For the majority of the NBA year, injuries are temporary roadblocks. They’re set-backs that while inconvenient or possibly crippling, are mostly considered to be minor negative obstacles. There are overreactions to a foot injury here or a knee injury there, but for the most part they are self-contained, isolated events that create a bit of turmoil for a month or two. Or seven if you’re Andrew Bynum.
Then, of course, there are injuries of the season-ending variety, that can either bring curtains (lacy, gently wafting curtains) on a team’s season as well (2010 New Orleans Hornets) or those that somehow create new hope through embracing an underdog mentality (2010 Milwaukee Bucks, 2009 Houston Rockets).
It’s worth noting that the true significance of the latter — the Bucks’ stand against the Hawks, the Rockets’ seven-game run against the soon-to-be champs in 2009 — is only really established in the postseason. The regular season may bring awards and cement each team into their role in the playoff picture, but (at the risk of sounding incredibly trite) the playoffs are where the NBA’s enduring mythology is established. Injuries, like those to Reed or Abdul-Jabbar or Jordan or Bryant, take on entirely new meaning, and act as an obvious mechanism to create myths from men.
This is where I segue to Steve Nash, who’s injury in last night’s game was of a completely different nature than your run-of-the-mill muscle strain or joint sprain. Nash had the benefit of fully-operational arms and legs, but just one eye to pick apart the Spurs’ defense. Yet he pulled it off, and his return to the game after receiving six stitches above his right eye was nothing less than an instrumental component of the Suns’ series-clinching victory.
It wasn’t the Finals nor was it a Game 7, but where does that put Nash’s return in the playoff lore? Steve’s bloodied nose in the 2007 series against San Antonio has become an enduring image (“We’ve given him a lot more stitches than that,” Gregg Popovich joked when asked about Nash’s eye injury post-game), yet it’s probably more notable for its symbolic value than any effect it had on the court. This injury, on the other hand, replaces that symbolism with irony, and the effects of having only one usable eye are pretty direct.
There are no authorities on these things, and there is no man who sits atop an ivory tower dictating which playoff performances are to be worshiped. That’s why I’ve come to you, dear readers, for some perspective: is Steve Nash’s Game 4 performance in spite of an eye injury worthy of immortalization? Is this the type of performance that we’ll all remember years and years from now? Or is it a footnote on the ever-important Suns sweep?
This could be a case where timing is everything. If Nash has his eye swollen shut in Game 1 and still guides the Suns to victory, this performance could be more than the impressive spectacle it’s being viewed as today. Instead, the fact that Steve returned to an incredibly difficult close-out game in San Antonio is somehow lost in the discussion.
With the Spurs buried under an 0-3 deficit and safely out of the series, the drama and intrigue of this game was entirely self-contained. Everything that went on within the game’s 48 minutes will stay that way, and even though Phoenix put together a fairly incredible game in most respects, the fact that they were able to take down San Antonio in four games likely diminished the perception Nash’s comeback. Steve is still getting his due today, but the questions that remain are: Will he still be tomorrow? Should he?