There has been a theme to these NBA playoffs so far. It involves Twitter, HD video that turns into slow-motion Vines, heart-pounding plot twists, and all of us at home trying to make sense of it. There’s more drama every night.
Thaaaaaat’s right … we’re talking about injuries!
Superstars are going down more often than ever in this postseason. It’s like the NBA playoffs have turned into the Hunger Games. If Steph Curry is still alive by June, he might win by default. I’ve spent more time worrying about injuries for the past three weeks than I have in any other playoffs I can remember, and that was before we found out John Wall’s wrist had shattered into pieces.
It’s turned into its own, endless soap opera that we all experience together. Every night there’s someone else to track — how does he look? is he limping? — and every day there are ominous updates about superstars battling to come back. It’s gotten bad enough that we thought it was time to put together a system for processing this information.
Here is the 2015 NBA Playoffs Injury Advisory Index.
Code Green: He’s Playing Through It
This is the category for players like Tony Parker or Joakim Noah. They aren’t injured, but they’re clearly hurt. Throw Al Horford and Paul Millsap into this category, too. Or Chandler Parsons during the first game of that Mavs series. And Kyle Lowry. Has anyone figured out what was wrong with Kyle Lowry?
Watching these guys play through pain brings its own kind of stress. Every time they do something right, you can convince yourselves they’re getting healthy and turning the corner. Then they’ll have a sequence that reminds you just how far away they really are.
The other side of this is Chris Paul in Game 7 of the Spurs series. He would have found a way to keep playing even if his entire body were on fire. For all we know, that’s what his hamstring felt like. His injury actually made that fourth quarter 10 times cooler.
Mike Conley in the Warriors series is somewhere between both extremes.
We get to watch him be amazing and breathe life back into the Grizzlies — but then we also have to worry like a soccer mom every time anyone goes near his face. Still, the stress is obviously worth it here. Conley’s return single-handedly saved us from a Warriors sweep. Mike Conley and Chris Paul are gods after the past week.
Code Blue: Oooh, That Looks Bad
This one applies to Conley in the Blazers series, after he took C.J. McCollum’s elbow in the face. It definitely applies to John Wall crashing to the floor in Atlanta and writhing in pain during Game 1. Or Bradley Beal crumpling to the floor later in the same game, and then wobbling down a stadium hallway in tears.
The perfect example might be Iman Shumpert in Game 2 of the Bulls-Cavs series. He was dominant on both ends in the first half on Wednesday, like a Cleveland version of Jimmy Butler. Then came the third quarter, and he was hopping off the court on one leg, and suddenly everyone got a lump in their throat. Never want to see that. On the way off the court, the slow-motion replay appeared to show him mouthing the words “It popped” to LeBron.
Never want to see that.
Then, all you can do is wait. And worry.
Code Purple: Will He Come Back?
Even if Shumpert never played again in Game 2 — to be fair, it was a blowout — it was a good sign to see him emerge from the locker room and hit the exercise bike on the sideline. He should be fine, right? Likewise, after Beal was sobbing his way into the locker room for X-rays in Game 1, he came back to finish the fourth quarter, and he looked great in Game 2. You can never be sure. That’s part of the drama with playoff injuries.
Maybe that injury just ended that team’s season, or maybe we’re all just deeply paranoid about this stuff, and everything will be fine.
The other side of this is trickier, though. Even if players return and manage to finish the game with a combination of weapons-grade pain medication and pure adrenaline, there’s always a chance the injury will be worse the next day. You have to worry about this even as they’re playing. Or riding the exercise bike. Because …
Yeah. That was John Wall and Chris Paul, too. Both of them returned to the court to dominate, and then woke up the next day, and …
Code Yellow: This Is Getting Real
This is when the playoffs turn everyone into amateur doctors. A week is long enough for a hamstring to heal, right? Plenty of time for swelling to go down on a sprained wrist.
Mike Conley got his face broken, but give him a few days off, and he’ll just throw on a mask and finish the series. This is verbatim what I told Chris Ryan last week. Like it was no big deal.
It’s the most saddest, most desperate stage. Once superstars go down indefinitely and start affecting an entire series, everybody becomes equally helpless — you’re living at the mercy of beat writers tweeting cryptic updates, and you’re Googling “metacarpal bones.” Wishful thinking is very important here. Maybe you would call it delusion. Sometimes delusion is the only way to keep believing. (It’s been a great playoffs!)
Code Orange: MRIs = FML
He’s getting a second opinion.
He’s getting MRIs.
This is when you just stare down at your phone making the Joel Embiid face. I’m also making that face at the entire playoffs right now.
Fun fact: I started this post Thursday morning, before the Wall news even broke. I had already written this sentence: “Once a player goes outside team personnel to consult someone about an injury, it’s time to take a deep breath and prepare for bad news.” And yet, I was still floored by the Wall news by the time it hit in the afternoon. I had been bracing for a broken bone he could play with, not five separate fractures, along with swelling that hasn’t even settled down enough yet for the team to decide if he’s out for the entire playoffs or not. This is awful. This is …
Code Red: He Just Got His Arm Torn Out of Its Socket by Kelly Olynyk and Now He’s Running Off the Court to the Locker Room
The final level.
This is the sum of all fears. It seems like every year now, the NBA playoffs take a dramatic turn because of one key injury, and a title contender is rendered mortal overnight. Last year it was Serge Ibaka with the Thunder. The year before, Russell Westbrook. This year it’s Kevin Love.
It may not cost us the Cavs-Warriors Finals that this year has been building to since January, but it definitely makes the idea of that series less exciting. A split second is all it took to transform a title favorite into another cautionary tale. And when Love was rushing into the tunnel, every Cleveland fan got that pit in his or her stomach, knowing exactly what had just happened, and everything it probably meant. It’s how Wizards fans felt on Thursday. Remember that feeling as the rest of the playoffs unfold.
Is one of your team’s stars playing hurt?
Is he going back to the locker room to check a sprained ankle?
Is he missing a key playoff game?
Is he out indefinitely?
Is he off getting MRIs while you Google rare bone injuries and question like eight different life decisions that brought you to this point?
Well, it could always be worse.
Code Black: He’s on the Sidelines in Street Clothes and You’re Carpet Bombing Kelly Olynyk With Menacing Tweets for the Next 36 Months
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images