There have been amazing games, incredible performances, and dramatic storylines throughout these playoffs, but when it’s all said and done the one thing we will all remember is the first thing we will want to forget: the injuries. Beginning with Derrick Rose in the first round and spanning until now with Chris Bosh, some of the best players in this league have had to sit out multiple games because of a litany of bumps and bruises. Not only have fans missed out on some memorable games, but audiences have also been deprived of great individual matchups, some of which certainly would have affected the outcomes of their respective series. Here are the top five one-on-one matchups that could have been, but injuries prevented from happening in this year’s playoffs:
5. Al Horford vs. Kevin Garnett
This matchup of two of the best centers in the Eastern Conference (and no, I cannot believe I just called KG one of the best centers out East) was ruined very early on in the season, January 9th to be exact. The only reason this matchup is so low on our list is that Horford was able to make it back for Game 4 of these teams’ first round series, salvaging one of the best one-on-one matchups in the first round. During those three games, Horford went for 15.33 points a game along with 8.33 boards a game. Garnett, on the other hand, posted averages of 19 points and 8.67 rebounds over the same span. It surely would have been a treat to see these two go at it for the first three games of the series.
4. Roy Hibbert vs. Chris Bosh
Hibbert is just about as frustrating as it comes in terms of inconsistency, as shown by his point totals of 17, 8, 19, 10, 8, and 12 in Round 2. From game to game, from minute to minute even, Hibbert can go from looking like the All-Star he was this season to giving off the vibe that he is an unfinished project, which he may always be. But the great thing about Hibbert is that for every head-scratching play he makes, there’s at least one that is just as jaw-dropping. That’s why I would have loved to see Hibbert challenged over a seven game series by a player like Chris Bosh. With Bosh in the lineup, Hibbert would have been forced to extend out and defend his jumper while also attempting to maintain a defensive presence in the lane. It would have been quite the task for Hibbert to hold up over an entire series, but it at least could have given us a better idea where this big man realistically falls on his ever-changing spectrum of talent.
3. Derrick Rose vs. Jrue Holliday
We got to see these two duke it out for almost an entire game. Somehow, after only putting up 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists compared to Rose’s 23 points, 9 assists, and 9 rebounds, Holliday came out on top simply because he was still standing by the end of the game. Without Rose around to wear him down over the final five games of the series, Holliday posted averages of 18.6 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.8 rebounds. Those stats nowhere approach Rose’s regular output, but Holliday was able to establish himself as Philadelphia’s most consistent offensive threat. The 76ers have to feel pretty good about their point guard heading into his third season, but you have to wonder if the franchise would be as confident about their lead guard of the future if Rose had been able to contain him in the first round and prevent an appearance in the conference semifinals.
2. Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh
We were almost lucky enough to see these two forwards-playing-center go at it in Game 5, but instead Bosh only played 14 minutes. That now makes four games we’ve missed out on seeing these two match up when they’re both one hundred percent. Granted, Garnett rarely ever matches up on the opposing team’s best big man because his strong suit lies in his help side defense, the Celtics might not have many options. In Game 6, fans and media members alike had their eyes on Bosh to see how he would spread out the Celtics’ defense with his midrange jumper. However, Bosh played sparingly and failed to consistently challenge Garnett on both ends of the floor. Although we have seen Bosh for a limited amount of time in this series, we surely have not seen his best against what could arguably be the best basketball KG has played in his career. And that, my friends, is a crying shame.
1. Avery Bradley vs. Dwyane Wade
Bradley has turned into one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Wade continues to be one of the best penetrators and finishers in both transition and the half court. How could that matchup not be a classic? Seeing one player transform into one of the most daunting defensive presences in the NBA while matching up against one of the most explosive players in the game certainly would have been a treat. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be as Bradley was knocked out of the playoffs with repeated shoulder problems. Instead, Bradley has to sit on the sidelines while his team has taken a 3-2 lead against the favored Heat and wonder what could have been if he had his shot at Wade. In a postseason that has been fascinating from so many angles, matchups like these that should have been are about all fans can find to complain about.
In light of Amare Stoudemire’s recent run in with a certain fire extinguisher in Miami, it got me thinking about the most idiotic self-inflicted injuries in the NBA. Most are self-inflicted out of the sheer stupidity by the offending party. Where does Stoudemire’s hand laceration rank in the list? Believe it or not, there have been more foolish injuries, albeit both by the same player. And no, Lionel Simmons doesn’t make the list for missing games during the 1990-1991 season because of a wrist injury caused by playing Game Boy. Simmons is saved by the fact that Derrick McKey missed time for the same reason a year later. You cannot fault these guys for being passionate about their Tetris. And there is nothing stupid about playing Game Boy. That being said, let’s see the real list:
5. Paul Pierce
The stage: the 2008 NBA Finals, Game 1, the biggest game of his life. Paul Pierce is bumped by teammate Kendrick Perkins and…Oh wait, we’re talking about real injuries? Excuse me, that was just so damn convincing.Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
5. Derrick Rose
Given his recent injury, maybe we shouldn’t be picking on the guy, but you haven’t heard just how ridiculous this injury really is. During his rookie season, Rose injured himself when he got a cut underneath his left elbow. Fortunately, Rose didn’t end up missing any game time, but it’s not the impact of this injury that is worth noting, it is the absurdity of it. Rose claimed that the night before the injury, he had been eating an apple in bed. The next morning as he went to grab a bottle of water, he forgot that the knife he used to cut the apple was still there. Thus, he sat down on the bed and sliced his arm. I guess it was an honest mistake, but lack of common sense is no excuse for being excluded from this list.
