NBA Finals, Game 7: A look at the history of the sport's decisive games

Christian Petersen

Only three times since 1990 has the NBA season come down to a do-or-die, winner-take-all game. We ran down facts and trivia from the times the NBA Finals has needed a Game 7.

It was the immortal Zaza Pachulia, speaking semi-coherent English but mostly just yelling, who perfectly captured the wonder that is a Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs. This was back in 2008, when the Atlanta Hawks won an improbable Game 6 on their home floor against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoffs to extend the series to a final game. Pachulia grabbed the microphone from the sideline reporter like a pro wrestler, broke the fourth wall and addressed the crowd directly:

"Nothing easy! We going to Game 7, baby! Game 7!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The only thing better than a Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs? A Game 7 in the NBA Finals. That's exactly what's going down in Miami on Thursday night when the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat square off for the Larry O'Brien trophy.

One game for all of the proverbial marbles. It's thrilling, but it doesn't happen often. Well, actually, it's happened 18 times, but the vast majority came in the early years of the NBA, when even the dynastic Boston Celtics were pushed to a winner-take-all game in a high percentage of their championship seasons. Only three times since 1990 has a season's title come down to one game, and we'll get a fourth Thursday night.

We delved into the history of Game 7's, and we're here to give you the rundown. We're gonna answer some quick questions up front, then get into the nitty-gritty of the various games.

How often does the home team win Game 7 of the NBA Finals?

Most of the time. Only three of 17 road teams have pulled it off, just 17.6 percent. None have done it since 1978.

How often does the team that forced Game 7 win it?

Less than half of the time. In 10 of 17 Game 7's, or 58.8 percent of the time, the team that lost Game 6 has responded with a win in Game 7.

However, the NBA switched to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, putting both Game 6 and Game 7 on the home court of the team with the better regular-season record. Since then, the team that took Game 6 has won Game 7 three of four times.

How often does the best player in Game 7 win Finals MVP?

Less often than you'd think! In nine Game 7's since the NBA began giving out Finals MVP trophies, the leading scorer on the winning team in the decisive game has won MVP just four times. Wes Unseld only scored 15 points in Game 7 when he won Finals MVP in 1978. Willis Reed only had four points when he took the trophy in 1970, although it's called "The Willis Reed Game" for his heroic effort merely to play with a torn thigh muscle.

However, the four instances where the top scorer on the championship squad took MVP have happened in the last four Game 7's: James Worthy in 1988, Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994, Tim Duncan in 2005, and Kobe Bryant in 2010.

Now, let's take a look at each Finals Game 7, starting aaaaaaaaaaall the way back and getting to the games we were actually alive for.

1951: Rochester Royals 79, Knicks 75

Yes, Rochester used to be in the NBA's Western Division. Sadly, we will never see another intra-Empire State Finals, since the Brooklyn Nets are in the same conference as the Knicks. This is the only ever NBA Finals to start out 3-0 and make it to a Game 7. As a Knicks fan, I just wish Rochester fans would stop holding this one over my head.

1952: Minneapolis Lakers 82, Knicks 65

DAMMIT, KNICKS. George Mikan was the star here, with 22 points for the team from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

1954: Minneapolis Lakers 87, Syracuse Nationals 80

Mikan's squad won their third straight title with a win over a Dolph Schayes-led team that is now the Philadelphia 76ers. I would tell you how many points he had, but this is what Basketball-Reference's box score looks like.

1957: Boston Celtics 110, St. Louis Hawks 107 (2 OT)

This was the first title in Bill Russell's Celtics dynasty and, trust me, they will show up on this list again. This game turned out to be a showdown between Bob Pettit and Tommy Heinsohn, with Pettit dropping 39 and Heinsohn scoring 37 in a victory. It's not clear how many Tommy Points he was awarded. Heinsohn and Russell combined for 55 rebounds in the only double-OT game in Game 7 history.

1960: Boston Celtics 122, St. Louis Hawks 103

Another showdown between Pettit's Hawks and the Celtics, but the C's won again. Frank Ramsay was their leading scorer with 24 points — but we probably should talk about Russell, who had 22 points and 35 rebounds, nearly as many as the 39 total boards the Hawks managed. He was good at basketball.

Lest you feel too bad for St. Louis, they beat the Celtics in the 1958 Finals, the only gap in a string of nine championships in 10 seasons for Boston.

