Sports fans, in this case pro hoops devotees, live for the competition and unpredictability of a Game 7.
Amazingly, the opening round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, the first under new commissioner Adam Silver, who certainly stepped to the line this week, will conclude with five of the dramatic affairs. That matches the most for any NBA playoff season in its entirety.
Saturday May 3 was hailed as the first time three NBA series would be decided in the ultimate game battle on the same day, with all airing on TNT. Well on Friday, the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks and matched the Thursday feat of the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors in fighting off elimination in Game 6 of their respective series.
A six-pack of Sevens was in the cards until Damian Lillard’s three at the buzzer overcame Chandler Parsons’ reverse put-back with 0.9 seconds left to prevent the Houston Rockets from regaining home court for a final showdown against Paul Allen’s Portland Trail Blazers. Perhaps the spirit of the late Dr. Jack Ramsay guided Lillard's long-range shot and Portland to its first series win since 2000.
As such, the NBA will have to settle for pair of Game 7s on Sunday – Brooklyn will visit the Air Canada Centre and the Toronto Raptors, while San Antonio’s Big Three will entertain Dirk’s Mavericks on May 4 on ABC.
But the excitement and ratings ascension tied to Game 7 doesn’t necessarily mean the most attractive TV team will advance. An Atlanta win over the top-seeded Pacers on Saturday would mark an historic late-season collapse for the East’s top-seed, which would hold homecourt advantage in a potential conference finals rematch against defending champion Miami (the Heat beat Indy at American Airlines in Game 7 last year). It also would result in the Hawks playing Washington. Even, though, the Wizards are ascendant that doesn’t exactly make for a compelling second-round matchup.
Given the popularity of potential league MVP Kevin Durant and his sidekick Russell Westbrook, OKC can’t get grisly against Memphis. Unlike the Pacers, which saw its top gun Paul George avoid suspension for stepping on the court during a last-second altercation, the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph will miss Game 7 after punching Steven Adams. With Mike Conley hurting, it’s going to be tough road for my beloved Grizzle (DMA No. 50) – but that’s a good thing for the league and the much higher-profile Thunder (never mind that Oklahoma City is only nine rungs higher on the Nielsen market scale).
The Saturday nightcap features two of the league’s most fun teams to watch. The sordid Donald Sterling affair might lose some of its news cycle currency if the Clippers fell to the Warriors at Staples. But then, the league would be missing LA, as well as Chicago following the Bulls’ goring at the hands of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and the rest of the Wizards. A Golden State win keeps the Bay Area’s ardent fans and market No. 6 in the action and smooth as silk shooter Steph Curry on our screens.
The TV rooting interests is far more clear-cut in the Sunday opener: The Nets are the obvious choice over Nielsen-free Toronto, even if much of the top-rated New York DMA still prefers Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson. Besides, Brooklyn doused LeBron James’s two-time defending championship squad four for four during the regular season. The Raptors don’t have the veteran and diverse roster to make the Heat sweat.
Sunday's second game 7 could mark the last rodeo for San Antonio stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker. Calling DMA 36 their home, the Spurs are the small market team that continues to make good – and should be defending a championship from last year. Dallas is market No. 5 and Nowitizki is one of the league’s all-time greats. But Mark Cuban’s team is probably not capable of escaping the rest of the West, much less legitimately reprising a 2011 title redux run.
A San Antonio-Miami Finals rematch would pack plenty of Nielsen punch – especially if it goes to a seventh game again.