The NBA playoffs are supposed to be the biggest and brightest stage on which the world’s best basketball players can perform. It is where stars are born, legacies are made or broken, and champions are crowned.
The playoffs are what everyone waits for over the course of the six-month 82-game regular season — it was 72 games in five months this year — but the 2020-21 NBA playoffs have been marred, even wrecked by injuries.
These aren’t injuries to role players, even though those have happened. No, these are injuries to the game’s biggest and brightest stars. After the news that LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard will miss Game 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Utah Jazz with a knee injury — reports indicate that he injured his ACL — eight of the 20 All-Stars whose teams made the postseason will miss at least one game due to injury (a ninth All-Star, Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul, is expected to miss games due to COVID-19 protocols).
Per Elias Sports, that is a new NBA record. Never before have this many stars been undone by injuries.
The rash of injuries have caught players’ notice, with Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James noting on Twitter, “They all didn’t wanna listen to me about the start of the season. I knew exactly what would happen. I only wanted to protect the well being of the players which ultimately is the PRODUCT & BENEFIT of OUR GAME! These injuries isn’t just “PART OF THE GAME.” It’s the lack of PURE RIM REST before starting back up. 8, possibly 9 ALL-STARS has missed Playoff games (most in league history). This is the best time of the year for our league and fans but missing a ton of our fav players. It’s insane.”
Here is every All-Star who has missed time this postseason.
Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
The First-Team All-NBA forward injured his knee in the fourth quarter of Game 4 in the Western Conference semifinals against the Jazz. Leonard was bumped by Utah’s Joe Ingles on a fast break and was immediately hobbled. He attempted to continue to play but was subbed out after 50 seconds and sat the remaining 4:35 of the game. Leonard has had a history of injury issues, going back to his time with the San Antonio Spurs, but has largely been healthy the last couple of seasons due to load management.
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
An All-NBA player in previous seasons, Davis suffered multiple injuries in the Lakers’ first round series against the Suns. In Game 3, he hyperextended his knee, after going up for a layup. He played through that injury, only to strain his left groin in the second quarter of Game 4. Davis attempted to play through that injury as well, after missing Game 5, but he exited Game 6 after playing a total of five minutes. Davis has a history of injuries throughout his career and missed much of the regular season — he played only 36 of the 72 games — with a calf/Achilles injury.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
The Second-Team All-NBA center injured his knee in Game 4 of Philadelphia’s first-round series against the Washington Wizards. It was initially thought to be knee soreness, but it was later determined that Embiid sustained a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. He has since played through the injury, helping the 76ers eliminate the Wizards and then win two of four games played against the Atlanta Hawks. Embiid is nowhere close to being 100% healthy, however, and has a precarious injury history going back to his time at the University of Kansas.
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
The Celtics forward was in the midst of a career season prior to tearing the scapholunate ligament in his left wrist in early May. He last played in a game on May 2 and had season-ending surgery on May 13. Without Brown, the Celtics stumbled to No. 7 in the Eastern Conference and then were defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Brooklyn Nets. Brown had been extremely durable in his career and was a breakout star for Boston, averaging a career-high 24.7 points on 48.4% shooting during the regular season.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
A two-time All-Star, Mitchell suffered an ankle sprain in a regular-season contest against the Indiana Pacers. He went on to miss the remainder of the regular season — 16 games in total — and then sat out Game 1 of the Jazz’s first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies. After a historic first six games in the postseason, Mitchell aggravated his ankle in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the LA Clippers. He played in Game 4, despite the injury, and is expected to continue to be available for the Jazz.
Mike Conley, Utah Jazz
A first-time All-Star this season, Conley suffered a right hamstring strain during the Jazz’s first round series against the Grizzlies. He hasn’t played since Game 5 of that series, and has now missed the first five games of the second-round matchup with the Clippers (he’s already ruled out for Game 5 Wednesday night). Conley has struggled with hamstring issues since last season and during the regular season he missed six games in February and nine games in late April and May because of tightness in his hamstring.
James Harden, Brooklyn Nets
Historically one of the most durable stars in the NBA, Harden has had his fair share of injuries this season with the Brooklyn Nets. The most recent happened 43 seconds into the second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. While driving for a layup, Harden strained his right hamstring and went on to miss the following three games. He made his series debut in Game 5 on Tuesday and played 46 minutes, but was largely ineffective, making only 1 of 10 shot attempts and finishing with just five points.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Another historically injury-prone star, Irving sprained his right ankle during the second quarter of the Nets’ Game 4 loss to Milwaukee. Irving attempted to land after a shot attempt and came down on Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot. There is currently no timetable for Irving’s return, with Brooklyn coach Steve Nash saying, he has “no idea” if the guard will be able to play again in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Without Irving, the Nets have gone 1-1 against the Bucks.