By John Shea– Patrick McCaw tried to dunk, and DeMarcus Cousins greeted the Warriors’ guard at the rim by whacking him in the nose, sending him to the hardwood and leaving him with a concussion.
The day McCaw was cleared to play, Golden State’s Nick Young was accidentally elbowed by teammate Jordan Bell and fell hard.
The Warriors hadn’t had a player diagnosed with a concussion since Klay Thompson was kneed in the 2015 playoffs, and suddenly they h ad two in an eight-day stretch in December.
“It’s a weird feeling,” McCaw said. “You get a little dizzy. It’s like your mind is in a trance, everything’s moving in slow motion and everything’s foggy and hazy.”
At a time when concussions are under increasing scrutiny in the NFL, where 244 players were diagnosed with concussions last season, the NBA is among the professional sports leagues taking steps to better analyze players with possible brain injuries.
Twenty-three NBA players were diagnosed with concussions last season and 13 so far this season, according to InStreetClothes.com — numbers on par with Major League Baseball, which had 25 cases in 2017.
The Warriors have introduced their own technological method of quickly gauging a player’s health and fatigue level. Aside from going through the NBA concussion protocol, McCaw had his eyes tested through a virtual reality headset called Eye-Sync, produced by Palo Alto-based SyncThink. When wearing the headset, McCaw tracked a rotating red dot while cameras recorded his eye movement.
Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle
Results were available in a minute and determined whether his brain was functioning properly or whether he remained disoriented from the injury. McCaw was cleared after missing two games.
“There’s a league concussion protocol,” Warriors assistant general manager Kirk Lacob said, “but we want to make sure to go above and beyond for the health and safety of players.”
The NBA’s protocol requires the concussed player to proceed from a stationary bike to jogging to agility work to non-contact team drills, and a player can’t advance to the next step until a neurological exam is performed and he’s symptom free.
Because every injury and player is different, the protocol does not include a timetable to complete the process. The clearance comes after the team physician discusses the player’s status with the director of the league’s concussion program, Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher.
(The NBA removed the word “protocol” from its policy this season because it could suggest the process of treating every head injury is the same. However, the word continues to be used by the league’s executives, coaches and players.)
The Warriors are the first NBA team to utilize Eye-Sync, introducing it before the season after it was recommended to Lacob by the training staff. It’s used at Stanford in all sports, and the rest of the Pac-12 and other universities have contracted to use the technology, which includes software and tablets.
Scott Anderson, SyncThink’s chief customer officer, said the aim is to arrive at a diagnosis by objectively detecting impairments through screening and collecting data rather than relying on subjective reporting of symptoms.
“We identify how well a brain is performing,” said Anderson, a former Stanford director of athletic training. “We’re trying to eliminate the guesswork.”
The Warriors’ only other diagnosed concussion the past three seasons was Thompson’s, and his evaluation process raised questions in the industry.
In the clinching Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in 2015, Houston’s Trevor Ariza fell for Thompson’s pump fake and kneed him on the right side of the head. Thompson was quickly diagnosed with an ear laceration, which was stitched closed, and cleared to return to the game.
Photo: Tony Avelar, Associated Press
Thompson returned to the bench, but blood spilled from his ear. He didn’t play again in the one-sided victory that sent the Warriors to the NBA Finals. Shortly after the game, he failed to hear a sideline reporter’s question, and he later vomited.
The Warriors said Thompson didn’t show concussion-like symptoms during the game, but did afterward. Two days later, after extensive examinations including neurological tests, the team announced he was diagnosed with a concussion.
Thompson recovered in time to play Game 1 of the Finals, eight days after he was kneed, and scored 21 points in an overtime win that ignited the Warriors’ final push to their first championship in 40 years.
The delayed symptoms show how concussions are difficult to detect and put into question the method in which they’re detected, especially initially.
In fact, one game before Thompson’s head injury, Warriors guard Stephen Curry hit the back of his head on the floor after flipping high over Ariza while trying to block his shot under the basket. Curry went through concussion tests, which he passed before returning to the game. The diagnosis was a contusion.
“We were well aware of that situation,” Anderson said of the Thompson and Curry episodes. His company had not yet been utilized by the Warriors.
Did the issues with Thompson (and even Curry) lead the Warriors to use Eye-Sync?
“I wouldn’t say that specific instance drove us to do this,” Lacob said, “but it’s that sort of circumstance that certainly concerns us generally and makes this a smart investment.”
The NBA requires preseason baseline testing to be used for comparisons in case a player is tested for a concussion. There’s baseline testing with the Eye-Sync device as well.
“That was cool,” McCaw said of wearing the headgear. “They were able to track where my vision was going. It’s a great test to show where your mind is. First time I took it, my eyes were actually moving a little too slow. They were hurting. I was a little dizzy. I took it three times. The third time, I passed.”
“I think we’re doing a better job these days of being aware of the repercussions,” said coach Steve Kerr, adding he played in an era when far less attention was given to head injuries. “We’re obviously extremely careful.”
John Shea is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @JohnSheaHey
Taken from: https://www.sfchronicle.com/warriors/article/New-technology-helping-Warriors-diagnose-12452714.php