I can already see how this Game 7 between the Pacers and Heat is going to go. You probably have similar visions. LeBron comes out and hits an 18-foot jumper. Pacers miss some early layups. Dwyane Wade gets an early layup, looking more Flash than Shell. Bosh hits a jumper, screams. Chalmers knocks down a 3. Lance Stephenson dribbles around aimlessly. Timeout Pacers, it’s about 11-2. The Heat never really sweat and cruise into the Finals.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe Wade and Bosh struggle again — why would the final game be any different than the previous six? The Pacers again pound the Heat on the glass and make it ugly. They lead by 2 at the half and it’s tight all the way, with Paul George finally making a clinching 3 in the final minute in front of a very tanned, and very quiet crowd.
Or it stays close and without six minutes to go LeBron takes over for good, scores eight straight, blocks a Hibbert layup, dishes out to Mike Miller for a 3 that puts the Heat up 14, helps the South Dakota native up after he tears an oblique on the shot. I actually still can’t see the Heat losing but that’s because I don’t want to get too excited about the possibility. Still, with Wade sounding more and more like Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum when it comes to needing to get involved in the flow of the offense, his excuse for being terrible, the Heat certainly aren’t the same team that won 27 in a row (it is amusing that when a Lakers player makes comments like Wade, it’s seen as proof that Kobe’s not a team player; I doubt we’ll see similar sentiments about LeBron).
Game 7s are the most exciting games in sports, no matter the league. But each one is different, even if the themes are always the same.
Game 7s in conference finals and the NBA Finals are different than those in earlier rounds. Not because those early rounds can’t have drama — the Bird-Dominique showdown, one of the great moments in NBA history, came in the conference semis — but because there’s a good chance an earlier Game 7 will have a prohibitive favorite. In 2009 the Lakers somehow got extended by an undermanned but tough Rockets team in the semis. But Game 7 seemed like a foregone conclusion and the Lakers won 89-70. The Finals are, in theory of course, between two heavyweights (even if in some years the team out of the East would be about sixth in the West). In those matchups it’s a tossup, with homecourt providing an edge but hardly a decisive one. In some ways this Pacers-Heat game feels like one of those earlier round ones because the Heat were such an overwhelming favorite coming in. That’s why I won’t be surprised if Miami jumps out early and rolls to victory. But the first six games of the series might be more important to this Game 7 than 60 years of NBA history and the Pacers have shown they belong.
A few memorable Game 7s from the past:
When the Lakers survived Game 7 against the Celtics in 2010 it was one of the great victories in team history but hardly erased all of the past between the two teams. Before that, every Game 7 always ended with the Celtics on top. No wonder they ruined the ’60s for my dad and his brothers. In 1962 Frank Selvy missed a short jumper that would have won it at the buzzer and Boston won in overtime. In 1969, Jack Kent Cooke famously hung balloons in The Forum in anticipation of a Lakers victory but Bill Russell won yet again and Jerry West lost once again, even while becoming the only player from the losing team to be named Finals MVP. Another bad one came in 1984, the first time Boston broke the hearts of a new generation of Fury children. That entire series was probably the most frustrating in Lakers history, with LA blowing games 2 and 4. Game 7 seemed inevitable but LA still had a chance late until Magic Johnson continued his late-game meltdowns. So, yes, when LA clawed back in that 2010 game, it was a great moment. But it didn’t erase the fact Red Auerbach never had to see the Lakers beat the Celtics in a Game 7.
As we all feel pity for poor LeBron not getting enough help these days, here’s the boxscore from the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, when Detroit hammered the Bulls 93-74 in Game 7. Michael Jordan was 13-for-27 and had 31 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds. The other Bulls starters? Combined 10-49. Blech.
Here’s a fun breakdown of Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, better known as the Willis Reed game although it should probably be just as well known for being a Lakers meltdown.
Bird’s most memorable play of the 1987 ECF was his steal in Game 5, but in Game 7 that year he put up a tidy 37-9-9 as the Celtics finally fought past the Pistons. Could certainly see LeBron putting up similar numbers in Game 7, in a series where his most memorable play would also have come earlier — the layup in the opener.
How could I possibly write about Game 7s and not mention the 1988 Lakers? That year the Lakers became the only NBA team to win three straight Game 7s. In the semis LA coasted past Utah and then pulled away from Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, a series that saw the home team win every game. That Dallas team was expected to challenge LA for years to come but Roy Tarpley’s drug problems took care of that and the following year Mark Aguirre was on the title-winning Pistons.
In the Finals the Lakers rallied from 3-2 down. But in Game 7 they trailed by 5 at halftime before exploding in the third quarter, hitting their first 10 shots of the quarter. This sequence was the last hurrah of Showtime — not of the Lakers, but of that particular style, when LA could devastate an opponent in a matter of minutes. In 1989-91 the Lakers were much more of a halfcourt team, dominated by the post games of Magic and Worthy and a more deliberate style. Worthy put together one of the all-time great clutch performances in Game 7, an underrated performance in the history books, with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
Maybe a supporting player puts up superstar numbers like that in the Pacers-Heat game. Bosh breaks out? More likely it’s LeBron doing his thing and the Heat doing theirs. In Game 7s the favorite usually wins. We can already picture what will happen. But maybe it will only remain a vision and the reality will be much different.