Injuries in teams sports are like pages ripped from a book you haven’t yet finished. The more significant the player, the more pages are shredded. The later in the season a player goes down, the closer to the book’s end you discover the missing pages. It’s maddening, disappointing, vexing . . . as many negative descriptors as you choose. Bottom line: When players are sidelined by injury, the story we read — the one that enters the history books — is altered permanently.
Maybe the Memphis Grizzlies, Cleveland Cavaliers, or St. Louis Cardinals (or a combination involving one of the NBA teams) wins a championship in 2015. More than likely, though, these three teams will fall short of the goal every pro team lists above all others. Fan bases for each franchise will find significant pages missing from this year’s metaphorical book.
The Grizzlies seemed to be peaking at precisely the right time after a lackluster conclusion to their regular season. On their way to a 3-0 lead against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Griz had the 67-win Golden State Warriors in their sights for a second-round battle that would test the entire concept of “grit and grind” basketball. Then C.J. McCollum’s elbow met Mike Conley’s face. The Memphis point guard left Game 3 in the third quarter and underwent surgery to repair facial fractures last Monday.
The Griz finished off the Blazers in five games to land that slot opposite Golden State in the bracket. With Conley in street clothes (swelling still visible on his face), Memphis traveled to Oakland and took a beating in Game 1 of it series with the Warriors Sunday afternoon. It’s hard to imagine one player — not named Jordan or Bird — erasing the Grizzlies’ 15-point margin of defeat, but the story would have read differently. It would have been the story as intended.
The Grizzlies aren’t alone. With Kevin Love sidelined by a shoulder injury, the Cleveland Cavaliers will find what amounts to a chapter missing from their 2014-15 book. And turning to baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals will tear out every fifth page this season with ace Adam Wainwright shelved by a torn Achilles’ tendon. Maybe LeBron James is enough for the Cavs to reach the NBA Finals anyway. And the Cardinals have a precedent for winning the World Series without Wainwright (2011). Missing pages don’t necessarily mean a book ends sadly.
Here’s hoping Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger concocts a scheme to steal a win when Game 2 is played Tuesday night. (Anyone seen Jordan Adams recently?) His team’s fate rests on how those missing pages are replaced.
• In evaluating the eight remaining teams in the NBA playoffs, remember the Superstar Rule. Since 1980, every champion except the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons has featured a player with multiple first-team All-NBA selections on his resume. Only three teams vying for this year’s title qualify: the Cavaliers (James), the Clippers (Chris Paul), and the Rockets (Dwight Howard). The Warriors’ Steph Curry has multiple first-team selections in his future, but this year’s will be his first.
• With San Antonio and Dallas eliminated, the Western Conference will be represented in the Finals by a team that hasn’t been that far in at least 20 years, if ever. (Houston won the 1995 title.) This is healthy for a sport dominated in June by a precious few brands.