Saturday marks the first time in NBA history that the league will boast three decisive Game Sevens on the same day. In a fitting near-end to the league’s Greatest First Round Ever, three compelling season-ending or extending contests will take place on Saturday, and we’re here to ask one pressing question for each team as they potentially look forward to the final night of their season.
Atlanta: Can the Hawks keep the floor spread, and the three-pointers potent?
The Hawks have shot a merely above-average 39 percent from long range in this series, thanks in large part to center Pero Antic’s 3-22 mark from behind the arc, but both Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap have shot 41 percent in the series on bombs, and DeMarre Carroll has kept the Pacers in check by hitting 9-17 (52.9 percent). Atlanta has turned the league’s top regular season defense on its ear with its drive and kick game, just about relegating Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Roy Hibbert into a scrub along the way. Those long range looks figure to be there in Game 7, but this still remains a shot taken from 22-to-25 feet away, and no sure thing to go in despite past success. Will these flurries drop while on the road?
Indiana: Does this team have anything it can rely on?
Why, exactly, did the Pacers come back to win Game 6? There was David West’s 24 points, but he’s looked tired in this series and has missed several chippies near the rim. Paul George notched 24 points after hitting nine free throws, but his ability to drive and draw good contact has eluded him at times against Atlanta. Lance Stephenson also contributed 21 points, but he was teetering on his typical edge all night. Meanwhile, the Hawks still had plenty of open looks that just would not fall, even at home. Indiana still has the advantage on paper, but they’ve been unable to follow through on these sorts of paper-y things for months, and one wonder if this figures to extend to Game 7.
Memphis: Is the loss of Zach Randolph a death knell?
The questionable call – we’re referring to both Randolph’s move, and the NBA’s reaction – denies the Grizzlies the use of their leading playoff scorer and rebounder, a potentially killer move for a team that often has to desperately claw its way to 90 points. Toss in Mike Conley’s strained hamstring and the fact that Marc Gasol will have to give up on some of his defensive duties in order to lend a hand on the glass, and it’s very possible that in a seven-game series featuring four overtimes that the Z-Bo-less Grizz could absolutely wear themselves out. Which is an outright shame, because this team is too good to act as typical first round fodder. Randolph and the NBA (pick your side) really did us a disservice, here.
Oklahoma City: Could the loss of Randolph hand the Thunder any sort of momentum?
This isn’t to dismiss the Grizzlies’ chances, the team has more than enough without Z-Bo to win even on the road, but the Thunder not only have an excellent chance to move on in this series, but to establish some sort of offensive chemistry heading into the second round. Randolph isn’t one of Memphis’ go-to defenders, but his absence lessens Marc Gasol’s defensive impact, which could allow Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to improve their shooting percentages, as they did in Thursday’s blowout Game 6 win. For a team that’s expected to play until June, these extra reps can’t help but, um, help.
Unless the Grizzlies have other ideas, of course.
Golden State: Will the players rally one more time for Mark Jackson?
Game analysts and most importantly the Warrior front office may not be Mark Jackson’s biggest fans at this point, but the relationship between the Golden State head coach and his players has never been in question. With rumors swirling about his future on Thursday night, the W’s banded together to force a Game 7, with center Jermaine O’Neal articulating what has been on everyone’s mind for weeks (“You get the feel that no matter what happens, our coach won't be our coach next year”) following the game. Whether or not Jackson’s imminent firing is a fait accompli is still in question, but his players can go a long way toward chipping away at that presumed inevitability by pulling out a Game 7 win on the road.
Los Angeles: When will mental exhaustion finally set in with the Clippers?
Saturday marks the week-long anniversary of the comments that set the NBA afire, resulting in the banishment of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the musings as to exactly how long this drama will go on for, amateur quarterbacking along legal lines, and oh yeah the Clippers and Warriors strung out a wickedly entertaining seven-game playoff series along the way. Mental exhaustion is real, and these Clippers can amp themselves into oblivion and lose focus in the face of a (very) talented Warriors team that has the scoring and defensive ability to keep these Clips (a championship contender) at arm’s length for 48 minutes. Los Angeles has some pretty admirable buttresses to rely on – leader of men Doc Rivers, Point God Chris Paul, the ever-evolving brilliance of Blake Griffin – but this is quite the chore. Quite the chore.
Don’t let Donald Sterling ruin another slate of games for you, though, sports fans. Saturday is shaping up to be something special. Historically special. Treat it as you would a sneaker-squeaking Liberty Bell.
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