The History of Game 7 in the NBA Finals

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Sep 9, 2006
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NBA Stats: The History of Game 7 in the NBA Finals


By Brian Martin

Complete list of NBA Finals Game 7 results
Every Game 7 is special, no matter the round. It's an elimination game for both teams. And after six hard-fought games over a two-week span, the series comes down to just 48 minutes.

But a Game 7 in The Finals -- one game to determine a champion -- is a gift from the basketball gods. A gift that has not been shared very often in recent years.

There have been 17 Game 7s in the NBA Finals prior to Thursday's matchup between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. That's just over a quarter of the 66 championship series in the history of the league.

But the majority of Game 7s came in the early years of the league, before most of the players we are watching today were even born. Over the past 34 years, the Finals have featured just six Game 7s.

NBA Finals Game 7s By Decade
1950s: 5 (51, 52, 54, 55, 57)
1960s: 4 (60, 62, 66, 69)
1970s: 3 (70, 74, 78)
1980s: 2 (84, 88)
1990s: 1 (94)
2000s: 1 (05)
2010s: 2 (10, 13)
Thursday's game with be the first NBA Finals Game 7 appearance for the Miami Heat and the second for the San Antonio Spurs, who won the 2005 title in seven games over the Detroit Pistons.

While the Spurs have played in this type of game before -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich were all a part of that 2005 team -- they had the luxury of hosting Game 7 at the SBC Center in San Antonio.

This time, on the road in Miami, they'll have overcome the odds to win their fifth title in franchise history. Because in those 17 Game 7s, the home team has won 14 times -- a winning percentage of 82.4 percent.

The Spurs have clinched two of their championships on the road -- 1999 in New York (Game 5) and 2007 in Cleveland (Game 4). But in each of those cases, the Spurs could fall back on the knowledge that, had they lost that clinching game, they could win the title at home. That's not the case this time around.

NBA Finals Game 7, Road Team Wins
1969: Boston def LA Lakers at The Forum 108-106
1974: Boston def Milwaukee at Milwaukee Arena 102-87
1978: Washington def Seattle at Seattle Center Coliseum 105-99
If the Spurs do win Game 7 in Miami, they would have clinched all four of their 2012-13 Playoff series on the road. Their path to The Finals included road wins over Los Angeles (Game 4), Golden State (Game 6) and Memphis (Game 4) to advance through each round.

This will be just the third Game 7 in Tim Duncan's 16-year career. He has played in 210 playoffs games and only three times has he tasted a Game 7, going 2-1 in those three games, including the win in the 2005 Finals.

On the other side of the floor is LeBron James, who has played in four Game 7s out of 137 playoff games of his 10-year career. James is 2-2 in Game 7s, with wins in the last two, and brings Game 7 averages of 33.8 points and 8.3 rebounds to the table on Thursday night.

While LeBron has averaged 33.8 points in four Playoff Game 7s, none of those have come in The Finals. For context, Lakers legend Jerry West averaged 35.3 points in four Finals Game 7s. West has three of the top eight scoring performances in the history of Game 7 in The Finals, including the top performance with 42 against the Boston Celtics in 1969.

Most Points, NBA Finals Game 7 (player)
Jerry West - 42 (1969, LAL vs BOS)
Elgin Baylor - 41 (1962, LAL vs BOS)
Bob Pettit - 39 (1957, STL vs BOS)
Tom Heinsohn - 37 (1957, BOS vs STL)
James Worthy - 36 (1988, LAL vs DET)
Walt Frazier - 36 (1970, NYK vs LAL)
Jerry West - 36 (1966, LAL vs BOS)
Jerry West - 35 (1962, LAL vs BOS)
West posted a triple-double in that Game 7 in 1969, one of only two triple-doubles in the history of Game 7 in The Finals.

Triple-Doubles, NBA Finals Game 7
Jerry West - 42 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists (1969, LAL vs BOS)
James Worthy - 36 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists (1988, LAL vs DET)
Both West and Worthy were named Finals MVP after notching their triple-doubles, but only Big Game James was able to hold a championship trophy as well. West's performance in the 1969 Finals earned him Finals MVP honors from the losing team -- the first and only time that has happened in NBA history.

But if anyone could join West and Worthy with Game 7 triple-doubles, it'd be LeBron, who recorded his fourth career triple-double in The Finals in Game 6 after putting together another one in Game 1.

What LeBron does not want to match, however, is West's Game 7 record, as his Lakers went 0-4, with three losses coming to the Boston Celtics and the great Bill Russell -- the 11-time champion, whose name is now attached to the Finals MVP trophy.

Russell holds the record for most rebounds in a Finals Game 7 with 40 in the 1962 Finals against the Lakers. Russell was a perfect 5-0 in Game 7 of The Finals.

The Celtics and Lakers have the most Game 7 appearances in the history of the NBA Finals -- not much of a surprise considering the two teams also have the most championships with 17 and 16, respectively.

Most NBA Finals Game 7 Appearances (record)
9: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (4-5)
8: Boston Celtics (7-1)
4: New York Knicks (1-3)
3: Fort Wayne/Detroit Pistons (0-3)
While their Game 7 record does not match that of their fiercest rival, the Los Angeles Lakers have the most recent Game 7 victory in The Finals, when they dropped the Celtics in 2010.

Now three years later, we're set for another Finals Game 7. But what type of game will we get in this unpredictable series? While the first and last game have come down to the wire, the middle four games were decided with huge second-half runs and little drama in the fourth quarter.

However, after all the drama of Game 6, the Spurs and Heat more than made up for it.

In the history of Game 7 in The Finals, most games are tightly contested, with 10 of the 17 having been decided by six points or less and two going into overtime.

NBA Finals Game 7s That Have Gone To OT
1957: Celtics def Hawks 125-123 (2 OT)
1962: Celtics def Lakers 110-107 (OT)
There have been 13 games that were decided by single-digits and just four by double-digits, with an average margin of victory of 7.1 points. The Celtics posted the largest win, topping the St. Louis Hawks by 19 points in 1960.

The closest game came in 1955, when the Syracuse Nationals defeated the Fort Wayne Pistons, 92-91.

We can only hope that Thursday's Game 7 might be as close that one.
 
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