Game 7 Preview

We’ve got yet another Game 7 of the Finals!  There are few more exciting moments than a winner-take-all championship game.  Let’s take a quick look at a few questions/issues to watch:

1. How big a loss is Andrew Bogut? 

Bogut only played about 20 minutes a game but did you know that he was the best player by DPM on the roster in the regular season?  (Defensive win shares, say Draymond Green and Steph Curry were better).  In the playoffs, Bogut’s DPM is off the charts and even better.  Anderson Varejao isn’t bad as a replacement but Bogut’s presence in the middle on defense will help Cleveland a bit.

2.  Should Draymond Green have been suspended? 

The Warriors complained about this but you can only kick people in the groin so many times before you get in trouble.  Had this been an isolated incident Green would not have been suspended but I thought the decision was quite reasonable in the context of the last few playoff series.  It is unfortunate because the suspension could cost the Warriors the series.

3.  A history of Finals Game 7s

Back in 2005, when the Spurs and Pistons reached that same Game 7, we looked at all the Game 7s in NBA Finals since the shot clock came into being.  Here’s a re-review of those Game 7s plus the three Game 7s we’ve had since:

1954-55: Fort Wayne Pistons at Syracuse Nationals, 91-92:  The Pistons, who were led by George Yardley and Larry Foust, came to Syracuse trying to clinch the series of Dolph Schayes and Paul Seymour.  Fort Wayne ran out to a 17-point lead before Syracuse narrowed the gap.  It was a one-point game in the last seconds when Fort Wayne point guard Andy Phillip appeared to be bumped by Seymour.  No call was made, and the Nats stole the ball and sealed game.  Was it a foul?  Seymour thought so.  In “The NBA Finals, A Fifty Year Celebration,” Roland Lazenby quoted Seymour as saying “I bumped the crap out of Andy.  For years after that, whenever he’d see me, he’d tell me, ‘You got away with the big foul.'”

1956-57: St. Louis Hawks at Boston Celtics, 123-125:  This one was a true classic.  The Celts won their first championship with a couple of rookies named Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn versus Bob Pettit and the man Russell was traded for, Ed Macauley.  This Game 7 was in Boston because the Hawks snuck through the regular season with only a 34-38 record.  The Game 7 was a hotly contested affair that went into double-overtime.  The game is most remembered for the end of second overtime.  With the Hawks down two with a few seconds left and taking the ball out from their own basket, player-coach Alex Hannum inserted himself in the game.  Hannum, who had coached the team for only 31 games and barely played (3.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg) drew up a play where he would try to throw the ball the length of the court and bounce it off the Celtics backboard in the hopes that Pettit would grab the carom and hit the shot to tie the game.  Despite the clearly low percentage nature of the play, Hannum’s execution was actually pretty good.  He bounced the ball of the backboard to Pettit who missed the shot.

1959-60: St. Louis Hawks at Boston Celtics, 103-122:  The Hawks and Celts met in the Finals four times in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  The Hawks fared worse this time as they were blown away by the Celts by 19 in Game 7.  In Game 7, the Celts outboarded the Hawks by almost 40 and Russell had an unreal 35 rebounds to go with 22 points.

1961-62:  Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics, 107-110:  As the Hawks faded, the Lakers began to emerge with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.  This would be the second time that Baylor met the Celts in the Finals in the 1960s (they would go on to play each other seven times in the 1960s, with the Celts winning all seven series).  This time the series was nip-and-tuck and Game 7 of the Finals went to overtime (the last time that has happened).  It was another one of those crazy games.  The Lakers’ Frank Selvy had an open shot to win it in regulation but missed.  In overtime, the Celts took control and won.  Russell had another incredible game (30 points and 40 rebounds).

1965-60:  Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics, 93-95:  Again, Russell and Co. met Baylor and Co. for a brawl.  Game Seven was another very close game.  The Celts took another early lead but Baylor and West led the team back to cut it to six with 20 seconds left.  The Celts held on to win with the help of guess who? Yup, Russell, who had 32 rebounds and helped control the game.

1968-69:  Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers, 108-106:  This was the final meeting of the Russell Celtics and the Lakers, who now also sported Wilt Chamberlain.  The Celtics were an aging team and for the first time they were not the favorites in the series.  The story of this Game 7 is well-chronicled.  The Lakers had hundreds of balloons and streamers ready to drop in anticipation of a win but the Celts pulled off the first win by a road team in Game 7 of an NBA Finals.  The side story was Lakers’ coach Butch Van Breda Kolff benching Wilt for the last five minutes of the game for apparently spiteful reasons.  Wilt had asked for a breather because he hurt his knee but when he sought to return, Van Breda Kolff declined to let him return.  Ultimately, the Lakers were sunk by a crazy Don Nelson jumper that bounced high and fell through the rim to seal the deal.  It was a legendary NBA game and one of the few where the visitor was able to steal a Game 7 and it took extraordinary circumstances for this to occur.

