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On Basketball: Injuries taketh away, and injuries giveth

By TIM REYNOLDS

AP Basketball Writer

The NBA playoffs never go according to plan. The Golden State Warriors are proof of that.

Again.

They have been the league's best team over the last four seasons, without question. But even the great teams need injury luck on their side, as has been evident in each of their playoff runs over that span.

Enter Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala this year.

In 2015, Golden State didn't have to face injured Cleveland stars Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love in the NBA Finals and won the title.

A year later, the Warriors blew a 3-1 finals lead against the Cavs because the series turned in Game 5 - not because Draymond Green was suspended (the often-offered and incorrect narrative), but because Andrew Bogut got clumsily taken out by J.R. Smith and the Warriors had no one left to defend the rim from LeBron James' constant onslaughts.

Last year, Kawhi Leonard came down on Zaza Pachulia's foot in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, San Antonio's big lead was gone in an instant and the Warriors steamrolled the rest of the way to another title.

Injuries taketh away. Injuries giveth.

The reigning NBA champions are on the brink of elimination, down 3-2 in the West finals in large part because Iguodala's knee has prevented him from playing in the last two games - both of them close losses to the Houston Rockets, outcomes that may have been different if he was on the floor.

But now those Rockets have lost Paul to a hamstring strain. Officially, Paul is out for Game 6 against the Warriors on Saturday. Realistically, the perennial All-Star is probably out for a lot longer.

Series lead, Houston.

Advantage, it sure seems like Golden State.

"Injuries happen," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday. "And you've just got to play with whoever's out there."

It's amazing to consider that the Warriors have four All-Stars - Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Green - and yet they're one loss from summer right now because a 34-year-old Iguodala hasn't been on the floor. Make no mistake, his absence has crushed the Warriors and especially so in late-game situations.

Golden State was awful offensively in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and lost. The Warriors then got ripped for Quinn Cook taking a wide-open 3-pointer and missing with about a minute left in the Game 5 loss at Houston. Green's many social-media critics reveled in how he dropped a pass and booted the ball off his leg in the final seconds for a turnover that cost Golden State a chance to tie or win the game.

If Iguodala was there, he'd have been involved in those plays.

"He's one of our keys, and we've missed him the last two games," Kerr said.

Iguodala might be able to get through it and play on Saturday night. Paul won't; in fact, it seems logical to fear that his season may be over regardless of how far the Rockets go.

Hamstrings don't heal in a day or two. Playing through an ankle sprain or broken finger, that's noble at this time of year. Hamstrings don't allow for such displays of toughness. Running, jumping, cutting, they're simply not possible. Paul could barely stand after getting hurt Thursday. Anyone envision him running by Monday?

Probably not.

This has been the NBA season of injuries. Gordon Hayward's season was over after five minutes on opening night and the Boston Celtics had to reinvent themselves. The Celtics had to do so again when they lost Irving to knee surgery late in the regular season. It took time; the Celtics nearly were knocked out in the first round before finding their stride again.

The Warriors, they're running out of time. The Rockets, they don't have time to waste either. Without Paul this season, they're an exceptional 61-12. Without him, they're 15-9 - still good, but hardly great.

Even with a 3-2 lead, the Rockets probably need one more great game to end Golden State's reign.

"We've been here before," Kerr said.

The Warriors aren't acting like worriers. They've learned how to roll with the punches at playoff time, no matter how much they hurt.

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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

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More AP basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Updated May 25, 2018

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