Playoff Voices | "You Give Everything You've Got"
How much does experience in Game 7s matter? Hard to say, since plenty of other factors - substantial and subtle - could ultimately influence the outcome of a series’ decisive finale.
Either way, the subject was certainly timely and worth exploring at the 76ers’ practice session the morning before the club wraps up its Eastern Conference Semifinals bout with the Toronto Raptors Sunday at Scotiabank Arena.
The Sixers’ roster features five players who have been part of at least one Game 7 (JJ Redick - 5, Amir Johnson - 2, Jimmy Butler - 1, Mike Scott - 1, Greg Monroe - 2 DNPs). There’s also Brett Brown, and the four Game 7s he coached in during his stint as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs.
Here are some of reflections on what Game 7s are all about...
Sunday will mark Brown’s first Game 7 as an NBA head coach. During his 12 seasons in San Antonio, he was on the sideline for Game 7s in the 2005 and 2013 NBA Finals, and the 2006 and 2008 Western Conference Semifinals.
“It’s a life experience. It’s for sure a sporting experience, but playing in Game 7s are different. I coached in two Game 7s in the NBA championship, I’ve done it in the Western Conference semifinals, and a few places earlier days. My experiences and my memory are one of the possession per possession mentality is heightened. Everything is just zoomed in, it’s just raw. It always gets back to in my opinion defense, and there will be no great shots. Everything is contested, lots of times you just hope to get a shot.”
In Scott’s second season as a pro, he and the Atlanta Hawks let a 3-2 lead against the Indiana Pacers slip away in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs. Scott scored 15 points in Game 7 of the series.
"[Game 7s] are a little bit more physical, chippier, force a crowd. You just got to cherish each possession, take care of the ball, get buckets, be physical, try to win the game.”
“We were up 3-2 at home, had to win that game and we didn’t. Going back to Indiana we knew it was going to be hard. Probably for me [I was nervous] because it was my second year, and first time in a situation like that. Now, I feel like we’re confident, feel good. It’s a little bit different this year - I just feel real confident.”
Butler has appeared in 54 playoff games. His lone Game 7 came in his 10th postseason outing ever. In a starting role as a second-year player for the Chicago Bulls, he provided nine points, five rebounds, and four assists in a 2013 close-out first-round victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
“I don’t remember it. I don’t think it has too much to do with absolutely anything. I’m at a different point in my career. Hell, I’m with a different team. But it’s definitely hard to win a Game 7, especially that on the road.”
Johnson was most recently involved in a Game 7 in 2017, his final year with the Boston Celtics, which outlasted the Washington Wizards in the first round. Three years earlier, in 2014, he was playing for the Toronto Raptors and went the distance in the East Quarterfinals against the Brooklyn Nets. Johnson posted 20 points and 10 rebounds in the contest, but Kyle Lowry had a winning field goal attempt blocked with a second to go. Toronto lost by a point.
“That was a good game, a heartbreaking loss at home. We were on a five-year streak of rebuilding here, and when we got to the playoffs, won our division, the city was uplifted. For us to go to the playoffs, give a good fight, get to the first round, play a good team, it was dope.”
“In Game 7s, you give everything you’ve got. It can go back and forth, and it feels like the first team that goes on a crazy run, the other team usually gets that spirit broken, unless the other team has hell of a fight and fights back.”
“This year, it’s a great opportunity for us, especially with it being my second year here, with us losing in the second round to Boston last year, and us having a chance to be better and get to the [Conference] Finals. It’s very hard to win in this NBA, and we have an opportunity to go far. We have to get over this hump. It’s fun to do it with these guys, these great teammates, and we’ll see what happens.”