After getting home from the Boston Celtics Game 5 victory over the Miami Heat, I flipped on the tube to catch the last minutes of the Cleveland Cavaliers - Chicago Bulls matchup. I watched, gleefully, as Lebron James shot free throws to clinch the win and the series. Now, I am not one of those Celtics fans who were chanting "we want Cleveland" as we filed out of the Garden Tuesday Night. So the Cavs' win is not what caused me to pump my fist, rather the apparent pain Lebron was in as he shot the second free throw with his left hand, due to a busted up right elbow, left me hopeful of playing a diminished Lebron James.
Improving the Celtics Chances
Even with a healthy Lebron James, I think the Celtics have a great shot at winning this series and moving on to the Conference Finals. But, either way the series will be tough and long, a Game 7 seems almost inevitable, especially with a healthy Lebron James. But, if his elbow continues to bother him it might have a huge impact on the series and the Cavs ability to score.
My Bouts with Tennis Elbow
Sometime during my years of playing football, my elbow got banged up, twisted around and basically abused. The calcified hematoma I developed in my right arm certainly didn't help matters. Then and now I have difficulty throwing a baseball or football for long periods of time or for long distances. Shooting a basketball isn't as bad, but if I'm shooting hoops for a couple hours that elbow will start acting up and affecting my shot.
What is Tennis Elbow?
According to Google Health, tennis elbow is:
Tennis elbow is an inflammation, soreness, or pain on the outside (lateral) side of the upper arm near the elbow. There may be a partial tear of the tendon fibers, which connect muscle to bone, at or near their point of origin on the outside of the elbow.
It's certainly something you can grimace and fight through and keep playing, but the truth is that elbow will never be a 100% and will impact your throwing/shooting motion. It's not just a matter of getting through the pain, which isn't devastating, rather it's the fact that the mechanics of how your elbow moves and works are no longer ideal. Decreased cartilage, bruising, and decreased range of motion mean I can't throw a baseball as far today as I could when I was 15/16.
Stretching the elbow
An important note is that the structure of the elbow makes treating this injury awkward. Applying heat and ice helps, but because the area is so dense it's tough to get the treatment to hit the tendons just right. Stretching helps, but again it's tough to stretch the muscles in the elbow.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown mentioned Lebron wanted to stretch his elbow before his second free throw:
Apparently, he wanted to take a timeout to get his elbow stretched or looked at or something like that. I did not pick up on it at that time and so he shot the free throw left-handed.
That's a good sign for Celtics fans because, again, stretching the elbow is tough and it's a sign that the injury is significantly impacting James' range of motion. For a dynamic player like Lebron, having a full range of motion in his shooting arm is crucial.
Short and long term impact on Lebron James
We all know Lebron is a competitor and a fighter. Tennis elbow isn't an injury that will knock Lebron out of the game, but it is an injury that will never fully heal. There may be nights when it feels completely fine, but there will also be nights where no matter what Lebron tries he just can't go through the standard motions of his shot. Free throws can especially be awkward, when the game stops and without the adrenaline of a play, the creaks of that elbow can especially stick out and affect his shot.
Lebron is lucky in a way that he's experiencing this injury in basketball. For a baseball or tennis player, where you need power rather than finesse from your elbow it's a much more devastating injury. Even for football players, it can make you hesitate before popping someone with your forearm.
Most professional athletes rarely play at 100%, there's nicks and nacks that go along with repeatedly demanding high effort from your body. Lebron James' tennis elbow won't make him ineffective but will knock him down a notch or two. How James performs on free throws and driving layups will be a good indication of the extent of the injury.
Update: Lebron James has been diagnosed with an elbow strain and bone bruise. As James himself noted, "I was very limited in shooting long-range shots, so I started going to the hole in the fourth quarter.", which indicates his elbow is limiting his range of motion. Expect Lebron to limit his long-range shots during Saturday's game against the Celtics, yet remain a strong player for the Cavs.