MIAMI — Game 7. It’s 48 minutes for everything.
This isn’t The Finals, but it’s the next best thing. The winner gets the opportunity to play for a championship against the San Antonio Spurs. And with how evenly played the Eastern Conference finals have been, it’s only appropriate that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers play one game to decide who gets that opportunity.
This will be the 113th Game 7 in NBA history and the 33rd Game 7 in the conference finals (or division finals, as they were called before 1971). Of the 33, it’s the third straight that will be played on the shores of Biscayne Bay.
A year ago, the Heat beat the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. In 2005, the Detroit Pistons came to Miami and knocked off the Shaq-and-Wade duo in their first year together. That was one of only eight wins by the road team in the 32 conference finals Game 7s.
Here’s some more numbers regarding the history of Game 7 in the conference finals…
- 15 of the 32 winners, including four of the last six, went on to win The Finals.
- 14 of the 32 Game 7s were won by the team that had won Game 6.
- While the Heat are 1-1 in conference finals Game 7s, the Pacers are 0-3, losing to the Knicks in 1994, the Magic in 1995 and the Bulls in 1998, all on the road.
- Only twice in NBA history have both conference finals gone to seven games. In 1963, the Celtics and Lakers each won in seven, and in 1979, the Bullets and Sonics each won in seven.
- 17 of the 32 games have been decided by six points or less.
Yes, there have been some classic Game 7s in conference finals history. Here’s a rundown of the best (Home team in CAPS)…
June 6, 2005 – Detroit 88, MIAMI 82
The Pistons won their third championship in 2004 and the Heat won their first in 2006. In between, they played a tightly contested Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat led by six with less than seven minutes to go, but the Pistons went on a timely, 8-0 run, highlighted by a Ben Wallace dunk on Rasual Butler. Rasheed Wallace put the Pistons ahead for good with a pair of free throws with 1:26 left and then came up with a big tip-in on the Pistons’ next possession. Dwyane Wade went scoreless in the fourth quarter, missing all six of his shots and committing two of the Heat’s six turnovers.
Detroit went on to lose to the Spurs in seven games..
June 2, 2002 – L.A. Lakers 112, SACRAMENTO 106 (OT)
This one was the only overtime Game 7 in conference finals history and it wrapped up one of the craziest playoff series in recent memory, in which each of the last four games came down to the final five seconds of regulation.
The Lakers won Game 4 on Robert Horry‘s buzzer-beating three. The Kings won Game 5 on a jumper from Mike Bibby. Game 6 was the controversial night when the Lakers attempted 27 free throws in the fourth quarter and survived when Bibby missed a three with five seconds left.
Bibby tied Game 7 with a pair of free throws with eight seconds on the clock in the fourth quarter, and he gave the Kings a two-point lead with a jumper with 2:17 to go in overtime. But Sacramento went scoreless on its final six possessions and the Lakers won the game at the line. The Kings themselves made just 16 of their 30 free throws, while also shooting a brutal 2-for-20 from 3-point range.
Not only was this the only overtime Game 7 in the conference finals, but it’s the one where you can most clearly say that the winner determined the NBA champion. The Lakers went on to sweep the New Jersey Nets in The Finals.
.June 4, 2000 – L.A. LAKERS 89, Portland 84
The Blazers had come back from a 3-1 series deficit to force Game 7 and led by 15 early in the fourth quarter. But that was just a setup for the biggest collapse in Game 7 history. They were outscored 25-4 over the next 10 minutes and four years before their bitter break-up, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal hooked up for the alley-oop dunk that ended the Blazers’ season.
L.A. went on to win its first of three straight titles, beating the Pacers in six games.
May 31, 1998 – CHICAGO 88, Indiana 83
Michael Jordan played in just *three Game 7s, and this was the only one that was close. Scottie Pippen put the Bulls up for good with a jumper with 4:45 left and, at 1:59, made it a four-point lead with the only field goal for either team in the final two minutes.
