Injuries are a part of sports. Unfortunately, far too often fans watch their favorite players go down. This week, some of the NBA’s brightest stars suffered injuries. Hopefully these will be short-term absences, but they could still have profound impacts on the teams and their playoff chances. I explained the injuries to Steph Curry, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in my latest newspaper column.
Within less than 36 hours, three of the NBA’s best players went down with injuries.
Monday night, in Game 4 of their first round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Clippers lost star point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin. Just a day earlier, reigning league MVP and Golden State Warriors’ star Steph Curry hurt his knee in Game 4 against the Houston Rockets. Now fans wait to see if these stars can heal in time to help their teams advance.
Injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin
Paul suffered a fracture in his right, shooting hand while guarding Trail Blazers guard Gerald Henderson in the third quarter, according to ESPN.com. Paul was clearly upset with the injury, kicking a seat as he walked to the locker room. He left the arena with a splint on his right hand.
Minutes later, Griffin aggravated his left quad and sat out the last 5:48 of the fourth quarter.
Chris Paul’s third metacarpal fracture in his hand
After the game, the team announced the former Wake Forest star broke his third metacarpal – the long bone in the middle of his hand right below the middle finger. Doctors will reevaluate Paul when the team returns to Los Angeles, but the team expects him to need surgery. If so, he would likely miss 3 to 6 weeks and the rest of the playoffs.
If the ESPN report is true that CP3 will need surgery, it suggests that he has a displaced metacarpal fracture where the bone doesn’t line up well. A hand surgeon would realign the bone and hold it with a small plate or a couple of pins or screws. Then Paul would wear a splint or brace that would protect the bone while it heals. Dribbling and shooting a basketball or guarding opponents too soon after surgery could displace the fracture.
Blake Griffin’s quad injury
In Griffin’s case, the forward appears to have re-injured the quadriceps tendon in his left knee that he injured in a Christmas game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Griffin missed 47 games for that injury and a coexisting hand fracture. This new flareup might only result in a few days on the bench. Given that it’s his second injury to that area, doctors and athletic trainers might urge caution, fearing that jumping and sprinting before the tendon has completely healed could reinjure it and cause a longer absence.
Steph Curry’s MCL injury
Perhaps the most prominent injury, though, occurred Sunday to the NBA’s best player. After returning to the lineup in Game 4 after missing Games 2 and 3 with a sprained ankle, Steph Curry slipped on a wet spot on the court. His knee collapsed inward. Curry grabbed his knee and hobbled to the locker room. He tested his knee after halftime, but he couldn’t go.
Monday the Warriors announced that an MRI showed a Grade 1 MCL injury. Curry will miss at least the next two weeks, when the medical staff will reevaluate him.
The significance of an MCL injury for a pro basketball player
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is the ligament on the side of the knee closest to the midline of the body. An athlete injures it when an impact forces the knee to buckle inward with the ankle outside relative to the knee. We see this injury frequently in football when an opponent hits a player on the outside of the knee.
MCL injuries are graded 1, 2 and 3, basically equivalent to mild, moderate and severe. Each increase in grade adds roughly two weeks to the time required for healing of the ligament. Fortunately, most MCL injuries heal without surgery.
Treatment requires the athlete to wear a brace that protects against side-to-side stress. He could possibly wear a custom-made brace to protect the MCL when he returns to play. Team doctors might consider injecting platelet-rich plasma (PRP) to help the ligament potentially heal faster, like Pittsburgh Steelers doctor James Bradley did for receiver Hines Ward’s MCL injury before Super Bowl XLIII.
The challenge in trying to return quickly is that the MCL is crucial to providing knee stability while the athlete cuts and pivots to change direction. The ligament might heal in 10 to 14 days, but the athlete can struggle to plant his foot and quickly cut past a defender. For a guard whose game is largely predicated on beating defenders off the dribble and stopping suddenly to launch 3-pointers, this injury could be a very limiting one.
Ironically these two Western Conference powerhouses and bitter rivals might meet in the playoffs early next week. Now what appeared to be the premier matchup of the NBA’s second round could feature the best players for each team sitting on the bench in street clothes.
Note: A modified version of this article appears as my sports medicine column in the April 26, 2016 issue of The Post and Courier.