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NBA Players Who Battled Through Playoff Injuries

Cody Taylor looks at NBA players who played through injuries and produced at a high level in recent years.

Cody Taylor

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No matter the sport, we often see players elevate their game during the playoffs. The stakes are at their highest in the postseason and great players have defined their careers during these times.

We’ve seen over the years that players will do whatever it takes to help their team achieve the ultimate goal of winning a championship. Sometimes, these moments include playing through various injuries or illnesses. Some injuries that players have battled through are more significant than others, but it just goes to show that some guys really will do whatever it takes to help their team win.

Of course, one of the most iconic moments in NBA history occurred in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals when Michael Jordan scored 38 points – playing the entire game with the flu. It’s one of the many moments that has defined Jordan’s career. One of the most popular models of his shoes are the red and black Jordan 12’s that he wore that game – the “Flu Game” 12’s.

During this season’s playoff run, two players have already exhibited their toughness after playing through ugly injuries. In Game 6 of the first-round series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers, Austin Rivers took an elbow to the face in the first quarter and had to get 11 stitches. The remarkable thing about the incident was Rivers returned to the game midway through the second quarter and would finish with 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds despite his eye being essentially closed shut. Although the Clippers weren’t able to avoid elimination that night, many left that game impressed with Rivers’ toughness. He earned the respect of his teammates, his competitors and NBA fans as well.

Just last night, Miami HEAT point guard Goran Dragic was hit with an elbow in the mouth and would end up receiving three stitches on the inside of his lip and five stitches on the outside of his lip. The team said Dragic’s bottom teeth went through his lip when the contact was made. He finished the game with 20 points (on 8-of-12 shooting), four rebounds and four assists. Dragic even knocked down a clutch three-point shot with 10.5 seconds left to send the game into overtime.

After seeing Rivers and Dragic suffer through some painful injuries this postseason, we began wondering about other players who have played through injuries during the postseason. Here are several players, in no particular order, who had some memorable performances while hobbled on the court in recent memory (2010 and later):

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics (dislocated elbow) – 2011 Eastern Conference Finals

Perhaps one of the most difficult highlights to watch is the play in which Rondo’s elbow is dislocated. The injury happened in Game 3 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami HEAT.

Rondo is guarding Dwyane Wade near the three-point line and then the two became tangled together and crashed onto the court. Rondo landed awkwardly on his left arm and immediately knew something was wrong.

It took several teammates and Celtics trainers to pick Rondo up off of the court and walk with him back to the locker room. Based on the agony Rondo was in following that play, it would seem reasonable that he would miss the remainder of that game and probably even the rest of the playoffs.

Rondo surprised everyone, including his head coach, and returned to finish out the game just minutes later. By the time the Celtics were done announcing that Rondo would miss the rest of the game, he was already back on the bench and ready to return to the court. He would end up having his elbow popped back into place and put in a wrap back in the locker room.

Rondo finished the game with six points (four points after the injury), 11 assists and one steal. That game would be the Celtics’ loe win that series, as the HEAT eliminated them in five games, but Rondo proved his toughness to everyone watching that night.

Dwyane Wade, Miami HEAT (kneecap) –  2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals

There is playing through a knee injury, and then there is playing through the type of knee injury that Wade had in 2013. He’s gone through his fair share of knee injuries over the years, but this one seems like one of the worst.

Wade dealt with knee problems throughout most of the regular season, and vowed to play through the pain if he could. He missed some time toward the end of the regular season, but came back for the playoffs when everything was on the line.

The HEAT called Wade’s knee injury just a bruise and said MRIs revealed nothing structurally wrong. Wade followed up with that and added that he actually had three different bruises in his knee and then offered up his solution for dealing with the pain.

While his knee needed to be taped underneath a pad, Wade said he was actually using the tape to position his kneecap in a way that’s less irritating.

“When you have a [bone] bruise, you try to move the kneecap over so it won’t rub,” Wade said at the time. “When you get into game sweat, you have to re-tape it a bit.”

It’s highly unlikely that many doctors or trainers would ever advise a person to re-position the kneecap at any point, let alone re-positioning it while playing basketball in the NBA. But, that’s exactly what Wade did that season and the HEAT would eventually win the championship that year.

Wade only missed one game that entire postseason run and still managed to play at a high level level throughout. While some may argue that Wade may not have needed to play through that injury with LeBron James and Chris Bosh also on the team, Wade still proved to be crucial to the team winning the championship.

