I hate injuries. Maybe I should re-iterate. I Hate Injuries, with capitals and a full stop. Hate ‘em. They suck for the player, for the team and for fans. They’re awful. And they ruin good things: the seven seconds or less Suns, for example, who were always one key injury away from probably winning a title.
Another example: this year’s Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks, the measure of mediocrity in the Eastern Conference for so many years, have been a blast to watch over this transformative season.
Remember that music video where Peaches and Iggy Pop hang around a bunch of zombies? It was like that: not only were they clearly better than almost anyone, there was there a palpable swagger to their wins, like when they ripped off 19 straight, blowing away Cleveland, the LA Clippers, Memphis and Oklahoma City. At one point, their record was 40-8. They knew they were good and they wanted you to, too.
This was a team that was great on both sides. They had the sixth-best offensive rating in the NBA (nearly 109 points per 100 possessions) and the sixth-best defensive rating, too (103 points allowed per 100 possessions). They could win when shots didn’t drop – they beat Orlando 87-81 in December – and they could blow team’s doors off, like when they trounced Cleveland 127-98.
All year long they were rolling. And then, right before the playoffs, it happened: injuries.
First, there was a strange altercation in New York which ended with Thabo Sefolosha’s leg breaking. At the time, the Hawks were in the middle of a win streak; they’d go into the playoffs as a number one seed, but riding a three-game losing streak. Sefolosha’s finished for the season, too, depriving the Hawks of a good defensive player and one of the their best rebounders. As I said: I Hate Injuries.
More recently came a scare in Game 1 of the Eastern finals against Cleveland, when DeMarre Carroll went down with a knee injury. Another big blow: Carroll had come into his own this postseason, averaging about 15 points and six rebounds per game.
All kinds of rumours swirled around, all with the diagnoses ranging from a strain to a blown ligament. As it turned out, Carroll was okay to play in Game 2, but he didn’t look as sharp, taking just six shots and scoring six points. Was that because Cleveland’s defense shut him down? I’ll listen to that argument, but again: injuries suck and I hate them.
Now, as the Eastern Final shifts to Cleveland, there are another two injuries to the Hawks, each of them sustained in the second half of game two.
The lesser of the two injuries came to Al Horford, who’s quietly had a pretty great season: sure, he averages just 15 points and seven assists per game, but it goes deeper than that. This season, Horford’s putting up 8.7 Win Shares and a PER of 21.4, both team highs. He’s controlling the boards, but his assist percentage is 18, meaning he’s picking up an assist on about one of every five Hawks baskets. In a league where there’s a shortage of dominant centers, Horford is a standout.
In Game 2, Horford and the Cavs’ Iman Shumpert banged into each other and Horford was helped off the court. He returned, but not for long. Still, the Hawks are a little lucky: while he’s banged up, it’s reported he’ll play in Game 3.
The bigger blow came when Kyle Korver had to leave the game after spraining his ankle after crashing into Matthew Dellavedova. This season, Korver had been dynamite: he shot nearly .500 from deep this year and averaged about 14 points per 36 minutes. He didn’t just score a bunch, but he did it efficiently; his .699 True Shooting percentage led the Hawks, too. He’s gone now, ruled out for the rest of the postseason.
Without both him and with injuries to Horford and Carroll, the Hawks are behind the eight ball. In literally a matter of days, an exciting Hawks has been diminished – and this was a team already missing one of its key cogs, too. Suddenly one of the NBA’s best offenses and one of the only teams with a real chance to topple LeBron James and the Cavaliers is looking like an also ran.
To be fair, they’re not the only team battling injuries. Cleveland, for example, is missing Kevin Love because Kelly Olynyk basically treated his arm like one of those ropes you pull to make a church bell ring.
But it still sucks. For the players (obviously!), for the Hawks, who went into this series with home-court advantage and looked like a juggernaut of a team. And for fans, who aren’t going to get the exciting series that Cleveland/Atlanta could have, should have been.
Injuries. They’re literally the worst.