7 Things That Will (Or Won't) Happen In Game 7
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1. Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals will go down as the most-watched NBA game of the 21st Century.
Game 6 of the Spurs-Heat 2013 NBA Finals scored the NBA's fourth-highest overnight ratings ever on ABC (14.7), so it would not be that surprising if this series' Game 7 pulled a 21st-Century best 18.2 overnight rating, which is what the L.A. Lakers and Boston Celtics drew in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Combine the draw of Game 6's amazing finish, the great TV ratings with the number of legends competing in a historic game, and this climactic matchup has the makings of another NBA Finals all-timer. It is rare that any NBA championship series features eight future Hall of Famers like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (along with Tracy McGrady, if you're counting seldom-used subs). Not to mention so many legends playing in a Game 7 Finals atmosphere. You really have to go back to the Celtics-Lakers 1984 and 1969 NBA Finals series to find similar Game 7 showcases.
2. The Spurs will go with its five starters for 36-to-40-plus minutes.
San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich found the rotation that works against Miami's small-ball lineups two games ago and Pop is not likely to veer much from it in Game 7. Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are likely to get the call and play for 36-to-40-plus minutes in Game 7. They won Game 5 together. Should've won Game 6 together. Will play much of Game 7 together. This particular quintet has outplayed Miami's starters in the first and third quarters and has been very efficient overall--190 points on only 131 shots--even with the guards playing so poorly in Game 6. If Parker's hamstring holds up, look for the Spurs starters to make runs to start both halves of Game 7.
3. The Heat will rely heavily--at some point in the game--on its hybrid rotation of starters LeBron James and Mario Chalmers with subs Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Chris "Birdman" Andersen.
Conversely, LeBron James has operated most freely when playing with the Heat subs sans Norris Cole. Miami stumbled onto this little lineup in Game 2 with Chalmers staying in the game with LeBron at the first- and third-quarter breaks when Wade and Bosh hit the bench, as super subs Allen, Birdman and converted starter Miller joined LeBron. The influx of shooters (Chalmers, Allen, Miller) combined with the freestyling efficiency of Birdman enabled LeBron to do what he does, even against the Spurs' lane-stuffing defense. Attack the hoop and make the defense pay with assisted three-pointers if they pack the paint too tightly. A version of this lineup worked in the regular season for the Heat, but the Spurs played off quick Cole, letting him shoot and the Miami backup point guard could not hurt the Spurs by nailing open three-pointers. The Chalmers variation not only creates better spacing, thus leading to 33-5 runs (Game 2) or back-against-the-wall comebacks (Game 6), but it gives LeBron the perfect pick-and-roll partner to get him closer to the rim to either attack with a pass or attack with a restricted-zone assault.
4. Tim Duncan will have another game for the ages.
Duncan lives for the big moments, as his four rings and three Finals MVPs already attests. His 30 & 17 Game 6 was to be expected, even at age 37, since he already had a body of work that ranks atop most of the all-time greats. Duncan's 23.64 career Finals Player Efficiency Ranking pretty much assures he will fill the box-score sheet like a legend would, but his true Game 7 value comes on the defensive end where he has long reigned supreme, posting an absurd 93.9 defensive rating in five Finals that would make Bill Russell himself proud. Those numbers are up in this Finals series with Miami, where the top-ranked Heat offense has a 106.3 offensive rating when Duncan is on the floor, but that accomplishment is offset by the fact that Duncan's Spurs have a 111.7 offensive rating when he is on the floor. Advantage: Spurs. As Russell himself says, Duncan will be the 2013 Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award winner, if San Antonio wins the series, because with Duncan, "you got inside presence offensively and inside presence defensively."
5. LeBron James will have another all-around masterpiece of a game, as only he can.
LeBron has become an abstract painter, not necessarily giving us a beautiful painting as he customarily does, but shocking us with a work of art that canvasses all spectrums (next-level defense, rebounding, playmaking) while lacking some artistic choices we've come to expect from LeBron over the years (scoring and efficiency). LeBron's 23.71 PER in these 2013 NBA Finals shows us he is still The Man despite his subpar .498 true shooting percentage that shocks our very core. Credit Kawhi Leonard's ballhawk ways, biggie off the bench Boris Diaw's dancing elephant fancy footwork and big brother Duncan for monitoring LeBron at all times, from inside the paint and out. Still, LeBron is finding other ways to will his team to victories, and he is the main reason why the Heat have been able to keep pace with the Spurs throughout this series. If Miami wins the 2013 NBA Championship, LeBron will be the unanimous 2013 Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award winner.
6. The referees will not be a factor in Game 7, though we are likely to see more fouls called in this game than any of the previous.
Perhaps the most pleasant aspect of this NBA Finals has been how great the NBA officiating has been. Through six Finals games, we are without controversy and have seen a minimal amount of fouls called (225) in this six-game series, providing for a most aesthetic Finals experience. No doubt, intensity will pick up in Game 7 and a temper or two may naturally flare. But if the first six games are any indication, we may be wrapping up the NBA Finals with the most sportsmanship we've seen in awhile. I think you have to credit the good officiating for playing part in that. So, you ask, why do I expect an increase in fouls called in Game 7? Because we've seen it happen in each contest already, from Games 1 through 6. Check it out: 24 fouls in Game 1; 31 fouls in Game 2; 34 fouls in Game 3; 44 fouls in Game 4; 45 fouls in Game 5; 47 fouls in Game 6 and overtime. Kind of crazy, huh?
7. This game is a series of attrition that will be won by the most durable team in the fourth quarter.
Who loses his legs in this fight first? Certain players like 21-year-old Leonard and 29-year-old Bosh seem to be getting stronger as the series progresses, but some of the other stars must be wearing down before our very eyes, try as they might to keep it disguised. Only Game 7 reveals who makes it to the finish line. All this prompts many questions. Are both D-Wade's 31-year-old knees shot after dragging his right knee through 22 games of playoff torture already and then reinjuring his left knee in Game 6 Thursday? Wade did have a -15 plus-minus score in Game 6 after receiving treatment in the locker room during the game multiple times. How about 31-year-old Tony Parker? Is his right hamstring pulling him out of efficiency as his 6-of-23 shooting in Game 6 suggests or are his 10-of-14 Game 5 stats an indicator that he can bring the paint attack for one more game. How about 28-year-old LeBron James? He has already played 94 minutes this week and will be playing his third game in five days Thursday? Can he play at his Finals superstar-level for 43 minutes per game once again? That would be 137 minutes in five days? Remember, the four-time MVP already has logged 560 minutes in 13 games during the last 30 days. And lest we forget, how about the 37-year-old Tim Duncan and 35-year-old Manu Ginobili? Duncan, who has shown no signs of slowing down, is playing his third game in five days this week, already logging 82 minutes in Games 5 and 6. Ginobili, who has struggled in three of the six Finals games, is accused by his critics--falsely, I believe--of succumbing to the fatigue factor, though he vehemently denies it has played any part in his recent off games. Pop has kicked Manu's 24.0 minutes per game average up in Games 5 and 6, where he is averaging 34.0 minutes per game as a Spurs starter. Can Manu generate a fourth good Finals game this series on his third start in five days? Who knows? But I am sure of one thing: I expect many legs to go at the end of the third quarter and for most of the fourth, with all of these Spurs and Heat trying to survive this grueling 103- and 105-game marathon.