A couple of weeks have passed since the Miami Heat won its second consecutive NBA Championship, when sports fans around the country watched San Antonio take on LeBron and the Heat on June 20. While in hindsight, many revisionists may claim that it was a foregone conclusion that LeBron and D-Wade would beat the Spurs, the pundits who were asked for predictions during the 48 hours before Game 7 were almost equally split in their victory predictions between the Heat and the Spurs, debating whether Miami’s “Big 3” could match the experience and poise of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker.
The NHL almost replicated its NBA counterparts with the Boston Bruins in Game 6 being only 1:17 away from guaranteeing a Game 7 in Chicago for the 2013 NHL Championship. Less than two minutes and two goals later, Boston had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Boston Strong faithful lamented about what could have been had Game 6 been only 2 minutes shorter.
What would the hockey pundits have argued over the 48 hours between Game 6 and the would-have-been Game 7 set to be played in Chicago? It is pure speculation on my part since the deed was done in Game 6, but I bet there would have been many predicting that Beantown was about the rejoice, picking the Bruins to defeat the Blackhawks in Game 7.
For both basketball and hockey, Game 7 is a true event. There is something about the pace of the games and the inevitable changes in momentum that keep us glued to our seats until the final buzzer. Following the championship-clinching game. we sit back and watch the hoisting of the Larry O’Brien Trophy in basketball, usually reserved only for the likes of Jordan, Kobe or LeBron. Hockey has even a greater spectacle following the game. The two teams first shake hands at center ice (the ultimate ceremonial showing of sportsmanship) followed by each player (and not just the star) given the chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup above their heads. It is true theater.
In the NBA, there have been high drama examples that preceded the opening tip of a Game 7. My personal favorite was the 1970 New York Knicks, when a hobbled Willis Reed limped onto the court just minutes before the game began. Reed scored only 4 points while Walt Frazier sparkled with 36 points and 19 assists (perhaps the single best Game 7 performance ever). Yet it was Reed’s pre-game entrance that has become iconic for the Knicks’ championship. As enthralling as that story line may have been, remember that the game was played in New York at Madison Square Garden.
As exciting as it is when the opening tip is challenged or the puck is dropped for the opening face-off, the Game 7 odds are almost insurmountably against the visiting team. Just consider this: out of the 18 Game 7 Final Games for the NBA Championship ever played, only three were won by the visiting teams. The 1969 Celtics defeated the Lakers 108-106 at the LA Forum; the 1974 Celtics were victorious over the Bucks, 102-87, at Milwaukee Arena; and the then Washington Bullets beat the Supersonics in 1978 at the Seattle Center Coliseum, 105-99. That’s it, and no visiting NBA team game 7 victory in 35 years.
In its history, the NHL has had 15 finals that have gone to a Game 7. Some are more memorable than others, such as the 1950 double overtime game won by Detroit over New York, or the 1994 New York Rangers 3-2 victory over Vancouver, where captain and fan-favorite Mark Messier scored the winning goal. But with all the drama, out of the 15 Game 7 Championships ever played in the NHL, only three visiting NHL teams were victorious: The 1945 2-1 victory by Toronto over Detroit; the 1971 Montreal Canadians who beat Chicago, 3-2; and the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated Detroit 2-1.
If the Boston Bruin fans or hockey experts want to play the “what if” game for the 2013 NHL Championships, many would have picked the Bruins. To them I say that the same Blackhawks would have almost certainly held up the Stanley Cup at the end of Game 7, although they would have done so on home ice in the Madhouse on Madison. And in the end and despite the claimed expertise of those who had a forum to voice their opinions to the contrary by favoring the Spurs, the Heat did what home teams do in Game 7 of the NBA Finals—they won.
So, the majesty of a game 7 has passed. To all the pontificators who predicted a Spurs victory in Miami or would have predicted a Bruin victory in Chicago in Game 7? I say: “Study history! It is the most reliable way to predict the future.”