Top 10 Playoff Injuries
10. Magglio Ordone
The Tigers’ Magglio Ordonez battled through a rough 2011 after recovering from ankle surgery. He was hitting just .217 entering the All-Star break but rebounded to finish the season with a respectable .255 batting average. He continued that late-season surge against the Yankees in the ALDS, going 5-for-11 as the Tigers advanced in four games. But in Game 1 in the ALCS against the Rangers, Ordonez re-fractured his ankle.
The Tigers had to replace him with Delmon Young, who had been off the active roster because he was ailing from a strained oblique. Young went hitless in three of the four games in the ALCS as the Rangers made quick work of the injury-ravaged Tigers.
9. Joe Johnson
The 2004-05 Phoenix Suns were the most exciting team in the NBA, and during the regular season they were the best team as well, going 62-20. Joe Johnson may have been only the fourth star for the Suns, behind Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion, but his incredible 47.8-percent sharpshooting from beyond the arc allowed Mike D’Antoni’s offense to run to perfection.
In Game 2 of the second-round series against the Mavericks, Johnson went up for a dunk but came down with a fractured orbital bone just above his left eye. The Suns were able to close out the Mavs in six games without Johnson, but things would be more difficult against the physical, defensive-minded Spurs in the conference championship series.
Johnson missed the first two games of the Spurs series and San Antonio stole both games in Phoenix, giving it a tremendous advantage. Johnson returned for Game 3 of the series with a face mask, but it appeared to be too little too late for the Suns. Phoenix lost the series in five games, only winning a Game 4 in which Johnson contributed 26 points. With a healthy Johnson perhaps Phoenix could have held home court, but we’d never get a chance to find out as he left for Atlanta via free agency that offseason.
8. Dominik Hasek
If there is one thing that has been proven time and time again in the NHL playoffs it’s that a hot goalie can overcome nearly all other issues. During the 1996-97 season, Dominik Hasek was that hot goalie. He led the league in save percentage at .930 as the Sabres finished first in the Northeast Division. He won both the Vezina and the Hart trophies but didn’t have a chance to win the Conn Smythe Trophy because of an apparent injury during the first round of the playoffs.
In Game 3 against the Senators, Hasek pulled himself out of the game with a mild sprain of his right MCL. Many feel Hasek exaggerated the injury due to problems he had with head coach Ted Nolan. Either way, Hasek did not return in the postseason and the Sabres fell to the Flyers with backup goalie Steve Shields yielding 3.6 goals per game.
7. James Worthy
It was an embarrassment of riches. Fresh off winning the 1982 NBA championship, the Lakers had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft thanks to a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers two years earlier. With the top selection the Lakers picked James Worthy, himself also just having won the NCAA championship at North Carolina.
After adding Worthy to an already loaded roster, L.A. was on a quest to become the first team since the 1968-69 Celtics to repeat as NBA champions. The Lakers breezed through the western conference, earning the top seed by a comfortable five-game margin. Worthy was an unanimous NBA All-Rookie Team selection after averaging 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and a Lakers rookie record of .579 field goal percentage. With his signature one-handed dunks to finish off the fabled Lakers fastbreaks, it was the dawn of the Showtime era in L.A.
But Worthy fractured his left leg during the final two weeks of the season and had to sit out all of the playoffs. The Lakers were still good enough to defeat Portland in the conference semifinals but had a tough time against the Spurs in the conference finals, winning it in six games. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers, who had fallen victim to the Lakers twice in the past three NBA Finals, were on a mission after the acquisition of Moses Malone, who’d become the 1983 season’s MVP.
Without Worthy, the Lakers were no match for the Sixers in the NBA Finals rematch. With Malone dominating in the middle, Julius Erving finally had the help that he needed to earn a coveted championship. Michael Cooper alone could not check Dr. J., who had a fabulous series. And offensively L.A. missed a key ingredient in its uptempo running game. The Sixers swept the Lakers in four games to take the only NBA title not won by either the Lakers or the Celtics in a nine-year span.
6. Kendall Marshall
Coming into its second 2011 NCAA Tournament game against Creighton, the North Carolina Tar Heels thought their wrist problems had just ended – but little did they know they were just beginning. Starting center and ACC defensive player of the year John Henson was returning to the lineup after spraining his wrist in the ACC tournament, and a healthy UNC team was the one team that people thought could challenge Kentucky for the title. But during the Creighton game Carolina got a new wrist to worry about and this one was even more damaging than Henson’s.
With just under 11 minutes to go, UNC’s most indispensable player, point guard Kendall Marshall, crashed to the floor. Although he would continue to play during the game, it was soon learned that the NCAA assists leader had fractured his right wrist. Marshall was not only the straw that stirred the drink for the Tar Heels, but with guard Dexter Strickland having torn his ACL in January he had no backup.
North Carolina was forced to turn to little-used Stilman White and Justin Watts. They survived a sloppy game against Ohio to advance to the Elite Eight, but could not overcome the loss of Marshall against a strong Kansas squad. Late defensive adjustments by the Jayhawks stifled the Tar Heels. Without Marshall to steer the ship, UNC played the last 5:46 without a scoring a field goal, ultimately falling 80-67 as Kansas moved on to the Final Four.
