The playoffs. If democracy, fast food, and the internet weren’t so prevalent in our lives, we at TheSportster would consider the playoffs one of the greatest inventions known to mankind. The drama that builds throughout the season explodes when the playoffs arrive. You’re favorite team is in the playoffs and, as a fan, you’re just pumped to see some epic games.
Our emotions are ripped apart and put together like the materials used for a first grader’s arts and crafts project. It’s a roller coaster of sentiment, like happiness, rage, depression, and enjoyment. When a player comes back from an injury and performs at a high level in the playoffs, it makes your day even better. We wonder how many babies have been conceived because a player went berserk to win the game or put in a gutsy performance to inspire their team to win.
This list is about those players. They could have been injured in the regular season or the playoffs, but as long as they came back, they qualify. The same goes for any players who were injured in the same game and missed some time or was diagnosed with an injury before the contest started.
He broke his kneecap during the 1976 Olympics. He then went on to compete in the rings with the injury and ended up dislocating it when he landed, however, he still helped Japan earn a gold medal. The other is Bert Trautmann, a goalie for Manchester City, who helped win the 1956 FA Cup with a broken neck.
Here are the top 15 performances of an athlete coming back from an injury in the playoffs.
15. Willis Reed – 1970 NBA Finals Game 7
If you look at the box score of Game 7 of the NBA Finals, you may ask yourself why Reed is on this list? After tearing a muscle in his right thigh in Game 5 of the Finals, Reed would miss Game 6, but to everyone’s surprise (including the L.A. Lakers), he would limp onto the court for Game 7. Reed did only hit two baskets, but those two baskets were the Knicks first two of the game. The performance may not be that impressive in the stat sheets, but his grit inspired the New York Knickerbockers to win the Finals.
14. Steve Yzerman – 2002 NHL Conference Quarter-Finals Game 1
One of the greatest to put on a Detroit Red Wings jersey, Steve Yzerman courageously led his team to a Stanley Cup after re-injuring his knee in the 2001-02 season. He would miss 30 games leading up to the playoffs, but still managed to finish sixth in team scoring. In his first game back against the Vancouver Canucks, he would play a gruelling 21 minutes and finish with one assist. The Red Wings lost the game, but Yzerman and company managed to win the series and go on their famous run. The Hall of Famer was noticeably hurt throughout the first game and the playoffs, making him a prime candidate for the list.
13. Phillip Rivers – 2008 NFL AFC Championship
During a divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, Rivers partially tore his ACL, but the San Diego Chargers still won despite the injury. The tear was so severe, Rivers went under arthroscopic surgery the following day so he could play in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots. Leading up to the showdown, the Chargers tried to keep the injury quiet but the media and fans still questioned the health of Rivers. Former head coach of the Chargers, Norv Turner, still wasn’t sure if Rivers could play on the day of the game. Considered one of the gutsiest performances in the NFL playoffs, Rivers played on one knee, throwing for 211 yards in a losing effort.
12. Bill Walton – 1978 NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals Game 1
Bill Walton may not seem like the most dominant center ever, but if you actually watched his games against other greats, he definitely belongs in the conversations. What killed Walton’s career were constant injuries. Case in point, in the 1977-78 season, Walton only played 58 regular season games before succumbing to several injuries. He averaged 18.9 points, 13. 2 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game and it was good enough to earn the MVP award. His last game was in February before he would return in Game 1 against the Seattle SuperSonics. In a losing effort, a hobbled Walton would score 17 points.
11. Bob Baun – 1964 Stanley Cup Finals Game 6
His injury happened in the same game as his comeback, but that doesn’t exclude him from having one of the most storied performances in the history of the NHL. Toronto Maple Leafs were facing elimination when they played the Detroit Red Wings in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup. During the third period of Game 6, Baun used his ankle to block a slap shot. He immediately fell to the ice and had to be carried out on a stretcher. The game went into overtime and Baun wanted to be put back in the game, so they iced up his ankle. Baun would pull off an unbelievable goal on one foot, winning the game for his team. The public wouldn’t know Baun played on a fractured ankle until after the Leafs won the Stanley Cup.
10. John Wall – 2015 NBA Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Game 5
The floor general for the Washington Wizards had non-displaced fractures in his left wrist when he took a hard fall during the second quarter of Game 2 against the Atlanta Hawks. He would finish the game with a crazy stat line of 18 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds, and three blocks. His wrist swelled up like a balloon and he missed the next two games. Wall put on a brilliant performance when he came back for Game 5. He would score 15 points, dish seven assists, and steal the ball four times. The performance wasn’t enough to win the game, but it’s enough to say he has “true grit” and a deserving spot on the list.
9. Donovan McNabb – 2002 NFL Wild Card
Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles almost went into self-destruction mode during Week 11 of the 2002 NFL Season when their franchise quarterback, Donovan McNabb, sustained a broken ankle when he was sacked by Arizona Cardinal’s LeVar Woods and Adrian Wilson. After going into the locker room, McNabb would return to the game, scoring four touchdowns. X-rays found that he had his fibula broken in three places. He would miss the rest of the regular season, however, the Eagles made the post-season with a 12-4 record. McNabb would face the Atlanta Falcons and, even though it wasn’t a flashy game, he would post a stat line of 247 throwing yards, one touchdown, and a passer rating of 103.1, helping the Eagles secure the victory.
