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In Street Clothes

Covering sports injuries from the perspective of a certified athletic trainer and backed by analytics.

Understanding the Warriors’ Mounting Injuries

If the Golden State Warriors are going to claim their fourth NBA title of the past five seasons they are going to have to do so despite multiple injuries to key contributors.

Forward Kevin Durant has yet to appear in the Finals after straining his calf in Game 5 of the team’s Round 2 matchup with the Houston Rockets. Originally described as a mild strain, head coach Steve Kerr later admitted the injury was “a little more serious than we thought.” Now, nearly four weeks since the injury occurred, Durant still has yet to practice with the team and remains questionable for a decisive Game 3 of the Finals.

The calf is not an isolated muscle but a dynamic muscle complex that includes the gastrocnemius and soleus. These conjoined muscles help point the toes in a direction known as plantar flexion while also helping bend the knee. The calf also plays an integral role in acceleration and other explosive movements. As a result, strains to the area can be very limiting for a basketball player. Furthermore, playing through a strained calf can increase the chances of a secondary injury occurring somewhere else along on the kinetic chain. The hamstring muscle group is particularly susceptible to injury when the calf is limited due to their synergistic relationship.

Durant has an outside shot of playing Wednesday though the team remains tight-lipped on his status. While Golden State has managed to win six of the seven games Durant has missed, getting the two-time Finals MVP back in the lineup is even more crucial with other injuries mounting.

All-Star guard Klay Thompson is nursing a strain of his own after injuring his hamstring in Game 2’s win over the Raptors. Like the calf, the hamstring is actually a group of muscles that influences movement at the knee and hip. The hamstring muscles must be able to withstand high amounts of force due to their role in explosive movements like running and jumping. For this reason even a mild strain can prove functionally limiting. He is currently listed as questionable though Thompson has expressed optimism that he will be able to suit up after a few days of rest.

If Thompson is able to play he would be bucking a regular season trend. Excluding strains that were graded 2 or higher, 80 percent of in-season hamstring-related injuries that occurred this year resulted in missed time. While the variables of the Finals, including time between games, does change things a bit, it is exceedingly unlikely Thompson will be at full strength for Game 3 and the risk of a re-injury or aggravation will loom.

While the statuses of Durant and Thompson remain in limbo, the team definitively knows Kevon Looney will not be available after he suffered a unique injury in Game 2. Varying reports surfaced following his fall with some labeling it as a collarbone injury, while others described it as chest issue. Testing performed Monday revealed Looney suffered a non-displaced first costal cartilage fracture that will sideline him indefinitely.

The rib cage is made up of 24 ribs (12 on each side), the sternum, the thoracic vertebrae of the spine, and a specialized type of connective tissue known as costal cartilage. The costal cartilages of ribs 1 through 7 attach directly to the sternum. The costal cartilage of the first rib also attaches to the clavicle (collarbone) where it meets the sternum, forming the sternoclavicular (SC) joint. This is the site of Looney’s injury, making the contrasting reports regarding the site of injury a bit easier to understand.

Costal cartilage fracture are common in the NFL but relatively uncommon in the NBA though players like Steve Blake and Deron Williams have suffered similar injuries in recent seasons. The injury likely ends Looney’s season though it should not impact his impending free agency. 

Golden State’s highly respected medical staff will spend the next few days treating their injured players in anticipation for Game 3. However, the impact of these injuries will linger for the remainder of the series and test the depth of the reigning champions.