Had the Rockets defeated the Warriors on Friday night, we would have had three Game 7’s on the same day for just the second time in NBA history. However, despite playing without Kevin Durant (calf), Golden State shocked the Rockets behind vintage performances from the Splash Brothers, wrapping up that series. Thus, we’ll have to settle for two must-see Game 7’s.
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Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets - 3:30 PM on ABC
This series, which has provided a little bit of everything, has been incredibly entertaining. Game 3 gave us an epic, quadruple-overtime thriller, just the second playoff game in league history to go to four overtimes. Game 4 also came down to the wire, before Denver eked out the win.
Trailing 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Thursday night, the Blazers needed a victory to keep their season alive. They did just that behind monster efforts from their star-studded backcourt. Damian Lillard, who had surprisingly struggled in the previous two contests, poured in 32 points to go along with six triples, three boards, five assists and one steal, while C.J. McCollum contributed 30 points, six rebounds, three assists, two 3-pointers and zero turnovers across 42 minutes. Portland also got a major lift from an unexpected source, as Rodney Hood was 8-of-12 from the field en route to 25 points, four rebounds and three 3-pointers in 32 minutes off the bench.
Sunday’s contest will be the first Game 7 of Lillard’s career, but it’s certainly not surprising to hear Dame Dollar will enter the arena with plenty of confidence: "I am not going in there saying, 'I’ve never been in a Game 7.' I am going in saying, 'I know what this team is capable of.' I know what I am and who I am. I am going in there to get the job done," said Lillard.
There was also an altercation late in Game 6, which resulted in four technicals when Seth Curry had to be separated from Denver’s Will Barton. Afterward, Curry had some unflattering words about Barton. “He waited for a few people to get in between us, and when a few people were in between us, he put his finger in my eye,” Curry said of Barton. “You know what I’m saying. I can’t allow people to put their fingers in my eye. “That’s real sassy. They got a few sassy dudes over there. Front-runners. And we can’t allow that.”
According to Chris Hayes of Yahoo Sports, “Barton was irate when he heard Curry’s remarks. He was convinced Curry was trying to play a tough-guy role he was not capable of or qualified to pull off.” In addition, Evan Turner reportedly flipped off the Nuggets after assisting C.J. McCollum‘s dagger 3-pointer, according to Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post.
As if a Game 7 could add any more tension or get any more spicy...
Despite a stellar record and consistent success, the Nuggets have seemed to fly under the radar all season. Sunday afternoon, they have a chance to advance to the Western Conference Finals for just the third time in franchise history, and the first time in a decade, since back when Carmelo Anthony led the way in 2009.
The Nuggets will have the all-important home-court advantage in Game 7. They also have Nikola Jokic, who has stamped himself as one of the NBA’s best all-around players this postseason. Incredibly, The Joker is averaging 24.8 points, 13.0 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.5 triples in 39.6 minutes per contest, while shooting 51.5 percent from the floor. He has a chance to join Oscar Robertson (1962-63) as just the second player in NBA history to average at least 24 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists over the course of a full postseason. To put those numbers in context, Jokic has grabbed 169 rebounds in the 2019 playoffs, while no other player has more than 114. Jokic has also dished out 116 assists, while no other player has more than 96.
Jamal Murray was the X-Factor for the Nuggets in round one vs. San Antonio. He averaged 23.5 points and 5.3 assists, while shooting 52 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free-throw line in the four wins over the Spurs. In Denver's three losses to San Antonio, Murray averaged just 13.0 points and 2.7 assists, while shooting 35% from the floor and 40% on his free throw trips. He’s been more consistent in this series, but the Nuggets need to him to step up with a big performance in Game 7 vs. Portland.
In that San Antonio series, the Nuggets also lost Game 6 on the road, before coming home to regroup and taking care of business in the deciding contest. During the regular season, the Nuggets were 34-7 in Denver, which was the best home record in the entire league.
Sunday’s winner will travel to Golden State on Tuesday for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, which will begin at 9:00 PM EST and will be televised on ESPN. Game 2 will be Thursday night.
Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors - 7:00 PM on TNT
It’s not just a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line for these two squads; the outcome of this Game 7 could have a profound impact on the future of these respective franchises.
The Sixers, no longer willing to patiently wait out “The Process,” decided to go all in this season. First, they traded Robert Covington, Dario Saric and a 2022 second-round draft pick for Jimmy Butler in November. Then, in February, they dealt Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, a 2020 first-round draft pick, a 2021 first-round draft pick, a 2021 2nd round draft pick and a 2023 2nd round draft pick for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic.
They pulled the trigger on both these deals despite the fact that Jimmy Buckets and Harris will be unrestricted free agents in July. If the Sixers flame out in the second round, how will they approach the offseason? Can they afford to let Butler and Harris walk after paying such a steep price to acquire them? Will both players be willing to return to the City of Brother Love? Furthermore, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Brett Brown's job is on the line in Game 7.
On the Toronto sideline, they rolled the dice in 2018-19 as well by trading for Kawhi Leonard, knowing there was no guarantee he would sign with the Raptors when he hits free agency this summer. You’d have to think advancing all the way to the Conference Finals, and possibly beyond, would increase Toronto’s chances of keeping Kawhi north of the border. On the other hand, losing a Game 7 on your home floor would leave an awfully sour aftertaste as Leonard and the Raps head into the offseason.
As far as the game itself, one key element will be which Ben Simmons will show up for the Sixers. With the team’s back against the wall in Game 5 on Thursday, Simmons stepped up by shooting 9-of-13 from the field for 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists across 35 minutes. Big Ben’s play has been a bellwether for Philly. In the Sixers seven wins this postseason, Simmons is averaging 16.3 points and 7.6 assists per game. In the Sixers four losses this postseason, Simmons is averaging 10.0 points and 3.5 assists per game. Philly needs Simmons to be aggressive on Sunday.
Philadelphia obviously also needs a strong showing from Joel Embiid. When healthy, Embiid has been one of the most dominant players in the league throughout these playoffs. However, between knee soreness and battling bouts of illness, it’s been difficult to predict which version of Embiid will be on the floor once the games begin.
For Toronto, Kawhi Leonard has been playing at an incredibly high level all postseason. He is currently averaging 31.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.5 treys and 1.1 steals, while shooting a scorching 56.3 percent from the floor. LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only other players in league history to average at least 31 points and eight boards while shooting over 55 percent from the floor in 10-plus games during a single postseason. Kawhi is averaging 33.7 points, 10.2 boards and 4.2 dimes in the series.
Back in 2001, these same two teams faced off in the second round, with a chance to take on the Bucks in the Conference Finals as well. That series also came down to a Game 7. In fact, it came down to the finals seconds of a Game 7, before Vince Carter missed a fadeaway jumper as time expired, sending Allen Iverson and his Sixers to the next round. We’ll see if the Raptors can reverse fate this time around.
The winner of the Raptors-Sixers matchup will travel to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks Wednesday for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which will tip-off at 8:30 PM EST and will be televised on TNT. Game 2 of that series will be played on Friday night.