The Miami Heat and LeBron James couldn't close out the Indiana Pacers in Game 6. Now heading back home for Game 7, there's more than an appearance to the NBA Finals on the line -- LeBron's ever-elusive dynasty, Paul George's rising status among the league's stars and the ultimate legacy of the Heat's "Big Three" could all rest on the game.
With all of that in mind, Monday's Game 7 shapes up as one of the most memorable NBA events in recent memory.
Despite the otherworldly play of LeBron, the Heat have been put to the brink by an impassioned, determined Pacers team. Led by George and Roy Hibbert, Indiana has proven to be a legitimate force -- the kind of opponent capable of ending King James' reign.
Now with all the chips on the table, James once again needs to prove he's capable of rising to the challenge. We've seen the world's best player surpass our expectations enough times over the past decade to believe he's capable of doing the same Monday night, but rarely has he faced an opponent like Indiana.
With a world of fans watching, can LeBron add to an already lengthy list of epic performances? Or will the Pacers go down as one of his greatest foils, the rare team capable of bottling his teammates -- and his own explosiveness -- just enough to eke by? Within the context of the NBA, few recent games have felt as weighty as this one.
Game Info: Monday, June 3, 8:30 p.m. ET | National television: TNT | Odds according to Oddshark: Miami -7.5
Here are three questions that will help determine what happens in Game 7:
1. Will Bosh and Wade disappoint again?
The Heat are supposed to be powered by three brilliant stars, but the team has increasingly looked like the LeBron-centric Cavaliers teams of the past during this series. That is to say, James continues to be a superlative talent capable of individually changing games, but his teammates are ultimately losing the war in a series that requires everyone to contribute. Unless Miami can get the kinds of performances we've come to expect from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it may take a truly special performance for James to push his team to a third consecutive Finals appearance. During the past three games, Wade has averaged 12 points per game on 32 percent shooting -- terrible, but much better than Bosh's 6.3 points per game on 24-percent shooting during the same span. These are supposed to be the Heat's ancillary stars, but they've been utterly outplayed in this series.
2. Can Miami's shooting touch return?
Wade and Bosh receive the blunt of the criticism -- understandably, I might add, as max-salary stars -- but it's difficult to ignore the shooting struggles of role players like Ray Allen and Shane Battier. As great as Miami's best players are, the 3-point shooting proficiency of the team's other players significantly contributed to its emergence as the league's clear title favorite this season. While the Heat are still a dangerous team even without hot shooting -- because of the greatness of LeBron -- they're increasingly vulnerable when those open shots aren't falling. Getting better 3-point shooting from Allen (29 percent in series), Battier (13 percent) and Norris Cole (33 percent) could also open up easier opportunities for Wade and Bosh to find some rhythm.
3. Will Birdman's return change rebounding battle?
The Pacers have enjoyed a steady advantage in rebounding throughout this series, but Game 6 saw Miami get completely crushed on the boards without big man Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Suspended for that pivotal game, Andersen watched as the Pacers overpowered his teammates en route to a 53-33 rebounding clinic. Now that he's active again for Game 7, it remains to be seen whether Miami can close the rebounding gap. When the Heat have won in this series, they've still lost the rebounding battle, but it has at least been competitive. They'll need one of those gutsy efforts on the boards to limit Indiana's second chances this time around.