Tuesday, May 23, 2006
NBA's Greatest Game 7s
By Bill Simmons Page 2
Last night's Mavs-Spurs game was one of the greatest Game 7s of all time. Here's how the list looked heading into last night (in no particular order):
Game 7, 1957 Finals (Boston 125, St. Louis 123, 2 OT) -- Russell's first title, two overtimes, and the game ended when St. Louis player-coach Alex Hannum called a set play where he threw the ball from under his basket against the backboard on the other side, which ricocheted right to Bob Pettit (just like he drew it up), only Pettit missed the shot. Now that's an ending.
Game 7, 1988 Eastern Semis (Boston 118, Atlanta 116) -- The Dominique-Bird shootout. I still remember leaving the Garden and going to Bailey's in Wellesley with my dad after the game, then eating a grilled-cheese sandwich and drinking a milk shake and saying "Did that just happen?" over and over again for about 90 solid minutes.
Game 7, 1990 Western Semis (Portland 108, San Antonio 105, OT) -- Nailbiter that turned on Rod Strickland's no-look brainfart pass in the final minute, one of the worst single plays in NBA history.
Game 7, 2000 Western Finals (Lakers 89, Portland 84) -- The most underrated sports collapse of the past 20 years (Portland blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead). Absolutely astounding to watch after the fact. And everyone forgets this, but Scottie Pippen's career took a major hit -- if the Blazers held onto this game and won the title, he would have gone from "one of the better players of his generation" to "wow, maybe he was a Pantheon Guy after all!"
Game 7, 1984 Finals (Boston 111, Lakers 102) -- Everyone forgets about this one. Doesn't an exciting Game 7 that wrapped up the most important series in the history of the league (remember, the NBA was floundering before this season) count for anything? Magic, Bird, Kareem, Parish, DJ, Worthy, McHale ... none of these names intrigue you?
Game 7, 1988 Finals (Lakers 108, Detroit 105) -- Fantastic game, tons of drama (Isiah gamely playing on a sprained ankle), a phenomenal game from Big Game James, and one of the weirdest endings ever -- the crowd starting to rush the floor even though the Pistons had a chance to tie the game, followed by Magic violently body-checking Isiah to the ground as he dribbled to launch a game-tying three ... no call! Bring this up to anyone from Detroit and they have a stroke.
Game 7, 2002 Western Finals (Lakers 112, Sacramento 106, OT) -- Monumental more for the Kings' choke job than anything. Nobody on that team stepped up but Bibby -- everyone else was terrified. And that includes you, C-Webb. Very exciting game though. There is absolutely no way that the Kings should have lost this series.
Game 7, 1987 Eastern Semis and Eastern Finals (Boston over Milwaukee, 119-113, and Boston over Detroit, 117-114) -- Everyone forgets about these games, too. In the Milwaukee game, the Celts were down by nine in the final six minutes before Bird took over. In the Detroit game, the Pistons were probably headed for a win before Dantley and Vinnie Johnson butted heads, followed by -- you guessed it -- Bird taking over. Two classic Boston Garden games. Just classic.
Game 7, 1962 Finals (Boston 110, Lakers 107, OT) -- LA's Frank Selvy misses a 15-footer at the buzzer that would have won the championship; Celts win in overtime. Make no mistake -- Bill Russell was great, and that 10-0 record in Game 7s speaks for itself; but you need a little luck, too.
Game 7, 1995 Western Semis (Houston 115, Phoenix 114) -- The lost game of the "MJ's playing baseball" era: KJ puts up a 46-10 in a losing effort, the Rockets stave off elimination for the sixth time in two years, and Mario Elie puts himself on the map.
Game 7, 1962 and 1965 Eastern Finals (Boston over Philly both times, 109-107 and 110-109) -- Two of the defining Wilt-Russell games, both came down to the last few seconds. The '65 one featured the "Havlicek steals the ball!" play.
Game 7, 1998 Eastern Finals (Chicago 88, Indiana 83) -- My favorite game of the MJ-Pippen Era. They were outmanned and running on fumes ... and they simply refused to lose the game. An exercise of sheer will.
Game 7, 1969 Finals (Boston 108, Lakers 106) -- Russell's last title comes over Wilt, Jerry and Elgin. The '69 Celts never got enough credit -- not only did they outlast a superior Lakers team, but they whupped the '69 Knicks in the conference finals (the same team that won the following year and had about 35 books written about them).
Game 7, 1994 Eastern Finals, 1995 Eastern Semis (New York over Indiana 94-90, Indiana over New York 97-95 -- Terrible basketball but dramatic as hell. I would never want to watch either of these games again.
Game 7, 1986 Eastern Semis (Milwaukee 113, Philly 112) -- Totally underrated game, tons of star power (Doc, Barkley, Moses, Moncrief, Cummings), dramatic ending (Doc missing a 15-footer to win the game), followed by Philly stupidly panicking and dismantling their team in two trades (Moses, Terry Catledge and three No. 1 picks, including the overall No. 1 in the '86 draft, for Roy Hinson, Jeff Ruland and the other Cliff Robinson ... ouch.)
Game 7, 1981 Eastern Finals (Boston 91, Philly 90) -- My personal pick for the greatest Game 7 because this doubled as the greatest playoff series ever: two 62-win teams; five of the games were decided on the last play; the star power (Doc, Bird, Toney, McHale, Parish, Archibald, Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Dawkins, Maxwell) was off the charts; the games were much more physical and heated then they are now; and the refs put their whistles away for the final quarter of Game 7, leading to a hybrid basketball game/rugby match that remains the most competitive finish in basketball history (four or five guys on the floor on every play), culminating with Bird's famous go-ahead bankshot in the final minute (for more details, check my Basketball Jesus column), and then everyone storming the court after Bobby Jones overthrew Julius on an out-of-bounds alley-oop that could have won Philly the game on the last play. There will never, ever, EVER be another Game 7 like this one. The rules just wouldn't allow it.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.