By Alexander Gordon
At the beginning of the season things seemed as if they were going to be relatively straight forward when it came to the playoffs. Challengers would emerge in both conferences, but the Warrior’s sheer talent level and the transcendence of Lebron would ultimately be too much. The major story this season however has been the injuries. It is almost always a B or C plot in any NBA season, but this year it jumped to center stage. Maybe we should have predicted this when Gordon Hayward went down for the season literally five minutes into the first game, but they have made what was once considered a three team battle for the finals into anyone’s guess. Kawhi Leonard’s mysterious quad has left the Spurs treading water for almost the entirety of the year. The Pelican’s were looking stronger than anyone had anticipated until Demarcus Cousins tore his Achilles, and these are the ones that we already knew about.
As the playoffs draw closer, a rash of untimely injuries have affected key players on contending teams across the league. Most notably Stephen Curry’s Grade II MCL sprain, Kyrie Irving’s minor knee procedure and Joel Embiid’s orbital fracture. All three are on very similar time table for their anticipated return with Curry’s being the longests and most severe. The Sixers are due for a good run in the playoffs, and could actually end up in the third seed in the east when all is said and done, but most experts didn’t expect them to challenge for the title this time around even with Embiid. Without him they will almost certainly exit in the first round, but his is the shortest recovery time on paper (2-4 weeks), and he wants this, so many expect him to make that return for the first round.
Irving and Curry both dramatically alter the appearance of two teams we expected to see in the conference finals. Steve Kerr has already ruled Curry out for the first round of the playoffs. They’re slated to face the Jazz at this point, which is not going to be a cake walk by any means, but they should still advance. Curry will theoretically be set to return against either the Blazers or the Thunder. They would need him against either of those teams, they are both capable of making it a series against a healthy Warriors team let alone one missing their offensive catalyst. They become more predictable with KD driving the offense, not necessarily worse, but their volatility is part of what makes them great, and Curry is what makes that happen.
Irving’s procedure was probably the best thing for the Celtics long term. He starts the recovery process on his damaged knee early, and whether they have success in this year’s playoffs doesn’t matter. They are looking to the future, and especially with their likely top ten pick in this coming draft, these Celtics look like they’re going to be a problem in the East for a long time. It’s unfortunate we might not get a chance to see a team that drastically outperformed its modified expectations get a shot to go at Lebron in the Conference finals.