John Wall, Washington Wizards (fractured wrist) – 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals

During last year’s playoffs, the Washington Wizards suffered a huge blow to their postseason chances after it was announced that Wall suffered five non-displaced fractures in his right wrist.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks. Wall is seen driving to the rim and then takes a hard fall to the court. He stayed down on the ground following the play and was tended to by the Wizards training staff. He would stay in the game and lead the Wizards to a 104-98 win after finishing with 18 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and a steal.

The interesting part about his injury was X-rays after the game showed no breaks in his wrist. Wall was told he suffered just a sprain, but his wrist swelled up after Game 1, causing him to miss Game 2. Wall returned to Washington and the non-displaced fractures were revealed.

Wall would miss Games 3 and 4 before returning for Games 5 and 6. The series was tied at two games apiece when Wall returned in Game 5, but it seemed as though the Hawks had all of the momentum after Wall’s absence.

The Wizards were 5-0 during last year’s playoffs before Wall’s injury and seemed to be rolling at the right time. Had he not been injured, the result of that series could have been altered dramatically.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (Flu) – 2011 NBA Finals

In Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Finals, Dirk Nowitzki managed to lead the Mavericks to a victory over the Miami HEAT, which tied the series at 2-2. This was a pivotal game and the Game 4 victory would help Dallas go on to win the championship over the heavily favored HEAT, giving Nowitzki the lone NBA title of his career.

Nowitzki led Dallas with 21 points and 11 rebounds in that crucial Game 4, but the most impressive thing about his performance is that he played through a serious flu. At one point, he had a fever that spiked to 102 degrees during the game.

Nowitzki came up huge for the Mavs throughout the contest. But he was particularly effective during the fourth quarter, scoring 10 clutch points (and working hard for each of his baskets).

This was an exhausting game for Dirk, but he (somehow) led Dallas to the win. At the time, many people drew comparisons between his performance and Michael Jordan’s iconic flu game.

Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls (Flu) – 2013 Eastern Conference First Round

Speaking of the flu, Robinson’s effort during the first-round of the 2013 Eastern Conference playoffs was impressive. With no Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng, the Bulls were relying heavily on Robinson (and several other role players) against the Brooklyn Nets.

There had been a flu virus going around the team as Robinson and Taj Gibson were both sick during this game. In fact, Robinson was so sick that he was seen on the bench during timeouts with a trash can in between his legs as he vomited.

Robinson played 42 minutes during that game and recorded 18 points, four assists and two rebounds for the Bulls. The Brooklyn Nets would hold off and win that game, forcing a decisive Game 7 back in Brooklyn. While the Bulls lost Game 6, they were able to pull out the Game 7 win to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Robinson proved to be a key player during the Bulls’ playoff run that season and showed everyone his determination and willpower by battling through a bad case of the flu. Perhaps the most impressive part about that Game 6 performance was that he played nearly the entire game with an upset stomach.

Chris Bosh, Miami HEAT (abdominal strain) – 2012 Eastern Conference Finals

Over the past week or so, Bosh reportedly tried to return to the court for the HEAT during this season’s playoff run. Of course, Bosh has missed nearly the past three months after suffering from blood clots for the second time in a year.

The team announced on Tuesday that Bosh will officially miss the rest of the postseason after everyone involved agreed that he shouldn’t play basketball again this season.

This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen Bosh try to play amid health concerns. Back during the 2012 playoffs, Bosh suffered an abdominal strain during Game 1 of the HEAT’s second-round series against the Indiana Pacers. He would go on to miss the remainder of that series, and the first four games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics.

The HEAT said Bosh would be out for an indefinite amount of time, but he would end up returning to the court just three weeks later. Recovery time for an injury of that magnitude can take up to several months to fully heal and is one that impacts just about every move a player makes. Bosh’s decision to come back three weeks later proved to be a huge boost for the HEAT.

Boston held a 3-2 series lead going into Game 6. In Bosh’s second game back, the HEAT managed to win to force a Game 7 back in Miami. He played in 31 minutes of that game and scored 19 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) and grabbed eight rebounds as the HEAT won to advance to the NBA Finals.

The HEAT would go on to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to claim the NBA championship. Bosh averaged 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game during the Finals. The injury would prevent Bosh from playing with Team USA that summer, and only added to his legacy in the NBA.

*****

While there have been plenty of moments throughout the years of athletes playing through extreme injury, the players mentioned above all sacrificed in one way or another.

From Jordan’s flu game to Karl Malone playing through a torn MCL in the 2004 Finals, there have been plenty of moments in NBA history where players made big sacrifices for their team.

Did we leave anyone out? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: Kaiser Gates Determined To Silence His Doubters

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Kaiser Gates knows what he’s made of.