4. Monta Ellis
Ok, this one is pretty simple. When you sign a 6 year, $67 million contract, typically you owe it to your team to stay out of harm’s way. Instead, in August 2008, a little over a month after signing that big deal, Ellis revealed that he had torn a ligament in his left ankle. Initially, Ellis claimed that he had injured the ankle in a pick up basketball game in his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. However, the Warriors looked further into the situation and discovered that Ellis had actually injured the ankle in a moped accident. The Warriors decided to suspend Ellis for 30 games without pay for the incident, assuming that he was too injured to play in those games anyway. That guess proved to be a tad on the conservative side as Ellis ended up playing only 25 games that season.
3. Tony Allen
Poor Tony Allen. Back in the days when he was known as “Trick or Treat Tony” for his maddeningly inconsistent play, he suffered one of the most unfortunate turns of fate on the court. But I can’t leave him off the list because I feel bad for him. No, his stupidity must be pointed out. On January 10, 2007, Allen was playing in the second half of a Celtics’ loss when, after hearing a whistle blow, Allen decided to drive into the lane and throw down an uncontested, dead ball dunk. Unfortunately for Allen, his knee didn’t exactly cooperate; upon landing he tore his ACL and MCL and ended up missing the rest of the season. You hate to see a guy go down with such a devastating injury, but in reality, Allen injured himself by showing off to the crowd. He went up for what he thought would be an emphatic and impressive dunk, but literally fell flat on his face, shredding his knee in the process.
2. Amare Stoudemire
Notice how all of these players “suffered” their injuries in the regular season? Too bad we can’t say the same for Stoudemire. He gets a lofty position in these rankings for the timing of everything. With his team struggling through a first-round playoff series with the Heat, Stoudemire took out his frustrations on a fire extinguisher. Bad news for Amare: after the dust settled, the fire extinguisher came out on top. Surely, the Knicks had little to no chance of winning the series, but with its second scoring option out for the foreseeable future against one of the best defensive teams in the league, New York was all but eliminated as fast as you can say “Amare’s a dumbass.” Not only that, but when the 6-10 Stoudemire went down, the Knicks were forced to play small ball, taking away quite possibly the only advantage the Knicks had, their size.
1. Lew Alcindor
The man now known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar was once upon a time a very stubborn and, apparently, not very sharp young man. During a pre-season game in 1974, Alcindor was hit by an opposing player and, being so infuriated, swung at and punched the basket support. He broke his hand and missed 16 games. Ok, you’re probably thinking “that’s excusable, what’s the big deal?” Fast forward to the 1977-1978 season opener, now as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and facing his former Bucks team, Kareem loses his temper once again. This time, after being elbowed by Kent Benson, Abdul Jabbar punches Benson, breaks his hand, and is forced to sit out for two months. You would imagine that after missing significant time for punching an inanimate object, Abdul Jabbar wouldn’t take his chances with a human being, but apparently he didn’t learn from the first time around. I’m assuming he finally did learn his lesson as, after this injury, Abdul Jabbar never missed more than 8 games in a single season.
Don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but there’s a bit of a formula for success in the NBA. Get superstars on a team, surround them with quality role players, and you’re bound to succeed.
Take a look at the seven teams that most would consider are in the running to play for an NBA championship: the Spurs, Thunder, Lakers, Clippers, Heat, Bulls, and Celtics. Every single one of them has bona fide superstars, guys that can take over a game at a moment’s notice, guys that can carry them to the Finals. Look even closer and at least five (I say “at least” because it depends on how you judge the Spurs) of those seven have two superstars.
Now, take the Chicago Bulls into consideration. They have one superstar (Derrick Rose) and have surrounded him by the highest-quality role players. Guys like Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton, and Carlos Boozer are very good players, but they certainly are not superstars. However, this chose team to go against the grain. They chose to build around their one superstar with very good players, play team basketball, get everyone involved, and play nasty defense. It is a formula that is rare in the current NBA, but a noble thought nonetheless.
Sad news is this: it doesn’t work.
The Bulls, now without Rose, are all but taken out of the conversation. They have no shot at winning a title this year. In the blink of an eye, they went from title contenders to a team that many doubt can advance past the second round.
Derrick Rose was the motor that kept this team going. He was the guy that could neutralize any advantage any opposing team had over these Bulls because, simply put, there is no one in the league like him. He is a point guard who creates matchup problems no matter who you put on him. He is always looking for his own shot, but this benefits his teammates as much as a pass-first point guard because the attention he receives from opposing defenses creates quality shots when he does give it up. He was the guy who the Bulls could give the ball to in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Now all of that is gone and there is no one to replace him.
