Sports

COVID-19 is still the biggest X-factor of the NBA playoffs


Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr
Photo: Getty Images

The fat lady may be singing, but the coronavirus and all of its variants are still dancing like the party just started.

From The Bubble to these current playoffs, no other sports league has been linked with COVID-19 like the NBA has since March of 2020. And if anyone thought otherwise, they were reminded on Monday night, when Golden State head coach Steve Kerr missed Game 4 of the Warriors second-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies due to entering health and safety protocols.

The one coach in the league who’s most often seen wearing a mask on the sidelines and during press conferences had to watch the game from his couch like the rest of us, as it was a reminder that, despite what it looks like, we’re still in a global pandemic that’s taken the lives of over 6.2 million people.

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“I actually just messaged with him, want to send him my best,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of Kerr before Monday’s night game that Ja Morant also missed, but due to a knee injury. “Hope he gets healthy very soon. Rest up. It’s the way of the world right now; COVID is still rampant throughout, so I just want to make sure he is doing well. I know it is terrible timing and stuff, but hopefully his spirits are still up there.”

Back in December — when it seemed like every team in the league was signing players off the street to fill their rosters due to the high number of players that were entering health and safety protocols — the NBA updated its protocols so that players could return to the lineup sooner. But, as things are opening up more than ever as mandates and protocols are falling by the wayside across the sports and working worlds, it doesn’t mean that we’re in the clear.

Last month, Paul George missed the Clippers play-in game against the New Orleans Pelicans due to entering health and safety protocols. The Clippers lost by 4. The same thing happened to Zach Lavine when he had to miss Game 5 of the Bulls first-round series against the Bucks, which wound up being their season finale. Miami’s Bam Adebayo was even in quarantine before the Heat started their series against the Hawks. And Sixers guard Matisse Thybulle missed all of Philadelphia’s games in Toronto in the first round due to him being ineligible in Canada since he isn’t fully vaccinated.

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“Like I said before, losing the rhythm of the Toronto series was a huge blow to my confidence and just everything on the court,” Thybulle told the Sixers Wire. “Now, with each game, feeling more and more comfortable and like myself. Missing games in the playoffs is much harder than missing games in the regular season. I had no concept of what that would be like, especially missing games and then going from the starting lineup to coming off the bench. So yeah, it was massive. I definitely didn’t think it was gonna affect me as much as it did, but it definitely had an impact.”

As much as injuries have played a huge part in every matchup this postseason, the threat of COVID-19 leading to a coach or key player missing a game is something that could change the outcome of the playoffs. And according to a report from Rolling Stone last fall, it almost changed the NBA Finals.

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Check out this excerpt from their story titled, “Revealed: The Secret Covid Outbreak That Shot Fear Through the NBA Finals.”

“We were very concerned that Giannis wasn’t vaccinated and that, with all of this exposure from all these different people,” the franchise cornerstone — a one-man band and the new face of the NBA — might get infected, or at least contact-traced by the NBA and forced to quarantine, potentially altering the course of sports history. “It hit everybody pretty quickly, but the biggest thing was: Just make sure Giannis tests negative.”

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In a wide-open postseason where health was always going to determine who advances to the Finals, this year’s winner might wind up being the team that avoids the training room as much as they do health and safety protocols.

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