Simply put, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will square off in potentially the most important game in NBA history. When the two squads clash in Game 7 of the NBA Finals Sunday at Oracle Arena, legacies and historical relevance will be on the line for each team and their respective stars.
The Warriors not only need a victory to claim a second-straight championship but also to further validate their 73-win season. A victory strengthens Golden State’s claim to the title of “Greatest Team in NBA History,” while a loss subjects them to ridicule and completely knocks them out of the “Greatest” conversation. Point guard Stephen Curry’s back-to-back MVP campaigns may also require an asterisk unless he can rediscover the form that made him the most feared offensive player in the league, lest he face ridicule for fading when his team needs him the most.
The same could be said for the Cavs' LeBron James. Already assured a place in the Hall of Fame, many believe James still lacks a signature performance or victory to validate what’s already been a Hall of Fame career. And don’t forget the promise he made to the City of Cleveland to bring it its first title in any major sport since 1964.
Depending on the result, the game could very well join the shortlist of famous Game 7s in the league history. Here’s a quick snapshot of each and what they meant at the time.
Warriors vs. Thunder, 2016 Western Conference Finals, Warriors win 96-88
Golden State already faced elimination and potential invalidation of their 73-win season during these playoffs. Curry and company erased a 3-1 series deficit by overcoming Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and carried on to only face the same exact problem against the Cavs.
Heat vs. Spurs, 2013 NBA Finals, Heat win 95-88
James would lockdown the second straight title of his career and perhaps gain the experience necessary to topple Golden State this year. He scored a record 37 points, tying the mark for most points in an NBA Finals Game 7 and won series MVP.
Lakers vs. Kings, 2002 Western Conference Finals, Lakers win in overtime 112-106
The Lakers, powered by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, were seeking a three-peat but the pesky and lightning quick Kings were standing in their way. Sacramento was the small-market team challenging among basketball's most storied clubs. It was a series that had some questionable officiating, and plenty of exciting moments. With O’Neal notching 35 points and 13 rebounds and Bryant 30, it would stand as the last title shared by the two superstars.
Knicks vs. Pacers, 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Pacers win 97-95
In the heart of a rivalry highlighted by Reggie Miller and filmmaker Spike Lee’s histrionics both on and off the court, injured Knicks center Patrick Ewing would miss a layup at the buzzer that would’ve sent the game to overtime.
Celtics vs. Lakers, 1984 NBA Finals, Celtics win 111-102
Arguably the biggest and most heated rivalry in any sport, Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics met in the finals for the first time. Los Angeles actually forced the decisive game behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 30 points and 10 rebounds in Game 6, but with home-court advantage in final game the Celtics would triumph thanks to Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge’s combined 20 points off the bench and 20 offensive rebounds compared to L.A.’s nine.
Knicks vs. Lakers, 1970 NBA Finals, Knicks win 113-99
Featuring Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, the Lakers won Game 6 and were favored to win it all when the Knicks Willis Reed suffered a torn right leg muscle. But Reed started in Game 7 and scored New York’s first two baskets, inspiring the rest of the squad and point guard Walt Frazier’s 36 points.