Spencer Davies

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If you’re looking to further your career at the next level but coming out of college as a prospect on the fringe, you’d better be willing to work twice as hard to draw attention from the basketball world.

Attending the Preparation Pro Day in Miami with team representatives and scouts watching, Kaiser Gates wanted to show everybody who was there that the chip on his shoulder would drive him to silence his doubters.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” Gates said in Miami. “I feel like a lot of the guys in the draft this year, I’m just as good if not better than (them), so I gotta show that.”

After three years at Xavier University, the 22-year-old decided it was time to move on from the program and passed on his senior year to enter the NBA Draft. The news came as a surprise to many, considering he might’ve gotten the opportunity to earn an even more expanded role next season with the departure of Musketeer favorites Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.

The numbers across the board weren’t exactly eye-catching. Primarily a wing, Gates knocked down 37.8 percent of his threes as a junior. He averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in almost 24 minutes per game.

Looking at conference play in the Big East, those figures took a dip. Gates shot less than 30 percent from deep and really struggled to contribute offensively for Xavier against tougher opponents.

There was an incredible discrepancy in shot selection over his three-year collegiate career. Astoundingly enough, 300 of his 409 career attempts came outside of the arc. The other 109 tries were twos, which he converted at a 54.1 percent rate.

It’s hard to ignore statistical evidence when it comes to evaluating players, but misuse and fit could have been more prominent factors in this case. It’s something that happens quite a bit at school programs with prospects, and Gates believes that he could be added to that list of mishandled talent.

“I don’t think I’m inconsistent at all,” Gates said. “At Xavier, I know my stats showed that I was inconsistent. Playing at that school it was a great experience—great guys, great coaches.

“Just kinda like my situation and the way I was playing at that school didn’t really allow me to showcase my full talents, and with that being said, it’s kinda hard to stay consistent not doing something I’m used to doing.”

Furthering the point, it’s not easy to be judged off that information, which some use as the only indication of what you’ll bring to the pros. Gates plans on using that as motivation whenever he meets with different teams.

“I would come in and people would just assume like, ‘Oh he could shoot a little bit, play defense, a little athletic.’ But I know on the flip side, I know what I can really do and like, my full potential.

“So when I know that and see what teams already think, already have in their head, just now it’s up to me to prove to them what I can do and show them what I can do.”

So what does that exactly entail?

“My first few years or so, I’ll probably be more of a three-and-D guy—stretch the floor, play defense make hustle plays, rebound the ball, things like that,” Gates said. “But as I’mma grow, (I’ll) look to expand on my game. Maybe work out the pick-and-roll a little bit and expand from there.”

Thus far, the 6-foot-8, 228-pounder has reportedly worked out for multiple organizations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. He is enjoying the draft process and his growth as a player since it started.

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Gates knows what he’s made of. And if he can attract the right set of eyes, he’ll be in good shape.

“You could get 30 workouts and that one team could fall in love with you,” Gates said.

“That’s what [my agent] Aaron Turner’s always talking to me about. He’s always said, ‘It only takes one team.’”

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NBA Daily: Second-Round Draft Steals to Watch

Several possible second round picks have a chance to make an impact at the NBA level, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA Draft is upon us this week. The hopes and dreams of many basketball players will become reality. Each year there are players who are drafted in the second round who end up outperforming their draft selection spot.

A premium has been placed on draft picks in recent years. Even second round picks have become extremely valuable. For a team like the Golden State Warriors whose payroll might limit their ability to sign quality rotation players (veterans taking discounts to win a ring notwithstanding), smart drafting has seen them scoop up steals like Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell. Both those players have emerged as key rotation guys on a championship team, and both were taken in the second round.

The second round is an opportunity to pick up overlooked young talent on cheap contracts. Sure, it’s rare to get a Manu Ginobili or an Isaiah Thomas or a Draymond Green that goes on to become an All-Star caliber player, but plenty of quality contributors can be found.

Here’s a look at a few guys who have a great chance at becoming second round steals.

1. Allonzo Trier – Arizona

Outside of DeAndre Ayton, there may not have been a more valuable player to the Arizona Wildcats last season than Allonzo Trier. He was the Wildcats second-leading scorer at 18.1 points per game. There have been questions about his supposed selfish style of play, but he’s been a solidly efficient player his three years at Arizona.

This past season as a junior, he shot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line. Over his three years in college, he was a 47.5 percent shooter from the field and a 37.8 percent shooter from the three-point line. He’s also an 82.3 percent shooter from the line. And he did dish out 3.2 assists this past season.

