NBA Playoffs Becoming a Brutal Battle to Dodge Injuries

Reports say Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo dodged a significant injury. The two-time MVP went down hard during the Bucks’ Game 4 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Atlanta’s win came despite not having their leading scorer, Trae Young, due to a deep bone bruise in his foot. Those high-profile injuries are what is the norm for this year’s NBA Playoffs, though.

Before Antetokounmpo went down, the 2021 NBA Playoffs already set a dubious record for time lost to injury or illness. This year is coming down to a last-man-standing finish rather than the dream matchup of the two best teams.

There are loads of speculation about what has caused this rash of injuries. Players already gone from the postseason, such as LeBron James, pointed fingers at the NBA. One thing is clear. The NBA Playoffs in 2021 are not for the faint of heart.

How many All-Stars have missed games in the 2021 NBA Playoffs?

According to ESPN, Giannis Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Game 5, but he avoided any structural damage to his left knee. If Antetokounmpo sits, the count of All-Stars missing games in this year’s NBA Playoffs climbs to 10. Kawhi Leonard has missed seven games so far due to his knee injury, with no return in sight. For the record, the previous high for All-Stars missing time in the playoffs? Six.

The other All-Stars to miss games this postseason include, per Pro Basketball Talk:

  • Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers
  • James Harden and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets
  • Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz
  • Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics
  • Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers
  • Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns

That doesn’t even include Young, not an All-Star. Nor does it count Jamal Murray; the running mate Nikola Jokić was missing while the Suns swept the Denver Nuggets.

Who is to blame for the spate of misfortune?

Injuries to star players are at an all-time high in the NBA Playoffs
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks is injured during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It is easy to point the finger at the NBA itself for the injury issues. Last season included a break of more than four months, followed by almost three months of isolation. The 2019–20 season ended on Oct. 11. The 2020–21 campaign started on Dec. 22. At 73 days, that was the shortest offseason in history for any major North American sport.

The Dec. 22 start date was roughly two months later than usual. But the end of the regular season on May 16 was about a month past its traditional end date. Yes, the NBA cut 10 games out. But with COVID protocols and the decision to play a full home-and-home interconference schedule, the demands on players’ time, as well as the travel, were abnormal.

Fans should also brace themselves for another season like this one. The NBA plans to return to its regular calendar in 2021–22. If the NBA Finals go seven games, the season ends on July 22. Next season starts on Oct. 19. That’s 90 days, still far shorter than usual.

The last time the NBA had what would be termed a regular offseason, the break was 132 days between games in 2019.

Is it a matter of cause meeting effect in the NBA Playoffs?

The NBA was stuck when it came to planning a 2020-21 schedule. Teams incurred tremendous financial losses last season and would do so again until arenas reopened. There was a desire to get as many games scheduled as possible.

But, per The Washington Post, the league was also running up against the rescheduled 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The opening ceremonies in Tokyo are the same day as a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals (accounting for the International Date Line). Rather than breaking the schedule up to allow for Olympic participation, the NBA opted to jam as many games as possible into five months.

It was always going to be a risky strategy. Athletes are like everyone else, perhaps even more so, in their reliance on routine. Disrupting that routine last offseason affected recovery and preparation time. Injuries were the natural next step to that.

It isn’t terrific that so many of the NBA’s best draws are in street clothes at the most critical time of the season. But given the circumstances, it’s far from being a surprise.

As for the running tally of injured All-Stars in the 2021 NBA Playoffs? Paul George, keep your head on a swivel. You’re the last one with perfect attendance still intact.

RELATED: Lou Williams, Who Almost Retired Instead of Joining the Hawks, Was as Hot as a Batch of Magic City Chicken Wings as Atlanta Proved They’re More Than a One-Man Show