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The 2017-18 NBA season was filled with an unpredictable playoff battle that led to seven games in each division and a rather predictable match-up in the playoffs, with the Warriors defeating the Cavaliers in a four-game shutout.
This was the fourth consecutive season that these two power-house teams met in the NBA finals. But the season was also riddled with countless devastating injuries that quite literally shaped the outcome of the entire season. Here are the top five.
1. Gordon Hayward of the Boston Celtics
Not only was this the first injury of the NBA season but it was also one of the most horrific. In the first five minutes of the opening game, Hayward, a Celtic rookie, dislocated his left ankle and fractured his left tibia.
As Hayward went up for an alley-oop, he collided with LeBron James, causing his left leg to turn outward. The tragedy happened when Hayward came down hard on his twisted leg, leaving his foot pointing in the wrong direction.
Fans and teammates alike were horrified at the site. Hayward was visibly shaken and devastated. But what did it mean for the season?
Although Hayward was signed to a four-year $128 million contract, the Celtics went on to become one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Although Hayward’s injury was tragic, it was not season-ending for this Boston team. Players like rookie Jayson Tatum, and veterans Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, helped carry the season. Until Kyrie Irving got hurt.
2. Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics
Right before the Celtics entered the playoffs against the Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving confirmed he needed surgery on his left knee with a recovery time estimated at five months. What makes Irving’s injury unexpected and unpredictable is the fact that it was actually caused by an old injury that became infected.
During the 2015 NBA season, Irving suffered a patellar fracture requiring two screws be implanted in his knee. The screws became infected during the 2017-2018 season and the wiring was putting pressure on his knee.
Even without Irving, the Celtics gave the Cleveland Cavaliers a run for their money in the playoffs, taking the series to seven games before losing 79 to 87.
3. Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets
On the other side of the conference, the Houston Rockets faced the Golden State Warriors in another impressive playoff display that was also decided in seven games.
Unfortunately, Paul didn’t make it that far, exiting game 5 due to a right hamstring injury in the final seconds of game 5. But Paul didn’t leave before helping his team win 98 to 94.
Paul scored 20 points, 18 of which occurred in the second half. The Rockets went on to lose the next two games, giving the Warriors the push they needed to enter the finals and take the crown.
4. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry is undeniably one of the Warriors best. In fact, he’s one of the NBA’s best players, hitting 40 per cent from the three-point line, average 24.8 total points per game. So when Curry suffered an ankle sprain in December of 2017, the Warriors were forced to rally and pick up the slack.
Coach Steve Kerr was actually quoted saying Curry’s injury might be a good thing for the team. It would force them to perform without their highest scoring player.
The injury occurred toward the end of a game where the Warriors defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 125 to 115. Curry landed wrong, twisting his right ankle on E’Twaun Moore’s foot. The point guard was seen wearing a protective boot on the foot and using crutches at the Warriors’ next warmup.
Although the injury was relatively minor, diagnosed as simply a bad sprain, it made quite an impact on the California team. Without their all-star MVP, the rest of the players learned what it was like to play without one of their best.
Curry returned in a game against the Atlanta Hawks, only to leave again due to an MCL sprain. This second injury of the 2017-2018 season kept Curry off the court until game two of the playoffs, where he returned and became a key component in the Warriors’ road to an NBA Finals victory.
5. Demarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans
With seconds left in a game against the Houston Rockets, power forward Demarcus Cousins left the game with a torn left Achilles that ended his season and any hopes of the Pelicans making the playoffs.
The injury happened during a missed free throw, after which Cousins was assisted off the court. Cousin’s absence hit the Pelican’s hard considering the powerhouse was responsible for nearly half the team’s points, in addition to fellow power forward, Anthony Davis.
The departure of Cousins came at a bad time for the New Orlean’s team and cost them any chance at an appearance in the playoffs. Without bench players worth a playoff spot, the Pelicans struggled through the remainder of the season.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
No one likes to see an athlete get hurt, especially when it’s a star player like the ones found on this list. But in certain circumstances, teams are forced to come together and strategise in the absence of their all-stars.
It clearly worked for the Golden State Warriors during Steph Curry’s two brief stints on the injured list. Other teams, like the Pelicans, crumbled under the pressure. Only time will tell what next season will bring. Injuries are all part of the game and can be season-ending for both players and entire teams.