5. David Krejci
After a first-round victory over the Sabres in the 2010 playoffs, the Bruins looked to be in control against the Flyers in the next round. They took a 2-0 series lead into Philadelphia, but early in the third game the Bruins’ second-leading scorer David Krejci was leveled by Flyers captain Mike Richards and dislocated his wrist. Boston went on to win 4-1 and take what seemed like an insurmountable 3-0 series lead, but Krejci was lost for the playoffs.
Without Krejci the Bruins suffered one of the biggest collapses in NHL history. The Bruins lost a fierce Game 4 battle 5-4 in overtime and lost all their momentum and control with that game. The Flyers won four straight and became only the fourth team to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The next season, with a healthy Krejci the Bruins got their revenge when they swept the Flyers in the second round. The Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup with none other than Krejci as their leading playoff scorer as he tallied 12 goals and 11 assists. Perhaps had he not gone down the previous year the Bruins would have been playing for back-to-back Cups.
4. Carson Palmer
It’s quite possible a team has never gone through as quick of a roller coaster of emotions as the Cincinnati Bengals did on Jan. 8, 2006. Playing in their first playoff game in 15 years, Bengals franchise quarterback Carson Palmer threw a beautiful 66-yard strike to Chris Henry on the first pass of the game against divisional rival Steelers. Finally things were going to be different in Cincinnati.
After years of futility the Bengals were a force to be reckoned with in the postseason, but after Palmer released the pass Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen rolled up Palmer’s leg. The result: a torn ACL and MCL. Palmer was out of the game facing a lengthy rehab and the Bengals playoff hopes were instantly extinguished.
Cincinnati actually managed to get out to a 17-7 lead behind backup QB John Kitna, but it was clear the team had lost its edge and then the wheels fell off. The Steelers took control of the game on their way to a 31-17 victory en route to a Super Bowl XL Championship.
3. Dirk Nowitzki
By winning the NBA championship last season, Dirk Nowitzki fulfilled the one thing missing from his Hall of Fame resume. Had it not been for an unfortunate collision years earlier, he might have already accomplished that feat.
Nowitzki was quickly improving with every passing year in the league and so were the Mavericks. The franchise went from 19 wins in his first season with the team to a franchise-high 60 wins in his fifth season in 2003. The record earned the Mavs the 3 seed in the Western Conference and Nowitzki wasted no time showing he was ready for the playoffs. In Game 1 of the opening round against the Blazers he erupted for a career-high 46 points. Then, in the next round he went for 30 points and 19 rebounds in a Game 7 win over the Kings.
The Mavs then faced the top-seeded Spurs in the conference finals. Once again, Dirk was hot out of the gate and went off for 38 points and 19 rebounds as the Mavs stole Game 1 in San Antonio. But toward the end of Game 3, Nowitzki sprained his knee going up for a rebound against Manu Ginobili and was lost for the rest of the series.
The Mavericks forced the series to six games but without their top scorer they just couldn’t compete. The Spurs would go on to dispatch the Nets in the NBA Finals in six games.
2. LaDainian Tomlinson
The Chargers have developed a reputation for strong regular seasons that have resulted in postseason flameouts. But in 2007, they bucked that trend and made it to the AFC Championship Game. Reaching the playoffs probably wouldn’t have even been possible without All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tomlinson led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns as the Chargers went 11-5 to finish with the third-best record in the AFC. San Diego had one of the deadliest offenses with Tomlinson accounting for nearly 40 percent of the team’s total yards from scrimmage. But that potent offense was suddenly derailed when Tomlinson bruised his left knee in the divisional playoff game against the Colts.
He tried to give it a go against the Patriots in the AFC championship game but left after just two carries. The defense did its part, holding a Patriots team that averaged just under 40 points per game to 21 points. But the Chargers offense could only muster four field goals in a 21-12 loss.
1. Magic Johnson
During the 1988-89 season, the Lakers were on a mission to become the first team since the Celtics in the mid-1960s to win three straight NBA championships. But the task wouldn’t be easy. L.A.’s roster was aging – with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar announcing his retirement after the season’s end at the age of 41 – and other teams in the west were finally catching up after the Lakers’ decade of complete mastery.
But after eking out the Pacific Division title by only two games over the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers were surprisingly dominant. They swept Portland, Seattle and then the upstart Suns in the conference finals, going an unprecedented 11-0 to reach their third straight NBA Finals.
Disaster, however, struck before they even played their first game in the Palace of Auburn Hills in a Finals rematch against the Detroit Pistons. Byron Scott severely pulled his hamstring during practice before Game 1 and would be out of the Finals. The short-handed Lakers lost their first playoff game in the series opener, but seemed to have regained their footing in Game 2, taking a double-digit lead late in the third quarter.
This was when the curtains fell on the Lakers dynasty and their Three-peat dreams. Magic Johnson, the reigning league MVP, also pulled his hamstring in the closing minutes of the period and had to leave the game. The Pistons came back to take Game 2 and never looked back. With Scott shelved and Johnson playing just five minutes in Game 3 and not at all after that, the Lakers’ backcourt largely consisted of Tony Campbell and David Rivers, in addition to an overworked Michael Cooper. They were no match for the Pistons’ dynamic backcourt trio of Isiah Thomas, Vinnie Johnson and Finals MVP Joe Dumars, who collectively averaged an astounding 66 points per game during the four-game sweep.