The NBA playoffs are still at the mercy of COVID-19


Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr
photo: Getty Images

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

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

The only coach in the league most often spotted wearing a mask on the sidelines and at press conferences had to watch the game from his couch like the rest of us, as it reminded us that despite everything, we still are in a global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 6.2 million people.

“Actually, I just texted him, I want to send him my best.” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of Kerr ahead of Monday night’s game, which Ja Morant also missed but due to a knee injury. “Hopefully he will recover soon. Rest. It’s the way of the world at the moment; COVID is still rampant so I just want to make sure he’s okay. I know it’s terrible timing and all, but hopefully his spirits are still up there.

Back in December – when it looked like every team in the league was signing players off the street to fill out their rosters as many players entered health and safety protocols – the The NBA updated their protocols to allow players to return to the lineup sooner. But as things open up more than ever, as mandates and protocols fall by the wayside in the worlds of sport and work, that doesn’t mean 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 with Zach Lavine when he missed Game 5 of the Bulls first-round series against the Bucks, which ended up being their season finale. Miami’s Bam Adebayo was even in quarantine before the Heat started their streak against the Hawks. And Sixers guard Matisse Thybulle missed all of Philadelphia’s Toronto games in the first round because he is ineligible to play in Canada as he is not fully vaccinated.

“Like I said, losing the rhythm of the Toronto series was a huge blow to my confidence and just about everything on the court.” Thybulle told the Sixers Wire. “Now I feel more comfortable and like myself with every game. Missing games in the playoffs is a lot harder than missing games in the regular season. I had no idea what it would be like, mostly missing games and then going from the starting XI to the bench. So yes, it was massive. I definitely didn’t think it would affect me that much, but it definitely had an impact.

As much as injuries have played a big part in every matchup this postseason, the threat of COVID-19, which could cause a coach or key player to miss a game, could change the outcome of the playoffs. And according to a report by Rolling Stone It almost changed the NBA Finals last fall.

Check out this excerpt from her story titled “Revealed: The secretive Covid outbreak that shot fear through the NBA Finals.”

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

In a wide-open postseason where health would always dictate who advances to the finals, this year’s winner could be the team that shuns the training room as much as they do health and safety protocols.

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