There's really nothing better in sports than a Game 7 of a championship series. One game for all the marbles, where anything can happen and every play is magnified. And when it comes to a Game 7 between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, there's more on the line than just a title.
For LeBron James and the Heat, a Game 7 loss at home would be a monumental failure after a 66-win regular season that featured a 27-game winning streak. It would be the second Finals loss in three years for the Big Three, and while most teams would kill to have those opportunities at a championship, it wouldn't be how things were supposed to play out for this carefully crafted group of superstars. Fair or unfair, there would be numerous questions about the future of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
But with a victory, the Heat would be back-to-back champions and on the verge of a dynasty. James would have his revenge on the Spurs after a crushing sweep in the 2007 Finals, while Wade would have his third championship. Some questions may still linger about the future of the Big Three, but those would be put on the back burner for another season.
As for the Spurs, they will be playing for the franchise's fifth title in 15 seasons. Tim Duncan has been a part of every title run, with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili along for three of the previous four. A fourth title for that Big Three would certainly look very good on their resume.
San Antonio has never lost a Finals series, and they also have experience in a Game 7. The Spurs beat the Detroit Pistons, 81-74, in the deciding game of the 2005 Finals, but they did that on their home floor. The last road team to win a Game 7 in the Finals was the Washington Bullets in 1978, when they beat the Seattle SuperSonics.
It will be difficult for Game 7 to top the drama of a Game 6 that saw the Heat come back from the dead on a Ray Allen three in the final seconds of regulation. But it certainly wouldn't be shocking if the game lived up to the hype. Let's take a look at three key questions heading into the game.
How will the Spurs respond after their Game 6 collapse?
The Spurs had the championship in their sights in Game 6. They led by four with 28 seconds left and Ginobili heading to the line. From that point on, San Antonio missed two free throws and failed to secure two key defensive rebounds, leading to two clutch Miami threes and an overtime period. The Spurs came up just short in the overtime, and the 103-100 loss could come back to haunt them.
So will the sting from the loss carry over to Game 7? If it does, the Heat could make quick work of San Antonio — but it would be hilariously foolish to count this Spurs team out. This group has loads of championship experience, and they almost certainly won't lie down and feel sorry for themselves after what happened in Game 6. Expect a great effort right out of the gates.
Which LeBron James shows up?
James' Game 6 was truly remarkable. He struggled mightily throughout the first three quarters, scoring 14 points on 3-of-12 shooting. However, the MVP turned it up in the fourth, scoring 16 points and leading a Heat comeback. But right when it looked like he would be the hero, he committed several crucial turnovers that almost gave the season away. After some more craziness, James wound up hitting the game-winner in overtime with just under two minutes to go. He finished the game with a triple-double of 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, not to mention some incredible defense on Parker.
If the LeBron James from the majority of Game 6's fourth quarter shows up at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday night, it might be a wrap. That LeBron James is a one-man wrecking crew on both ends of the floor, and when he's at his best, the Heat are tough to beat. But if James struggles like he did for much of Game 6, the Spurs will have a great chance.
Which role players step up?
The play of the stars is obviously huge and very well could decide the outcome, especially if James is operating at full throttle. But there's usually a role player or two that winds up putting his fingerprints on these types of games, and those contributions could turn out to be the difference.
Miami vowed to shut down Danny Green in Game 6, and they did exactly that. Green had just three points on 1-of-7 shooting and was blocked by Bosh at the buzzer in overtime. Green's hot three-point shooting has been key throughout the series, and if he finds his stroke in Game 7, that would provide San Antonio with a huge spark. Getting more big-time contributions from Kawhi Leonard wouldn't hurt either, although he may want to knock down clutch free throws this time around.
For Miami, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Mike Miller combined for 37 points while shooting 9-of-11 from three in Game 6. And, of course, Allen knocked down the huge game-tying three. When the Heat shooters are firing and James is finding them, that's when things can sometimes get ugly for the opponent.
Here's the info on the winner-take-all Game 7:
Game time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: AmericanAirlines Arena
Odds: The Heat are six-point favorites, according to OddsShark