So now, the Bulls are left to pick up the pieces to try to contend without their leader. And you know what? They have a fantastic roster and coach and are sure to give teams headaches. They will still beat the 76ers in the first round, might even beat the Celtics or Hawks in the second, but they sure as hell are not beating the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. When Rose went down, any chance this team had of competing with the Heat, and for a title, was thrown out the window.
Therein lies the problem: Rose was far too important to this team’s success for them to have much of a chance. This year he goes down to an ACL tear and the season is over. Last year, the Heat threw so a wide variety of defensive combinations at him, stunting his game, and none of his teammates could effectively step up. Who knows what’s to come if the Bulls keep on this same course?
That is why the Bulls need to make a move this offseason. They need to lessen Rose’s burden and get someone on their team who can take the pressure off of him.
Just look at the Heat this season. In LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they have two of the ten best players in the league. But they aren’t too reliant on either one; you need not look further than Miami’s 14-1 record when Wade was out of the lineup and James was in as proof. Sure, James is the best player on the planet and he’s not going anywhere, but a team like the Heat can stay afloat without their best player.
Surely, you can cite the Bulls’ 17-8 record without Rose as proof that they can do the same, but not a single sane person reading this is going to argue that the Bulls can still win the title. Not the same for the Heat; if Wade were out for the rest of the playoffs there is no doubt in my mind that the Heat could still contend for a title.
So what are the Bulls to do? It is clear to me that they need an additional superstar that will complement Rose as well as the team itself. A player that will not demand an inordinate amount of shots, but can still take opposing teams’ attention away from Rose. A player that will buy into the defensive intensity that this team prides itself on. A player that can step up when Rose is down or out. A player that has seen his team go through a similar process (although to a lesser extent).
Yes, that is right, the player the Bulls need is none other than Dwight Howard.
The Bulls were rumored to have had internal discussions about dealing for Howard at the trade deadline, but did not pull the trigger for many reasons, including Howard not guaranteeing he would sign an extension. But this injury to Rose absolutely has to change management’s thinking.
Howard could come in, be a secondary scoring option to Rose, and anchor their defense. It would give the Bulls one of the top 3 one-two punches in the league.
After the season, once Howard once again makes it clear to Magic management that he does not intend to sign long-term, Orlando will look to trade their franchise center. The hysteria will begin all over again and the Bulls would be wise to be in the mix. A package of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and draft picks for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu would work mathematically and would certainly give the Magic a competitive offer.
Until the Bulls reassess their situation and understand that their current formula is doomed, Chicago can get used to the disappointment they have felt since they heard about Rose’s injury. But that can all change with one move: a trade for Howard.
5. Rose vs His Body
Well, this matchup has already been decided. The main concern for the Bulls during the post-season was going to be keeping their star player healthy in an effort to maintain their title hopes. Unfortunately for Chicago fans those hopes were all but dashed last night when Rose tore his ACL while driving into the lane. In spite of their recent success without Rose it is highly unlikely that the Bulls will make it far in the absence of their best player.
4. Roy Hibbert vs Glen Davis
Without Dwight Howard the Magic have a distinct size disadvantage in this series and Roy Hibbert will look to exploit that. Both Davis and Hibbert were pretty inefficient offensively last night going a combined 11 for 31, but the discrepancy becomes immediately apparent when you look further into Hibbert’s stat line. The Pacers’ big man grabbed 13 boards and swatted away 9 shots giving Indiana an inside presence that will pay off in this series, even if it did not carry them to victory in the first game.
3. Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson
If the Hawks want to make it past the surging Celtics they will need Joe Johnson keyed in on both sides of the court. Johnson finished the last 4 games of the season shooting 61.67% and averaging 23.8 points, numbers he will need to continue to put up against the 2nd best defensive team in the league. His task on defense is to impede Paul Pierce, a man who has averaged 21.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 110 career playoff games, not to mention one of the most clutch shooters in the league as evidenced here. Good luck to the both of them
2. Luol Deng vs Andre Iguodala
Both Deng and Iguodala are underrated players who excel on the defensive end and contribute in multiple ways offensively. Iguodala has taken a dip in scoring in favor of a more team-oriented style of play for the Sixers but continues to spread the ball around (5.5 assists per game) crash the boards (6.1 rebounds per game) and pick pockets (1.7 steals per game). Deng, on the other hand, now becomes the Bulls most important offensive player with Rose out for the rest of the playoffs. With Rose attracting most of the defense’s attention Deng contributed 17 points on 8-14 shooting last night, but the game will be completely different with Iguodala focusing all of his efforts on Deng.
1. LeBron James vs Carmelo Anthony
After Game 1 it’s already advantage LeBron. Last night was a perfect example of a worst-case scenario for this matchup. Carmelo couldn’t get his shot going (3-15 from the field) and LeBron was aggressive on offense going 10-14 from the field and 11-14 from the line. Carmelo is going to need to continue shooting an exorbitant amount if the Knicks are going to have a chance against the championship hopeful Heat. He’s already shown he can be an efficient scorer (29.1 points per game over 16 games since 3/26) but LeBron’s DPOY candidacy can and will effectively stop both him and the Knicks.