Jordan led all scorers with 28 points, but shot just 9-for-25. The Bulls crushed the bigger Pacers on the glass, grabbing 22 offensive boards. They went on to win their sixth title, beating the Utah Jazz in six games.
*Jordan’s other Game 7s: a 93-74 loss in Detroit in the 1990 conference finals and a 110-81 win over the Knicks in the 1992 conference semis..
June 2, 1996 – SEATTLE 90, Utah 86
Karl Malone got the Jazz to within one with a reverse lay-up with 32 seconds left, but after Shawn Kemp made it a 3-point game with a pair of free throws, Malone missed a pair of freebies to keep Utah alive. Overall, Kemp (26 points, 14 rebounds, 8-for-12 shooting) outplayed Malone (22 points, five rebounds, 8-for-22 shooting).
The Sonics went on to lose to the Bulls in six games, just like the Jazz did each of the next two years.
June 5, 1994 – NEW YORK 94, Indiana 90
One of those Knicks-Pacers classics. The Pacers looked to have stolen the series when Reggie Miller scored 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. But the Knicks responded with a Game 6 win in Indianapolis to force a Game 7 that went down to the wire.
The Pacers led by one with 30 seconds left and forced John Starks into a tough, contested drive. But as the ball bounced off the rim, Patrick Ewing was there to throw it down. Then, for some reason, the Pacers ran the clock down to 10 seconds before running Miller off a screen, and his contested jumper was way off.
Ewing’s line was pretty ridiculous: 24 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. But he would get outplayed by Hakeem Olajuwon in The Finals as the Knicks lost to the Houston Rockets in seven games.
May 30, 1987 – BOSTON 117, Detroit 114
Four days after Larry Bird (literally) stole Game 5 from the Pistons, he put them away with an all-time Game 7 performance. Bird played all 48 minutes and finished with 37 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Danny Ainge hit the two biggest shots of the game, a 3-pointer with just over three minutes left to break a 99-99 tie and another big jumper in the final minute. The Pistons played the final 12 minutes without leading scorer Adrian Dantley, who suffered a concussion in the third quarter.
The Celtics lost to the Lakers in six games in The Finals..
May 3, 1981 – BOSTON 91, Philadelphia 90
In a series where five of the seven games (including each of the last four) were determined by two points or less, the Celtics became just the fourth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit. They trailed Game 7 by seven points with just over five minutes to go, but they come back again and Bird’s pull-up bank shot with a minute left put them up by two. Mo Cheeks had a chance to tie the game at the line with 29 seconds left, but missed one of two.
Bird won his first of three championships with a six-game win over the Rockets in The Finals.
May 18, 1979 – WASHINGTON 107, San Antonio 105
Two years before the Celtics came back from 3-1, the Washington Bullets did the same. They also came back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
With the score tied, Bobby Dandridge hit a pull-up baseline jumper over three defenders with eight seconds left to put the Bullets up two. The Spurs had a chance to tie, but Elvin Hayes blocked James Silas‘ drive to seal the game.
This was a real scoring duel between Dandridge (37 points) and George Gervin (42). The Bullets would lose The Finals to the Seattle SuperSonics in five games.
April 19, 1971 – Baltimore 93, NEW YORK 91
These teams faced each other in the playoffs in six straight years from 1969 to 1974. The home team won each of the first six games in this series, but the Bullets dethroned the champs when Wes Unseld got a piece of Bill Bradley‘s game-tying jumper in the final seconds.
The Bullets got swept in The Finals by the Milwaukee Bucks.
April 5, 1962 – BOSTON 109, Philadelphia Warriors 107
Sam Jones, aka “Mr. Clutch,” hit the game-winner with two seconds left.
April 1, 1961 – ST. LOUIS 105, L.A. Lakers 103
The Lakers went just 36-43 in their first season in Los Angeles, but had a chance to get to The Finals. But they lost Game 6 at home by one in overtime, and then fell to Bob Pettit‘s Hawks in Game 7. St. Louis lost The Finals to Boston in five games.