1962: Boston Celtics 110, Los Angeles Lakers 107, OT

Get used to this Celtics > Lakers thing, although I think they'll have their revenge at some point. This would be the second and final Game 7 of an NBA Finals to have overtime. L.A.'s Frank Selvy -- yes, the Lakers were now in L.A. -- had four straight points to tie the game at 100, but missed a potential buzzer-beater and the Lakers lost in overtime. Elgin Baylor and Jerry West combined for 76 in defeat, but Russell's 40 boards remain an NBA Finals record that I somehow don't think will get broken anytime soon. Old NBA statlines, man.

1966: Boston Celtics 95, Los Angeles Lakers 93

Russell had 25 points and 32 rebounds on a broken foot as the Celtics won the last game Red Auerbach ever coached. Imagine a league where the championship series ended with the same two teams playing in six out of eight finals, and the same team winning every time.

1969: Boston Celtics 108, Los Angeles Lakers 106

This is one of the great basketball games of all time. The Celtics weren't favored for once, making it to the Finals as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, while the Lakers were clearly the best team in the regular season. Los Angeles famously irked Russell by hanging balloons in a big net above the floor to be released if they won, serving as motivation for the player-coach. Wilt Chamberlain was benched down the stretch, and Don Nelson hit a shot that popped up off the rim and in to seal the game. Jerry West had 42 points, 13 boards, and 12 assists, and in the first year the NBA gave out a Finals MVP, he would become the first -- and to date, only -- player on a losing team to win the award. It would be Russell's last game as a player.

1970: New York Knicks 113, Los Angeles Lakers 99

YEAHHH GO NEW YORK GO NEW YORK GO. In other news, seriously, Lakers fans, you'll get yours. Just wait.

This was the Willis Reed game, but the true star was Clyde Frazier. Reed only managed four points on a torn thigh muscle, and was mainly there for emotional support, but Clyde had 36 points and 19 assists. He's also the best announcer of all time, and if you're reading this, I love you

1974: Boston Celtics 102, Milwaukee Bucks 87

The Celtics, man, although this one doesn't fall under the Bill Russell dynasty. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was by far the series' leading scorer, but Dave Cowens had a game-high 28 points and 14 boards. Damn, so pedestrian compared to those 1960s scorelines. John Havlicek would win MVP tho.

1978: Washington Bullets 105, Seattle SuperSonics 99

UGHHHH BULLETS SUPERSONICS I'M SO NOSTALGIC MAAAAAN. The last time a road team won Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Charles Johnson and Bob Dandridge led the Bullets with 19 points apiece, but Wes Unseld would take the MVP.

1984: Boston Celtics 111, Los Angeles Lakers 102

Oh, so THIS is why the Lakers and Celtics hate each other. I thought it was just because Jack Nicholson was in The Departed. Now in the Magic-Bird era of things, Cedric Maxwell was the star here with 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, three years after he earned Finals MVP. The Lakers, led by Abdul-Jabbar's 29 points and Magic's 15 assists, couldn't cut a 14-point lead close enough to win the title.

1988: Los Angeles Lakers 108, Detroit Pistons 105

THE LAKERS WON A GAME 7! This was Big Game James' nickname-spawning Big Game, as Worthy had 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Isiah Thomas was badly hampered by a sore ankle, but the Pistons managed to cut the lead from 15 points to just one with six seconds left. Showtime would hold on for the win, though.

1994: Houston Rockets 90, New York Knicks, 84


2005: San Antonio Spurs 81, Detroit Pistons 74

Tim Duncan has been on this stage before, and he performed swimmingly the first time. He rallied the Spurs from nine down in the third quarter to tie the game heading into the fourth, finishing with 25 points and 11 boards. Manu Ginobili added 23 points and the Spurs' defense was as stifling as ever, holding the then-defending NBA champs to just 74 points.

2010: Los Angeles Lakers 83, Boston Celtics 79

This wasn't exactly the prettiest Game 7 ever — Kobe Bryant needed 24 shots to score 23 points, Paul Pierce had 18 points on 15 shots — but it had a pretty awesome finish featuring two of everybody's favorite players, regardless of fanbase. Rasheed Wallace hit a three to cut Los Angeles' lead to three points, but Ron Artest answered right back with a three of his own to make the lead six with about a minute to go, and the Lakers would hold on. Both guys are known better for their... um... personalities than three-point strokes, but they duked it out -- with shooting -- in the final minutes of a game deciding the NBA championship. The game is also noteworthy for the fact that Nate Robinson was literally on the floor in the final minute of Game 7 of an NBA Finals, and nobody can ever take that away from me or him.

More from SB Nation:

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Flannery: The inspiring, agonizing, amazing story of Game 6

LeBron's Headband Game | Second-guessing Gregg Popovich

Like a Bosh: Chris saves game with block at buzzer

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