8. Kirk Gibson – 1988 MLB World Series Game 1
When history buffs talk about home runs in the World Series, Gibson’s two-run walk-off home run against the Oakland Athletics is at the top of the list. Gibson would be hobbled by leg injuries that he suffered in the NLCS against the New York Mets. When the Dodgers advanced to the World Series, Gibson wasn’t supposed to play. Trailing 4-3 in Game 1, Gibson would be inserted as a pinch hitter with a runner on base. He would blast the ball out of the park and win the game for his team. It would be his only plate appearance in the series, but it helped the Dodgers win a World Series.
7. Terrell Owens – Super Bowl XXXIX
Terrell Owens will always be known as a touchdown celebrating, jaw-jacking, cocky sun of a gun, but when you’re blessed with greatness on the field, you have every right to be. Owens would break his leg and tear two ligaments in his right ankle several months before Super Bowl XXXIX. His surgery required two screws in the ankle and weeks of rehab. No one thought he would make it back on the field, but he did when the Philadelphia Eagles reached the Super Bowl. They would lose to the New England Patriots, 24-21, but Owens would put on a show, catching the ball nine times for 122 yards. Owens did admit he was on pain killers, but do you blame the guy? He wasn’t allowed to run outside of a pool until two weeks before the big show.
6. Peter Forsberg – 2002 NHL Conference Quarter-Finals Game 2
Peter Forsberg’s spleen exploded against the Los Angeles Kings during the 2001 NHL Playoffs. His team, the Colorado Avalanche, went on to win the Stanley Cup, but Forsberg couldn’t make it back on the ice in time. The forward then took time off for various injuries and had ankle surgery in Sept of 2001. His comeback was then stopped short when doctors decided to operate on his foot. The setback costed him the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and the rest of the 2001-02 season. After almost a year on the shelf, Forsberg suited up for Game 2 of the NHL Conference Quarter-Finals against the Kings. You would think he would be a little rusty on the ice. In an outstanding performance, he dished out three assists and one goal, helping his team win, 4-3, in O.T.
5. Michael Jordan – 1997 NBA Finals Game 5
For those complaining that the flu isn’t an injury, we would like to see you try and play a game of hoops against one of the greatest teams of the 90s (Utah Jazz) while sporting a respiratory illness. Jordan allegedly didn’t wake up until two hours before the game and it was obvious to anyone who was watching that Jordan was ill. What actually caused the sickness is debatable, maybe the combination of bad pizza and debt from gambling manifested into the flu, who knows? What we do know is Jordan went on to score 38 points, grab seven rebounds, and tally up five assists and three steals. The performance helped the Chicago Bulls win the game and go up 3-2 in the NBA Finals.
4. Mario Lemieux 1992 NHL Eastern Conference Finals Game 2
He’s one of those rare legends that comes around once every generation. If he didn’t sustain injuries so often, he can arguably be the greatest hockey player ever, even better than Wayne Gretzky. During the Division Series against the New York Rangers, Lemieux was injured when Adam Graves slashed his left hand, fracturing a bone. Lemieux’s Pittsburgh Penguins would go on to win the series and face the Boston Bruins. Lemieux would return in Game 2, putting on a memorable performance. He would score two goals and an assist, helping the Penguins defeat the Bruins, 5-2. Lemieux and the Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup in a sweeping fashion.
3. Stephen Curry – 2016 NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals Game 3
This list was inspired by Curry’s play against the Portland Trail Blazers when he returned from a injury he sustained in the first round of the playoffs. After missing several weeks, Curry would do what he usually does, break records and get buckets. He scored 17 points in overtime (new record) and 40 in total, destroying the Trail Blazers. It’s one of the greatest overtime performances ever and for Curry to do it his first game back from an injury makes it a beautiful tale for your grandchildren to hear one day. Regardless if he can’t beat the Thunder, Curry’s mythos keeps building, so sit back and enjoy.
2. Curt Schilling – 2004 MLB ALCS Game 6
You’re the best pitcher on the team (21-6 record) but a tendon becomes detached from your ankle in the post season. What do you do? Will tell you what Curt Schilling did, he sucked it up and got waxed by the New York Yankees (six runs over three innings) in Game 1 of the ALCS. You’re the team doctor for one of the most prestigious franchises in MLB and your best pitcher can’t compete at the highest level in the playoffs. What do you do?
Will tell you what Bill Morgan did, he performed an extemporaneous procedure, stitching Schilling’s tendon back in his skin the day before Game 6. While blood seeped from his sock, Schilling masterfully threw seven intense innings, only giving up one run and four hits, and forcing a Game 7. It will forever be known as “the bloody sock” and the Red Sox would go on to win the series (first team to win a series after being down 3-0) and the World Series after an 84-year drought.
1. Tiger Woods – 2008 U.S. Open
He was a wizard on the golf course during his prime and this tale only strengthens his case as the greatest golfer of his generation. A few weeks prior to the U.S. Open, Woods wanted to practice after going under the knife for arthroscopic knee surgery. He ended up causing stress fractures in his left tibia and was warned not to compete in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
On top of his fractures in his tibia, he also suffered from residual cartilage issues and an anterior cruciate ligament missing from his left knee. It became one of the more memorable US Opens, as an 18-hole playoff had to decide the winner for the first time since 2001. Woods would beat out Rocco Mediate, tying Jack Nicklaus with three career grand slams. The victory would also be his last major title.
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