1969-70:  Los Angeles Lakers at New York Knicks, 99-113:  One year later, the Lakers found themselves in another Game 7 but this time they were the visitors.  This game is remembered as the “Willis Reed Game,” where Knicks’ center Reed returned from a bad hamstring tear to help spur the team to a blowout win.  In fact, the final score didn’t really indicate how lopsided this game really was.  The real star though was Walt Frazier who had 36 points, 19 assists, and 7 boards for the Knicks.

1973-74:  Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks, 102-87:  More Celtic magic.  This time Russell was gone.  The team was built around Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, and Jo Jo White.  The Bucks were led by a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a vet Oscar Robertson.  In Game 6, the Bucks played an amazing game to win a grueling double overtime affair in Boston to seemingly clinch the series.  Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.  Despite coming home to Milwaukee for Game 7, the Bucks seemed worn out (Oscar Robertson was older and would retire after this year), and the Celts won by 15.

1977-78:  Washington Bullets at Seattle SuperSonics, 105-99:  This was the last time a road team won Game 7 of the NBA Finals.  It was a less than intriguing time for the NBA.  Neither Seattle with Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson nor Washington (Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld) won more than 47 games.  The Bullets winning in Seattle seems less remarkable than some of the Boston wins.  The Bullets/Sonics really had the feel of one of those 4-5 seed first rounds series than a bona fide Finals.  In that fashion, the Bullets won Game 7 with a balanced attack, no one scored more than 20 points.  The two teams met again the next year, this time the Sonics dispatched the Bullets in five games.

1983-84:  Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics, 102-111: This series was the first meeting between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the NBA Finals.  The Celts won this one in pretty easily. The Lakers trailed all game only to push it close at the end before the Celts clinched.  Bird had a nice game (20 points and 12 rebounds) but it was a role player, Cedric Maxwell, who really had the great Game 7.  Maxwell put up 24 points, 8 boards, and 8 assists, AND forced a key steal to stave of the Lakers comeback in the end.

1987-88:  Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers, 105-108:  A great end to a great series.  Isiah Thomas nearly helped the Pistons win Game 6 with a heroic performance (43 points, 8 assists) on a sprained ankle only to fall just short.  Likewise, Game 7 was very close but the home court proved to be a big help for the Lakers.  The Lakers were seemingly in control of game late in Game 7 when the Pistons fell just short.  James Worthy won the MVP helped by his great Game 7 (36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists).

1993-94:  New York Knicks at Houston Rockets, 84-90: The match up was supposed to be Hakeem Olajuwon versus Patrick Ewing but the deciding factor in Game 7 was John Starks, and I don’t mean that in a good way.  Starks, who was absolutely unconscious in Game 6, had as chance to clinch the series in that game only to have Hakeem tip his last second jumper.  Starks hot shooting did not carryover to Game 7.  He shot 2-18 and helped bury the Knicks chances in a pretty close game.

2004-05: Detroit Pistons at San Antonio Spurs, 74-81:  It took 11 years to get another Game 7.  The Pistons had a 3-2 lead but blew clinching at home when Rasheed Wallace inexplicably left Robert Horry open for a big three.  Game 7 in San Antonio didn’t exactly live up to the hype.  It was tied through three quarters but it was a defensive grind and not a thing of beauty.  Tim Duncan (25 points, 11 boards) and Manu Ginobili (23 pts, 5 rebs, 5 asts) were able to put them away in the end.

2009-10: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers, 79-83:  Yet another low scoring defensive battle.  Kobe Bryant scored 23 points but on 6-24 shooting (but grabbed 15 boards).  Certainly a fun and close game but not a thing of beauty.  Metta World Peace, unphased by his bad shooting, scored 20 points on 7-18 shooting, hit a big three late.

2013-14:  San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat, 88-95:  The late Game 7 wasn’t bad but was a letdown when compared to the unbelievable Game 6, where the Spurs blew a lead on Ray Allen’s unbelievable three.  The Spurs stayed close but the Heat pulled away in the fourth quarter.  LeBron James had about as good a Game 7 as anyone player ever (37 points, 12 rebs).  Duncan played his usual great game but Tony Parker (3-12) and Danny Green (1-12) couldn’t make a shot.

4.  So who will win this Game 7? 

The Cavs have comeback from the dead to make this a great series but it’s hard to see a team as good as the Warriors losing a Game 7 at home.

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