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Game 7 Showdown

   by Al McMordie - 06/06/2005

It’s always fun when there’s a Game 7. Handicappers are also fans of the game, for the most part, and analyzing and breaking down matchups is even more enjoyable when teams meet in a winner-take-all playoff battle, which will happen Monday night in Miami as the Pistons and Heat battle to see who will play my favorite sports team, the San Antonio Spurs, in the Finals. As a longtime Spurs fan, I’m delighted the Heat and Pistons have had to battle seven long, grueling, physical games, while the Spurs get to sit back, rest and prepare. There are theories that playoff teams that sit for a long time can lose their edge, but I don’t buy that. It’s better for players to have the rest to heal nagging injuries (Tim Duncan’s ankle, for instance) and it gives coaching staffs more time to dissect strategies to use on an opponent.

The big story for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals is health. Miami’s Shaquille O’Neal has not been 100% the whole playoffs with a deep thigh bruise. He missed several games early in the postseason because of it, and was even limping early on against the Pistons and didn’t have a lot of jump in his step. Even worse news was Game 6 Saturday, where star guard Dwayne Wade didn’t play because of a serious rib ailment. That was one of the reasons I made Detroit my Game of the Month. This is the key for Game 7: Miami has home court, but their two most important players are not 100%. There’s even speculation that Wade might not be ready to go.

The home team in NBA Game 7 history is 74-16 (82.2 percent) and has won 19 of the last 21 Game 7s. However, injuries to star players are far more important than history or even home court. Let’s take a quick peak at some memorable playoff games where star players were hurt. In 1957, the Boston Celtics won their first NBA title by beating the St. Louis Hawks in seven games. A year later the two teams met again, but star center Bill Russell fractured his ankle in Game 3. Russell came back to play in Game 6 with the Celtics trailing 3-2 in the series, but was limping noticeably and the Hawks won the game and the NBA title.

In 1970, Game 7 of the NBA Finals was between the Knicks and Lakers at Madison Square Garden. NY center Willis Reed was limping badly, but started the game as the crowd went wild. New York went on to win the game easily, though what’s forgotten is that Reed really wasn’t much of a factor on the court, scoring 4 points.

In 1973, Celtics’ star John Havlicek injured his right shoulder in the Eastern Finals and the Knicks took advantage and went up 3-1. Havlicek continued to play, passing and taking shots left-handed, and Boston was able to force a Game 7. However, the Knicks still won Game 7 as Hondo was not himself.

In 1980, Lakers star center Kareem Abdul-Jabbaar twisted his ankle late in Game 5 and sat out Game 6 in Philadelphia, resting up in case there was a Game 7. But there wasn't, as a rookie named Magic Johnson stepped in at center for Jabbaar and scored 42 points, leading the Lakers to an upset win in Game 6 and the NBA title.

In 1982, the Celtics had home court and were favored to beat Philadelphia in the Eastern Finals, but in Game 3, veteran playmaker Tiny Archibald dislocated his shoulder and missed the rest of the series, which went seven games. The 76ers won Game 7 at Boston as an underdog, 120-106, so again the team with a key injury went down.

In 1989, the Lakers were looking to win their third straight title and made it to the Finals. However, they were a badly banged up team, with injuries to stars James Worthy and Magic. The Pistons won the series in four straight games. So while history favors the home team in Game 7, it does not favor teams with key injuries to star players. Another chapter to that saga takes place Monday night, and the $64,000 question is, "How hurt is Wade?" I have my own thoughts on the matter, and I will have both the Side and Total Winners for this Game 7 that are each out of 100% perfect systems. Don't miss them. Good luck as always...Al McMordie.

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