Posted May 14 2011 9:28PM
OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's fear or freedom, pressure or present, a chance to climb the mountain or a chasm of regret to fall into.
It's everything you've worked for, or the last thing you wanted to see.
After two weeks of back and forth, thrust and parry, blown leads, clutch rallies, overtimes and triple-overtimes, the Grizzlies and Thunder will at last crawl out onto the ledge to settle it.
By squaring off in the first Game 7 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs and the first in the history of either franchise in their current home, the Thunder and Grizzlies go to a special place.
It is a game that everyone wants to pretend is just one more step down the long road that began back in October, but everyone knows is not.
You snooze and you lose and by the time you wake up, Charles and Kenny are making fun of you in those goofy fishing hats.
"Game 7s are great opportunities for both teams," said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks. "If you win, you move on. If you lose, you think about next season."
"Really it is just another game," said Memphis coach Lionel Hollins. "They don't change the rules or raise the basket."
But the temperature can feel hotter and the atmosphere can feel thinner and harder to breathe because of the finality that hangs in the air.
The essence and grind and the salvation of the NBA is that the schedule is relentless and mind-numbing and the charter jets always deliver you to another city and another game and another shot, win or lose. Until now.
Kendrick Perkins of the Thunder and Tony Allen of the Grizzlies were Celtics teammates who won back-to-back Game 7s over Atlanta and Cleveland enroute to winning the 2008 NBA title. After suffering a knee injury in Game 6, Perkins had to watch helplessly from the bench last June when the Celtics lost to the Lakers in Game 7.
Hollins played a seventh game twice in his 11-year NBA career, both with Philadelphia, beating Milwaukee and losing to Boston in 1981. He missed Game 7 the following year when the Sixers defeated the Celtics, having broken his hand earlier in the playoffs.
"As a player it's always that you want to go out and be aggressive, but you don't want to do anything stupid to put your team in a hole," he said. "That's your mindset. You do go in and try to think through every scenario that might happen and what you might do and you don't get any sleep because of it.
"Instead of saying, 'I'll just go out and play and whatever happens, I'll think about that scenario when it happens,' I think players tend to think, quote unquote, too much.
"There's not another game. That's why it happens. Nobody wants to go home and so you start thinking ahead out there -- 'I've got to do this' or 'What do I do over here?' -- and you should have just let the game come the way you would if you didn't know (the season) was gonna end for somebody."
Brooks was a member of the Houston Rockets in 1993 and 1994. He played in Game 7 when the Rockets lost to Seattle in 1993 and was on the bench the following year when they beat Phoenix in a seventh game to win a Western Conference semifinal series and won the ultimate Game 7 over the N.Y. Knicks in the NBA Finals to claim a championship.
"I didn't play long minutes anyway, so I never played different. I had bigger towels to wave," Brooks said with a chuckle.
"I've been around great players and the great ones, they play the same way. They're great because they're so consistent. They don't let big moments get in their way. They make big moments happen.
"With our guys, if it gets down to that, I see them stepping up and playing like they've always done all year long. That's been good enough for us.
"It's basketball. You gotta defend, you gotta score. You do both well and you usually win."
Does it feel different?
"No. Or you try not to let it," said Battier. "You do your regular routine to prepare.
"The last time I was in a Game 7 (2009 with the Rockets) it was against the Lakers in the second round and we were so undermanned (Tracy McGrady out, Yao Ming injured) at that point and so emotionally spent, we knew a victory was just getting there. We played poorly and got beat by 30 in that game. We had nothing left in the tank.
"This is a much different feeling. We feel good about ourselves and know if we play well and keep it close, we may have a shot in the end. That's the goal."
The challenge is not so much to rise to the occasion, but to keep the intensity of Game 7 from taking you out of our rhythm and swallowing you up.
"You have to stay in the moment," Brooks said. "As a player, as a team, as a coach, you have to stay in the moment because that's the only thing that you can impact. Our guys know that. That's why I have a term I use with them -- play forward. If you make a mistake, you have to play forward and get the next play right. Our guys have done a good job with that and I don't see that changing."
But often it is the atmosphere, the intensity, the finality of Game 7 that produces the changes.
"There's not another game," Hollins said. "That's why it happens. Nobody wants to go home and so you start thinking out there...and you should just let the game come the way you would if you didn't know it was gonna end.
"It's the same way we live every day under the threat of some kind of possible disaster, but we don't worry about it...If we think we know we're gonna die, we worry. When we don't know, we just live.
"It's the same way with the game. If you know it (could be) the last game, all of a sudden you start worrying about losing it. All you can do is just go play it."
That's Game 7, where nothing and everything is different.
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Tony Parker's laser dime lands at the number one spot on Sunday's Top 5.
|Steal of the Night|
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Tony Parker records 20 points and nine assists to lead the Spurs in Game 1 over the Grizzlies.