David Chao, MD: Two NBA Finals Stars Go In Opposite Health Direction

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The Phoenix Suns were heavy favorites to win the NBA Championship but now find themselves as underdogs, down 3-2 and facing elimination by the now heavily-favored Milwaukee Bucks. So what happened? How did the script flip?

The answer could lie in the health of each team’s star player. The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo has recovered from his left knee hyperextension injury to play earlier than expected, while the Suns’ Chris Paul appears to be slowed by a hamstring issue.

Paul has been dogged by hamstring issues in the past, including during the 2019 season and the playoffs of both 2015 and 2018. He started wearing a sleeve on the left thigh in the last game of the Western Conference victory over the Clippers. That has continued this series. He has been seen grabbing at the left hamstring, particularly in Game 4, and has had uncharacteristic play and turnovers during this series. Hopefully, he can rebound for the final game or two of the Finals as he did not use the sleeve in Game 5.

On the other hand, Giannis has defied the odds playing very well with a quick return from what looked to be a tough knee injury. We were correct in saying he did not tear his ACL though his Eastern Conference Finals were done, but he has returned faster than we expected and has played very well. The reason is that this was not his first time “hyperextending” his knee. He twice had what was described as a knee “capsular sprain,” which looks similar to the recent injury by video and mechanism. Because it was not a first time injury, nothing new was torn, thus the quicker than expected recovery. Steph Curry also has chronic ankle sprain issues, but even with gruesome video of an ankle “turn,” the injury isn’t really new so he typically returns quickly.

The divergent health fortunes of each team star seems to be driving the series. Can Paul get back to regular form to force a Game 7? I think most basketball fans want to see two full strength teams battle it out in a Game 7 to win it all.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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