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.
The Magic took a major risk trading for Serge Ibaka, who’s heading into unrestricted free agency next summer. Rather than have Victor Oladipo (who’ll be a restricted free agent) and the No. 11 pick (who’s on a four-year contract), Orlando could come away empty-handed within a year if Ibaka leaves.
So far, everyone is saying the right things.
Ibaka, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:
“I’m looking to stay here to play forever — for [as] many, many years as possible,” Serge Ibaka said during the Magic’s media day.
“I’m not really worried about my contract year or my long-term,” Ibaka said.
“One of the things I learned playing on a good team is when the team wins, when you make the playoffs, everybody looks good. So that’s what will be my focus right now, because if we win and make the playoffs, everything will take care of itself.”
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, via Robbins:
“We certainly traded for Serge thinking long-term, and that’s our expectation,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said.
I’d be surprised if the Magic and Ibaka didn’t discuss the parameters of his next contract, with the Thunder’s permission, before making the trade. But the Collective Bargaining Agreement prevents any binding unofficial arrangements, so nothing is set in stone.
Ibaka is already talking about making the playoffs, and that would go a long way toward convincing him to stay in Orlando. But what if the Magic miss the postseason, a distinct possibility? How keen will Ibaka be on returning then?
He’ll have other suitors – unless he has a down year. Then, how badly will Orlando want him back?
That Ibaka and the Magic are entering the season with the stated intention of a long-term arrangement means something. But it means only so much.
“There are so many talented players in the league. But only a few of them are remembered as being great — because they were willing to say they don’t know. And I’m willing to say that I don’t know everything. I do not know how it is to be a great player, to be a Hall of Famer. I want to learn.”
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (via Kyle Ratke on Twitter)
There were a lot of things to like about Towns’ rookie campaign — it was impressive enough to make him the clear Rookie of the Year — he averaged 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, shot 54.2 percent from the floor, and had a PER of 22.3.
But if you talk to people around the league, what really impressed them was his work ethic and drive. He puts in the time, he’s driven, and he listens. There’s a reason Kevin Garnett took to him.
KAT is going to be great. No question.
Jamaal Wilkes spent a brilliant basketball career always being overshadowed by an all-time great. At UCLA he won two titles and 88 straight games as part of John Wooden’s legacy on squads remembered as Bill Walton’s teams; in the NBA he won championships on teams led by Rick Berry first, then Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Look at it this way: when the Lakers clinched the NBA title in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, Wilkes had 37 points and 10 rebounds. But what do we remember from that game? Magic scoring 42 points with 15 rebounds and 7 assists as he played all five positions.
Wilkes finally was recognized for his greatness when he was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame back in 2012.
This week he put his Hall of Fame ring up for auction online via Nate Sanders and got $25,000 for it. From the official press release:
The 10k Jostens ring features a diamond set on a square red stone. “Basketball Hall of Fame” is engraved in the gold surrounding the stones. Wilkes’ name is engraved on one side above two basketball players in relief. The opposite side has the year “2012” engraved above the Hall of Fame’s official logo.
The ring comes with a letter of authenticity from Wilkes.
Wilkes had previously auctioned off his Hall of Fame trophy, too.
The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.