Players can control their diet, their habits, the work they put on the gym, their attitude and their determination to win, but the one thing they definitely can’t control is their health, as an injury can happen on the blink of an eye.
Whether if it’s on or off the hardwood, a player can get hurt and really mess up their team’s chances, especially if such injury happens towards the last passage of the season where there’s just no room for error: the playoffs.
As a matter of fact, we’re currently witnessing this very same thing happening, with the Rockets losing Chris Paul for games 6 and 7 and Kevin Love having to watch his team from the sidelines for the last couple of games of the ECF as well.
Today, we’re going to talk about the times this has happened before, letting you know about the 10 toughest playoff injuries that definitely took a major toll on the team’s chances.
Honorable Mention: Kendrick Perkins 2010
10. Elgin Baylor 1965
Elgin Baylor is arguably the unluckiest player in basketball history, as despite being arguably the best player on his team, the Lakers weren’t able to win the NBA Championship until the very next year of his retirement.
Throughout the 1965 NBA season, Baylor was averaging over 27 points a contest, leading the Lakers next to Jerry West to the playoffs. Sadly, he suffered a knee injury during Game 1 of the postseason, and his team would go on to miss the Finals against Boston. That would be their 3rd time losing in the Finals over a 4 year span.
9. James Worthy 1983
The Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t catch a break for sure, as 18 years later, James Worthy would also be forced to sit after posting standout rookie averages of 13.4 points and 5.2 boards on 57% shooting due to a fractured leg.
Worthy would break his leg just a couple of weeks before the start of the playoffs and even though the 58 win Lakers would make the Finals again, the team went on to get swept and humiliated by the 76ers.
8. Magic Johnson and Byron Scott 1989
This time not one, but two Lakers were forced to miss playoff time, as Byron Scott would pull a hamstring just prior to Game 1 of the Finals while Magic Johnson would suffer the very same injury through Game 2 against the Pistons.
The Lakers were keen to win their 3rd straight NBA Championship after winning 63 games that season, but without their top two scorers, the Detroit Pistons completely demolished them in the Finals en route to a 4-0 sweep.
7. Peja Stojakovic 2002
The Kings of the early 2000’s were one of the most exciting teams to watch, and Peja Stojakovic was a big reason why; coming off an All-Star season due to his standout shooting from beyond the arc.
Stojakovic sprained his ankle during Game 3 of the 1st round of the playoffs, finally being able to return for Game 5 of the WCF against the Los Angeles Lakers, but he was clearly not at 100%. Eventually, Shaq and Kobe would tear them to pieces on a very tough series loss.
6. Chris Webber 2003
Chris Webber was the Kings leading scorer throughout the whole regular season, averaging over 23 points per contest, and had carried the Kings to a Game 1 victory over Dirk Nowitzki and his Dallas Mavericks.
Sadly for them, C-Webb would tear his ACL during Game 2 of the playoffs, leaving the door wide open for the Mavs to take the series in 7 games, but as we mentioned earlier, the Dirk injury would really take a toll on their chances.
5. Dirk Nowitzki 2003
Before 2006, Dirk Nowitzki had never been able to carry his Mavericks the distance, and it seemed like 2003 was finally going to be the Great Teuton’s year after he led the Mavs to the first 60 win season in franchise history.
Nonetheless, he sprained his knee during Game 3 of the playoffs after completely torching the Spurs for 38 points in Game 1. Eventually, San Antonio would win the series in 6 games, with Dirk watching from the sidelines.
4. Yao Ming 2009
Yao Ming was never an amazing talent, but his physical gifts and determination to win always made him one of the toughest players in the league when he was locked in, as he carried the Rockets to their third straight trip to the playoffs in 2009.
Sadly, he would break his foot in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Lakers, who would take the series in 7 games. Also, he was never able to be the same player afterward.
3. Derrick Rose 2012
Despite Derrick Rose missing out most of the season due to several injuries, the Chicago Bulls were locked in as the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference following a 50 win season, facing off against the 8th seeded Philadelphia 76ers.
Rose was finally back to full health and the Bulls were one of the favorite teams to win the Championship, but the former MVP tore his ACL during Game 1 against the Sixers, who wind up winning the series in 6. Sadly, we would never see the same Derrick Rose again.
2. Russell Westbrook 2013
Following their Finals loss against the Miami Heat, it seemed like the Oklahoma City Thunder was finally bound for another shot at the Championship, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook teaming up to lead the team to the 1st seed in the West.
The 60 win Thunder would go on to beat the Houston Rockets in the 1st round, but Russell Westbrook would tear the meniscus of his right knee during Game 2 of that round, and the Memphis Grizzlies were just too much to handle for the Westbrook-less Thunder, taking the series in 5 games.
1. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love 2015
With LeBron James back in town, the Cavaliers entered win-now mode and traded for Kevin Love, becoming the most dominant team in the Eastern Conference throughout the whole season. Sadly, Love would dislocate his shoulder during Game 4 against the Celtics on a dirty play by Kelly Olynyk.
Nonetheless, the Cavs shook off Love’s injury and kept it rolling, until Kyrie Irving fractured his kneecap during Game 1 of the Finals. Eventually, the Warriors would win the 1st Championship in Steve Kerr’s era, beating LeBron in 6 games.