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IT'S THAT TIME AGAIN
Jack McCallum
May 24, 2004
Everything changes when you get to Game 7. The air is different. The noise is different. And there's so much weight
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May 24, 2004

It's That Time Again

Everything changes when you get to Game 7. The air is different. The noise is different. And there's so much weight

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HOME IS WHERE THE EDGE IS

Of the 240 playoff series that went the distance in the NBA, the NHL and major league baseball through 2003, the home team won 67.9% of the deciding games, nowhere more consistently than those in pro basketball.

 

BASEBALL

HOCKEY

BASKETBALL

Total best-of-seven series

131

471

303

Series requiring seven games

44 (34%)

111 (24%)

85 (28%)

Game 7 wins by home team

23 (52%)

70 (63%)

70 (82%)

Seven is a good handy figure in its way, picturesque, with a savor of the mythical.
—Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

'Tis the season of Game 7s, a time when the drama of sports is at its peak, when the sound track accompanying our games should feature the stentorian tones of John Facenda. And so the stage is set for an epic Game 7. For one team, there will be glorious victory; for the other, there will be no tomorrow. Tell it, John.

Indeed, there is nothing in sports as fraught with tension and as memorable to its participants as the decisive game of a postseason series. "Right now is the time we all dreamed about: Game 7," said Chris Webber after a 104-87 win on Sunday earned his Sacramento Kings a one-game showdown, scheduled for Wednesday, against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The spring had already yielded four early Game 7s, as welcome to the sporting landscape as early-blooming daffodils to the home gardener, when three NHL first-rounders went the distance. And as of Monday, both the Eastern ( Tampa Bay- Philadelphia) and Western ( San Jose- Calgary) Conference finals had the chance of maxing out. In the NBA, meanwhile, Detroit, like Sacramento, earned a Game 7 opportunity in a conference semifinal with a Game 6 win on Sunday; the Pistons beat the New Jersey Nets 81-75 to set up an Eastern Game 7 on Thursday. Their opponents in the final, either the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat, were scheduled to lock up in a Game 6 on Tuesday (after SI's press time), with the Pacers ahead 3-2 and the Heat trying to advance to its second Game 7 of the spring (having beaten the New Orleans Hornets in the ultimate game of the opening round).

Game 7s have such a hold on our collective imagination that many memorable postseason moments are assumed to have happened in a Game 7, when in reality they didn't. It's a safe bet that, years from now, Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher will be hearing, "I remember your shot, D-Fish. Game 7 against the Spurs, baby." The same thing will happen to Brian Scalabrine of the New Jersey Nets, whose heroic moments in a three-year career have, to date, been few and far between. "Yo, Veal Scalabrine," they'll say, "I remember that Game 7 against the Pistons. Seventeen points. Man, they should've played you more."

Both men were actually heroes of Game 5s, but the drama was so intense that those games seemed like series enders. Fisher's turnaround heave with 0.4 seconds left on the clock—T-shirts bearing the inscription 0.4 are being worn around L.A. these days—gave the Lakers a 74-73 victory over San Antonio on May 13 and the momentum necessary to clinch the series against the defending champs with an 88-76 win two nights later at the Staples Center. And Scalabrine's all-around play (he was "the MVP, hands down," Nets forward Richard Jefferson said) was the catalyst in the Nets' 127-120, triple overtime marathon win over the Pistons on Friday night.

Ah, but fame is transitory: Except for two personal fouls and one steal, Scalabrine put up a line of zeros in 10 minutes of play in Sunday's Game 6 loss. Still, the Nets' fan favorite had a chance to redeem himself on Thursday night, when something special was bound to happen to someone.

"I remember all my Game 7s," says Larry Bird, who won six of the eight in which he played for the Boston Celtics. "Hell, if you don't remember them, what do you remember?"

Game 7s are unique, of course, because of the stakes and the consequent pressure. Sports are always about displaying grace under pressure, but showing that grace in the cauldron of a Game 7 is something else again. The significance of every at bat, every free throw, every power play is magnified.

On April 17, 1971, the night before he was to face the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at hostile Boston Garden, Ken Dryden, a 23-year-old rookie goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, turned on the television in his hotel room. "The only thing I could find was The Bruins Week in Review or whatever it was called," says Dryden, now president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "All they kept showing was the Bruins' scoring goal after goal. Esposito scores! Orr scores! Esposito scores again! I was already nervous, and I turned downright depressed. I went to bed and dreamed about all those goals."

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