sidelined him for the entire 2019-20 season during his first year with the Brooklyn Nets.

In Game 6, Thompson tore the ACL in his left knee after former Raptors guard Danny Green contested his dunk that caused him to land awkwardly. After missing the entire 2019-20 season because of that injury, Thompson sat out this season as well after tearing his right Achilles tendon during a pick-up game on the day of the NBA Draft nearly two weeks before training camp started.

Just like then, it appears the outcome of this year’s NBA Finals may have less to do with who played the best and more to do with who avoided the trainer’s room the most.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Giannis Antetkounmpo just the latest on star-studded NBA injured list