Trier is a scorer, plain and simple, an efficient one at that. Despite this, his name has failed to appear on many mock drafts. The few that actually project the second round as well have him being drafted near the end. At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Trier has great size for a shooting guard in the NBA. A sixth man type scorer is probably his best projection at the next level.

2. Brandon McCoy – UNLV

The Runnin’ Rebels didn’t quite have such a noteworthy year, which might explain a little about why Brandon McCoy is flying under the radar. UNLV posted a 20-13 record and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Despite that, McCoy managed to emerge as their biggest bright spot.

In his lone college season, he led UNLV in scoring with 16.9 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting from the field. He also pulled down 10.8 rebounds per game and was their leading shot blocker at 1.8 blocks per game. For a big man, he shot a semi-decent 72.5 percent from the free-throw line.

He has good size, he’s a legit seven-footer. He moves well on the floor and with some work, can be a very good defensive player. Part of what might be causing him to get overlooked is he doesn’t have much in terms of a mid-range game, a necessity for big men in today’s NBA game. But that can be worked on. At any rate, he can be a high energy big off the bench, good to come in and block some shots, grabs some boards and clean up around the rim. Every team could use a guy like that.

3. Devonte Graham – Kansas

One year ago, Devonte Graham’s Jayhawk teammate Frank Mason III was also being overlooked in the draft. Like Graham, the major issue working against him was his status as a four-year college player. Mason went on to be one of the bright spots for the Sacramento Kings, establishing himself as a legit NBA point guard.

This summer, Graham is looking to do the same. Mason was also a bit on the shorter side, coming in at 5-foot-11. Graham has little more size than that at 6-foot-2. He was the Jayhawks best player for most of the year, putting up 17.3 points per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the three-point line. He also dished out 7.2 assists per game.

Most mock drafts have consistently had Graham being drafted early to middle second round. Being a college senior, he has leadership abilities. He’d be perfect for any team looking for a solid point guard off the bench.

4. Chimezie Metu – USC

For much of the mock draft season, Chimezie Metu’s name appeared as a first round selection. But in recent weeks, as other names began to climb up the draft ladder, Metu it appears has fallen back into the second-round. It’s interesting though, as his skill set for a big man appears to project well in today’s NBA game.

He was the Trojans’ best player as a junior this past season. He put up 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting from the field. He pulled down 7.4 rebounds while averaging 1.7 blocked shots. Although the percentages may not reflect that, he has an improving jump shot. He’s quick and mobile defensively.

He’s got all the tools be able to guard the post as well as switch out and guard other positions if need be. With a little more work, he can be a good jump shooter. With the evolution of today’s game, Metu has the perfect build and talent to find success as a modern NBA big man.

5. Tony Carr – Penn State

Tony Carr has been a consistent second round pick in most mock drafts. There has been the occasional one here or there that had him being drafted at the end of the first-round, but the second round is most likely where he’ll hear his name called.

Carr was the best player for a Nittany Lions team that ended up winning the NIT. This past season as a sophomore, he put up 19.6 points per game and shot 43.3 percent from the three-point line. He was able to pull down 4.9 rebounds per game and he dished out 5.0 assists.

He can play both guard positions and create for himself or his teammates. There have been question marks about his athleticism and ability to defend at the NBA level, but all a team needs for him to do is come in off the bench, run the offense a bit and get a few buckets. He’s definitely capable of doing that.

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NBA Daily: Kawhi Leonard Would Look Good In a Knicks Uniform… In 2019

The Knicks need to take a page out of the Sixers’ book… and trust the process.

Moke Hamilton

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The NBA world nearly stopped last week when reports circulated that Kawhi Leonard wanted out from San Antonio.

All of a sudden, within a few days, both he and Kyrie Irving were both reportedly open-minded about taking their talents to New York.

And while either (or both) of the two would look great as Knicks uniforms, they’d look much better in orange and blue in 2019.

After all, only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results.

Seven years ago, the Knicks the made mistake of trading their farm for a superstar caliber small forward. His name is Carmelo Anthony, and we all know how that story ended.

If you want to make the argument that Leonard is a better player than Anthony was at 27 years old, that’s your right, but one thing that not even Max Kellerman could argue is that smart teams simply don’t trade assets for players they could ultimately end up getting for free. That’s exactly why Paul George spent last season flanking Russell Westbrook instead of arguing with LaVar Ball.

So if Leonard or Irving wants to eventually take up residence in New York City, they can prove it… Next year.

If there’s one thing the Knicks historically imprudent front office should have learned from Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, it’s that.

