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!
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