By Ernie Palladino
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While the “what ifs” and “should haves” are flying around like leaves in a hurricane regarding the July 4 fireworks accident that has left Jason Pierre-Paul without a right index finger, perhaps it’s time to step away and deal with the realities of the situation.

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Pierre-Paul is a young man who may well have ruined a certainly lucrative football career that had already experienced a touch of greatness.

This sad fact makes the problems the Giants face — the how and who of replacing him — pale in comparison to the tragedy of what lies ahead for their most prolific pass rusher. Take out the avoidance factor of the situation and put aside the misplaced confidence of the athlete as bulletproof, and what’s left is the potential ruination of a supremely gifted life.

For that, beyond all else, pity Pierre-Paul. As Calogero’s father, Lorenzo, lamented in “A Bronx Tale,” there is nothing sadder than wasted talent. In this instance, Pierre-Paul may eventually represent talent wasted times 10.

He probably will never be the same again. That is, if he ever does get back to playing. Despite flickers of optimism emanating from a report inside Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital about Pierre-Paul surprising everyone with an earlier-than-expected return, one should hold off on any celebrations. Even though things could have been far worse — the loss of a hand, an arm, death — JPP dodged no bullets here. The loss of one finger can destroy a football career.

Especially the index finger. The only amputation more devastating than that, short of a whole hand, would be the thumb. That didn’t happen, so Pierre-Paul will at least be able to live a normal life.

Playing football at a professional level is another matter entirely. If media reports are correct, JPP didn’t just lose the top of the finger. He lost the entire bone into the palm, including the knuckle.

Keep in mind that hands are vital in football. Quarterbacks use them to handle the ball. Receivers catch and running backs secure the ball with them. Defensive backs intercept passes with them. Linebackers tackle with them.

They are especially important to linemen, however. A big part of the up-front job involves grasping to turn or toss an opponent aside. Offensive and defensive linemen talk endlessly about refining their hand technique. They seek “violent” hands.

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The index finger provides the jumping-off point for all that. It provides leverage, far more than, say, the little finger.

New Jersey hand surgeon Kevin Roenbeck told the New York Post on Wednesday that a person can lose up to 35 percent of his hand strength with an index finger amputation. Some, he said, only lose five to 10 percent. But there is no telling how much of a deficit Pierre-Paul will have to deal with.

Consider, too, that doctors found fractures in his thumb and other fingers of the right hand. That’s besides the burns that required skin grafts.

The great Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko told the Post that he knew of no defensive lineman who ever played with nine fingers.

“Listen,” he said, “all good defensive linemen — Ndamukong Suh, J.J. Watt — their hands are everything. And if you watched anyone who was worth a (darned), their hands are everything, and I think it’s a big deal.”

There is little doubt Pierre-Paul will do whatever is in his power to come back and return to the double-digit sack force of 2011 and 2014. But physics are physics. There may be no getting around the fact that the Giants’ most prolific sacker will have to do it with a deformed palm and nine fingers.

It may be too much for even the most strong-minded of players to overcome.

The matter before him now is initial recovery and learning how to proceed through everyday life with a mangled hand. The financial realities, the arduous rehab, the uncertain professional future all lie out there in the distance.

For now, just hope he can leave the hospital in the healthiest shape possible because, when it comes down to it, we’re dealing with a human being.

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And there’s more involved with that than pro football.