Did The Warriors Lose the NBA Finals Because of Injuries?
You probably already know that the Cleveland Cavaliers ruined the Golden State Warriors dream season by completing a valiant comeback for the ages in the 2016 NBA finals. They got the win by defeating the Warriors and MVP Stephan Curry after being down 3-1 in a seven game series, a first in NBA history.
Not only did the victory bring Cleveland its first championship in decades, but it also cemented Lebron James as one of the best players in NBA history and introduced the world to the super-talented (and now super-clutch) Kyrie Irving.
But let's play some "what-if" here. What if the Warriors had been fully healthy for the final three games of the series? Would we be singing a different tune and crowning the Warriors the champs for the second year straight?
#1 - Was Steph's Knee Bugging Him?
Last month I wrote about Steph Curry's knee injury, which was a strained right MCL. The injury occurred after he slipped on a wet floor and had the entire Warriors fan base worried sick. Luckily for the team, Curry returned. However, throughout the playoffs, the experts agree that he wasn't playing his otherworldly best. This could be due to a couple of factors:
- The time off contributed to Steph losing his rhythm
Shooters are notorious for being "streaky", and Curry saw his percentages dip after coming back from the injury a couple of weeks after it happened. Some experts think that the time off contributed to Curry losing his shooting rhythm, with the time off being detrimental to his overall form.
- Steph's knee was still experiencing discomfort
It's perfectly conceivable that Steph was still experiencing some pain and discomfort in his knee. While he seemed to be moving well overall, professional athletes often require every ounce of their physical skill to achieve the feats of athleticism that we've become so used to seeing. And we've all seen the MVP shoot some threes from a range that seemed absolutely unheard of until Steph started making them everyday occurrences during this season for the ages.
From working with the incredible athletes one the U.S. Women's Alpine ski team for years, I can tell you that even a small injury can make a huge difference in performance. Much as Lindsey Vonn or Mikaela Shiffrin rack up wins dependent on performances decided by hundredths of a second, Steph needs the millimeters of lift, arc, and timing that could possible be effected by a small bit of pain at the knee.
We may never know the full extent Steph's injury had on his finals performance...but it was pretty obvious that something was off.
#2 Bogut Went Down At the Wrong Time
In game 5, with the Warriors up 3 games to 1, Golden State's Australian Center Andrew Bogut went down with a knee injury. According to the MRI, Bogut's injury will not require surgery, as he suffered bone bruises to his proximal tibia and distal femur, two major bones in the leg.
Although Bogut appears to have escaped the knife, his injury kept him out of the last 2 1/2 games of the series. And while he was not considered an abosolutely crucial part of the team by many pundits, it was easy to see that the Warriors were lacking some of the physical toughness that he contributed on the court. Is it any coincidence that Lebron James and Kyrie Irving ran rampant after Bogut went down?
While this angle isn't getting a ton of play from the NBA experts, I think the "eye test" proves that Bogut was certainly missed during those last three games.
#3 Andre's Back Was No Bueno
Andre Iguodala, who was the Warriors defensive stopper (and last years Finals MVP) was definitely hurting during the final 3 games of the series. He underwent series back spasms in game 6, and just wasn't his usual do-everything, be-everywhere self in game 7.
Without Andre at full speed, the Warriors lacked the defensive intensity and rotational genius that made them a monster on the defensive end all season. Iguodala was the long-armed fulcrum of the defensive effort, and really the Warriors only hope of containing Lebron. With Andre hurting and no Bogut to guard the paint, Warriors swiss-army-knife/emotional leader Draymond Green was forced to pick up too much of the defensive burden, lessening his overall defensive capability.
Compounding Injuries = Less Margin for Error
Combine Andre's back, Bogut's knee, and Steph's knee, and you can see how the Warriors may have lacked a little bit of their edge during this years finals. Warriors fans may always lament this lost opportunity, but it certainly isn't the first time that a team has been effected by major injuries.
All in all, it was a great season, and this is one of the few times we can say that both teams probably deserved to win equally. I can't wait to see what happens next year.
About Dr. William Sterett
WILLIAM (BILL) STERETT, M.D. IS AN ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEON RESIDING IN VAIL, COLORADO. DR. STERETT IS THE HEAD TEAM PHYSICIAN FOR THE US WOMEN’S ALPINE SKI TEAM AND THE MEDICAL DIRECTOR FOR THE VAIL VALLEY SURGERY CENTERS.