The two sweetest words in all of sports: Game Seven. The Warriors and Cavaliers are headed for Game 7 Sunday in Oakland after the Cavaliers won Game 6 to storm back after being down 3-1 in the NBA Finals and even the series. LeBron James has been otherworldly, the Warriors have look rattled, but history is very much on Golden State's side.
Here's an early look at seven things to know about Game 7.
1. Road teams have severe disadvantage
Teams are 15-3 all-time at home in Game 7's of the Finals, and the road team has not won since 1978. Teams are also 101-24 all-time in a playoff Game 7 at home. So no, the odds are not in the Cavaliers favor.
However, the Cavs are already in the process of making history. No team has ever come back from down 3-1, and no team had ever won Game 6 after losing Games 1,2 and 4 headed into Thursday night. None of those teams that lost on the road ever had LeBron James, either.
But often times, Game 7's come down to just one thing ...
2. It's simple: Whoever shoots better wins Game 7's
Every game depends on who makes more baskets, obviously, but a Game 7 means you've scouted everything out you can. There are no more adjustments. There are no more tactical moves to make. It comes down to who can hit shots.
The Warriors are the best shooting team in NBA history, by effective field-goal percentage. That sounds reductive, but it's complex. It's the end result of how little room there is for error in these games, how exhausting long series are and how at the end of it, this is why players and coaches say "it's a make or miss league." This obviously benefits the Warriors, but if anyone should know how shots can seemingly abandon teams at the worst time, it's the Warriors, who have shot 29-of-82 the past two games from 3-point range.
3. Draymond Green will need to make amends
Green said after missing Game 5 with a suspension caused by his flagrant foul count that the Warriors would have wrapped up the Finals if he had played. Instead, he came out in Game 6, scored eight points on seven shots and finished with a minus-12, a category he almost always dominates.
Green was not an impact player Friday night, and what's worse, Tristan Thompson very much was. He took over Game 6 with dunks inside, often with Green in the vicinity. Harrison Barnes was substantially worse, but Barnes isn't relied upon like Green.
Here's the fact: the Warriors were without their emotional engine, their "fire" in Game 5, at home, with a chance to close out. Green cost his team, and swore he would not let anything else bad happen. Instead, the Warriors are headed to a Game 7. Draymond has talked a big game, and dared everyone in the NBA to shut him up. No one has. LeBron James is on the precipice.
The Warriors are embodied by this from Green. He talks, everyone hates him for gloating in their face, but he wins anyway. Now he's in danger of being considered by many to be the reason the Warriors did not win the title after winning a record 73 games.
Green is no longer a fun underdog story. He's facing real NBA pressure now, for the first time in his career.
4. LeBron James has been great in Game 7's
Here is how James has fared in five career Game 7 games:
- 34.4 points per game
- 47 percent shooting from the field
- 31 percent from 3-point range
- 9.0 rebounds per game
- 3.6 assists per game
- Record: 3-2
- Finals Game 7 record: 1-0.
So yeah, the King comes prepared.
In many ways, though, what James has done in this series to force a Game 7 against a 73-win team after going down 3-1 should stand on its own as a worthy testament to his greatness. In his last two games, he has played just over 85 minutes and put up 82 points, 22 rebounds and 18 assists. He's also turned the ball over just three times, after 188 touches per NBA.com. It is breathtaking, it is incredible, it is awe-inspiring.
It should be enough, but it won't be. He has to win this Game 7, on the road and against the best individual team in league history, after going behind 3-1. And the Cavaliers will not win it unless he has another masterpiece in him. If James had fallen by the wayside these past two games, it would have been understandable, even if his legacy would have been crushed. The Warriors looked better. It happens.
Instead, he has done what he said he would do, he has led them, and forced a Game 7. He has put up omnipotent performances to get them here.
He has to do it again.
5. A Fragile Champion
The Warriors are the defending champions. They showed serious heart against Oklahoma City after trailing 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. Yet here in Game 6 against the Cavs , they completely unraveled. At the heart of it was Stephen Curry, who fouled out of the game, threw his mouthpiece which hit a fan courtside, and was ejected. The Warriors spent Game 6 in foul trouble, and Steve Kerr lit up the officials like the Fourth of July after the game, but realistically, only one, maybe two calls against Curry were really questionable. And beyond that, Curry has to recognize the situation and keep from eliciting those calls.
Instead, Curry dared them. Kerr kind of revealed the Warriors' attitude after Game 6 in saying the calls were ridiculous for anyone (they were not), "let alone an MVP." As if because Curry is the MVP, he is allowed to foul without recourse, especially given the physical nature the Cavaliers have played with. This is where the Warriors' heads are at leading into their most crucial game of the season. A Game 7 at home for the championship, and they're offended that the officials dared to call the MVP for fouls.
You had to expect Game 6 to be called tight after the hijinks in the past couple of games. The NBA could not afford another incident with Draymond Green back on the floor. There should have been no surprise and yet the Warriors routinely quit on plays to complain to the officials. In the end, the Warriors were called for 25 fouls, and the Cavaliers were called for 25 fouls.
On some level, the Warriors have been humbled in these Finals, just as they were humbled against the Thunder. However, they've always been ready to overcome them. The officiating likely swings back the Warriors way in Game 7 at home. But you have to wonder where their emotional state is going into a game this big.
6. The Death Lineup Looks ... Well, Dead
Everyone thought that without Andrew Bogut, the Warriors would finally just open up their smallball unit and run the Cavaliers off the floor.
A minus-18 in 11 minutes for the Warriors' vaunted lineup, and they shot 3-of-21 from the field. Tristan Thompson devastated them on the interior. That lineup was always the failsafe, the fallback, the super weapon they could deploy to save the day. And instead, it let them down in horrific manner and with Bogut's injury there's no default to turn to.
Much of this revolves around Green. He has to be a positive and has to win his matchup. He always has before. Game 7 will come down to him, in many ways.
7. Supporting Casts
Look, Game 7's are always going to come down to stars. That's about it. Can Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry have a better game than LeBron James and Kyrie Irving? (Sorry, Kevin Love.) That's the deal. But whatever the stars will have to do will be dictated by the supporting players. Andre Iguodala is suffering from back spasms and looked like a shell of himself in Game 6. Leandro Barbosa gave the Warriors good minutes with 14 points, but non-Splash Brothers scored 46 points total.
J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson had 29 combined, just the two of them. So while Game 7 will be decided by the big names, whoever gets those surprising contributions will be a big deal. And again, at home, role players play better, which is another mark in the Warriors' favor.