Remember back to the last Game 7 of the NBA Finals: 2010, Celtics at Lakers. Kobe Bryant was tight. Paul Pierce was tight. The game was played fairly cautiously.
Who were the two best players on the court? Probably Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) and Rasheed Wallace. The two guys hardwired not to feel human pressure.
LeBron James and Tim Duncan will do their part, but in any Game 7 (and any one-game championship like the Super Bowl) there is always a role player who steps up and has a career day. That is the guy who ends up swinging Game 7 with a monster play or just a hot hand (if you believe such a thing exists).
So who is it going to be Thursday night? Here are a few options.
• Mike Miller (Heat). As evidence, I point to Game 5 against the Thunder last NBA Finals — 23 points, 7-of-8 from three to help close out the series win for the Heat at home. Three point shooters can find space and fill it up for one game, and we know Miller can be that guy.
• Danny Green (Spurs). This guy was in the series MVP discussion after five games as he set the record for most three pointers made in an NBA Finals (25). Then in Game 6 the Heat decided maybe they shouldn’t sag off him so much to jump passing lanes and he couldn’t find a rhythm. If he gets a little room and gets going again in Game 7 it’s a great sign for the Spurs (because it also means Tony Parker is getting in the lane and creating shots for him).
• Mario Chalmers (Heat). This guy has taken and made the big shot since college, when a key three helped Kansas win a national title. Chalmers reminds me of Derek Fisher in the sense he has unwavering belief in his ability to hit the next shot and that kind of immunity to pressure pays off in games of this magnitude.
• Kawhi Leonard (Spurs). The stars for the Spurs — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker — had tired legs by the end of Game 6, leading to questions about how they bounce back for Game 7 48 hours later. If you’re looking at Spurs with fresh young legs who have had a good series already Leonard is your guy. He’s going to get time on LeBron James defensively, and that will be key, but he’s had a good offensive series and has hit threes as well. This could be a big day for the young future star of the Spurs.
Gordon Hayward is going to have surgery on his ankle and leg, which should not be a surprise to anyone who saw the gruesome injury to his leg just 5:15 into his Celtics career. There is no timetable for his return yet, maybe he makes it back for the playoffs, but the Celtics are not going to rush him and he may well miss the entire season.
What next for Boston?
In this PBT Extra I cover the three things to watch for from Boston, which in the short term could mean the Kyrie Irving show. Longer term, not much changes.
Gordon Hayward broke his leg early in his Celtics debut – a devastating injury. He’s preparing for surgery tonight, per Jeff Goodman of ESPN:
First – after a perfect introduction from Marcus Smart – Hayward addressed the Boston crowd from his hospital bed before tonight’s game against the Bucks.
What’s up everybody? Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has sent me your thoughts and prayers. I’m going to be alright. It’s hurting me that I can’t be there for the home opener. I want nothing more just to be with my teammates and walk out onto that floor tonight. But I’ll be supporting you guys from here and wishing you the best of luck. Kill it tonight. Thanks, guys.
At least this nice moment (and an outpouring of support) came out of such a gruesome injury.
And if Smart keeps setting up his teammates so well, maybe the Celtics’ offense will keep humming.
Joel Embiid‘s minute limit of below 20 bummed out everyone (especially Embiid).
But good news could be on the way.
Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:
The 76ers look like a borderline playoff team, Embiid’s health the biggest variable. There’s a direct correlation between his ability to stay on the court and Philadelphia’s postseason chances.
Plus, he’s just so darn fun to watch. The more he plays, the bigger victory it is for every viewer not rooting for the 76ers’ opponent that night.
John Henson was on the trade block. Greg Monroe seems permanently affixed there.
Another player the Bucks apparently want to deal? Rashad Vaughn, who was the No. 17 pick in 2015.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Milwaukee has been working to trade several players to clear salary-cap space, including guard Rashad Vaughn and center John Henson, league sources said. The Bucks have been willing to attach a second-round pick in offers for Vaughn, league sources said.
It’s unclear whether the Bucks are still as motivated to move Vaughn. They slid under the luxury-tax line by stretching Spencer Hawes. One-time target Richard Jefferson already signed with the Nuggets. A roster vacancy and cap savings might not matter as much anymore to Milwaukee.
But Vaughn has struggled in two NBA seasons. The Bucks might be better off trying to develop someone else, even a D-League player, over the 21-year-old Vaugh.
Vaughn is due $1,889,040 this season. He faces a $2,901,565 team option for next season, which his team must decide on by Oct. 31. It seems unlikely that will be exercised.
This is what happens when you draft players for the wrong reason.