This summer, after hiring David Fizdale, Scott Perry will have another opportunity to prove that the job at Penn Plaza isn’t too big for him, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he even publicly entertains the idea of attempting to make a splash this summer or whether he continues to hold steadfast to the belief that there are not shortcuts on the route to contention.

The right play for the Knicks is to follow the route that the Lakers took as it relates to Paul George—refrain from dealing valuable assets for players that you could sign for free. Danny Ainge hit home runs with Gordon Hayward and Al Horford and by essentially adding each of them to an existing core of young talent—and more importantly, refraining from acquiring either via trade—the Celtics now have an embarrassment of riches.

The Knicks don’t have those kinds of problems, and as it stands, have little aside from Kristaps Porzinigis going for them. With the Latvian unicorn expected to miss the majority of next season, they’ll probably have a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. That could be paired nicely with Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and the ninth overall pick that they’ll have in the 2018 draft.

In other words, one year from now, the Knicks could have four of their own lottery picks under contract—Porzingis, Ntilikina, and whichever players they will have selected in 2018 and 2019. Between now and then, the team would be best served scouring the G-League and overseas markets to find cheap help that can contribute at the NBA level. Let the young guys play, let them develop and then carry them into the summer of 2019 with a clear plan in place.

That type of prudent management will not only help the Knicks in the long run, it will go a long way toward convincing soon-to-be free agents and player agents that Perry and his staff actually know what they’re doing.

If they play things right, and if the team managed to unload either Courtney Lee or Joakim Noah, they could open up the very real possibility of landing both Leonard and Irving, but instead of trading the farm for them, they’d have a realistic shot at signing them. They’d be adding them to the core instead of sacrificing it for them. Imagine that.

From where most people sit, Irving seems to have an ideal situation in Boston, and his entertaining the idea of taking his talents elsewhere seems curious, at best… But so did the choice of leaving LeBron James.

Irving has been consistently rumored as having real interest in playing in New York when he’s able to test the market next July, and depending on who you ask, there does seem to be a genuine level of concern in Boston that he could opt to take his talents elsewhere.

Growing up in the shadows of Madison Square Garden, the young guard knows better than most what winning in New York City would do for his legacy. At the end of the day, would one championship in New York make Irving a legendary figure among the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Probably not. But one thing we can call agree on is that winning in a single championship in New York would do much more for Irving than winning a single championship in Cleveland or even a single title in Boston.

As it stands, fair or not, history will always look at Irving as the “other” player on James’ championship Cavaliers team, even though he was the one who made the biggest shot of James’ career.

And with the success of the Celtics this past season, truth be told, Irving helping lead the Celtics to a championship with the team’s current core in place wouldn’t necessarily cement his legacy in the way it would have had we not seen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown show signs of being franchise-caliber players.

Because Irving is a shoot-first guard, he’ll continue to unfairly carry the reputation of being someone who doesn’t make his teammates better. He’s no Steve Nash, but he is truly special. Just don’t tell the national media that.

Because of the circumstances, he’s now in a bit of a catch-22. He’ll get less of the credit than he’ll deserve if the Celtics manage to win an NBA title and more of the blame than he’ll deserve if they fail to.

Still, even if Irving and/or Leonard end up elsewhere, the summer of 2019 will feature other free agents including Kemba Walker—the only “true” All-Star caliber New Yorker in the NBA—and Long Island product Tobias Harris. Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love and Nikola Vucevic, too.

Going from Leonard and Irving to Walker and Butler might seem like a sad story of riches to rags, but one could very easily make the argument that adding two high-quality All-Star caliber starters to a core featuring Porzingis, Ntilikina and two lottery picks would do more to make the Knicks contenders than unloading the cupboard in an attempt to bring one in.

If that sounds like exactly what the Celtics did, that’s because it is. The Lakers, too. There’s a reason why they’re the most winningest franchises in NBA history, it would seem.

One thing we know for sure in the NBA: there will always be marquee free agents. The Knicks just need to do a better job of being able to attract them.

So this summer, if Perry wants to continue to earn favor with Knicks fans with even half a brain, the best thing to do might actually be to do nothing.

In other words, if the Knicks have truly learned anything from the futility of their recent past, it’s that they should try to be more like Magic Johnson and Danny Ainge. 

So if word eventually gets to Perry that Leonard’s interest in the team is real, and if Irving decides that he wants to take up residence in his backyard to try to succeed where Patrick Ewing, Stephon Marbury and Patrick Ewing fell short, Perry’s response should be simple.

“Prove it.”

Either would look great in a Knicks uniform, but they’d look much better in a Knicks uniform in 2019.

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