Game 7 brings memorable experience(s)
“Game 7” has been called the most exciting two words in sports.
The last time the NBA had two conference final series reach a Game 7 was 1979 (when Seattle won the title).
This week both Boston and Houston hosted a Game 7 on Sunday and Monday, and I was fortunate enough to be one of only a handful of people to go to both games.
The Cleveland-Boston game had an almost surreal feel with fans of both teams having little confidence that there team would prevail considering that every game in the series had been a blowout.
The contrast between the two cities could not have been greater. On one hand, Boston is sports royalty with the Celtics having won 17 titles, the Patriots five, the Bruins six and the Red Sox three in 15 years.
On the other hand, Cleveland’s lone sports title since the days of Jim Brown was two years ago when the Cavs upset the Warriors.
Celtics fans felt they were lucky to be in the finals, missing their two top players, and confident about the future considering their two stars were 20- and 21 years old. Cleveland fans were nervous because of the rumors about LeBron James leaving at the end of the year and Cleveland returning to be one of the worst teams in basketball.
The TD Garden was filled with current and ex-Patriots and Celtics and Red Sox in attendance surrounding the court.
I was sitting right behind the Cavs bench, and it was clear from my vantage point how James simply took over the entire game.
On offense, as both teams missed 3-pointer after 3-pointer, James drove to the basket time after time with Celtic players jumping on his back. And still he scored.
On defense, he was directing his teammates where to go and on one pivotal play, he dared Terry Rozier of Boston to try to dunk over him on a fast break when another Celtic was wide open.
James, of course, blocked the shot and glared at the owner of the Celtics, Robert Kraft (the Patriots owner) and Celtic legend Paul Pierce, who were sitting in the front row.
James played every minute of the game. Clearly exhausted, he would rush over to the bench during timeouts and, like a prize fighter, wait until the last second to get off his chair. He simply willed his team to victory.
One night later, unlike the cold rainy dark feel of Boston, Houston’s temperature was nearly 100 degrees and the Toyota Center was bright red with Rocket royalty like Hakeem Olajuwon and Elvin Hayes sitting in the front row.
The Houston fans were very loud, and it almost had a college basketball feel. I like to get to the games early, and in contrast to the Celtic game where few players were shooting before the game, every Warrior star went through intense shooting drills with their coaches.
Right before the game started, motivational speaker Tony Robbins, sitting courtside, gave Kevin Durant a private pep talk on the court, and Durant looked like he was ready to walk on burnt coals.
Even though it was doubtful Rocket star Chris Paul would play, the fans were watching anxiously to see if he would emerge from the locker room and start warming up. He didn’t.
The Rockets took a 15-point lead, but everyone knew the Warriors would mount a charge, and when it happened, the energy was drained out of the stadium.
At one point, the Rockets missed 27 straight 3-pointers, and the cheers became groans as Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson hit big shot after big shot.
As the Rocket fans left the building, I kept hearing the word “if” — as in “if Chris Paul would have played we would have won.”
For the fourth straight year, the Cavs will play the Warriors for the title — Game 2 is tonight — but this time both got there the hard way.
And that’s by winning a Game 7 on the road.
Ira Kaufman is an Altoona native, attorney and traveling sports fan. He resides in New York City.