Game 7 Among Most Anticipated NBA Game In Decades

It's Christmas for pro basketball fans — game 7 of the NBA Finals is Thursday night. And, after an epic, draining game 6, the match up between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs has put everyone, from casual observers and the stats geeks, in a tizzy.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

If you are a sports fan, you'll probably be watching tonight's Game 7 showdown in the NBA Finals and if you're not, you should really consider it. This is one of the most anticipated pro basketball games in decades. The Miami Heat fought back from a five-point deficit in under 30 seconds to force this Game 7. The San Antonio Spurs are trying to become the first team since 1978 to win a Finals Game 7 on the road. NPR's Mike Pesca is in Miami and he's with us.

And, Mike, I understand the last time a team won Game 7 on the road, it was the Washington Bullets and they beat the Seattle Supersonics. That's how long it's been.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: So the Spurs have quite a challenge tonight.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Right, one of those teams changed their name, the other team left town. So this is the stat du jour and everyone is talking about how long it's been. But, you know, it's only been five games, so that would be what a statistician would call a small sample size. So I don't know how much that stat means. Maybe more recent stats to look at are things like the Spurs are 14-and-3 when they've had a chance to close out a series on the road.

Or - and I think this is a big one - Miami hasn't won back-to-back games in almost a month. It was the 22nd of May when they beat the Indiana Pacers to begin that series. That was their last back-to-back win, so perhaps that's more salient in recent point. Either way, I don't think any of these statistics or facts will come into play. I think it'll more be about pick and roles and three-point shooting.

SIEGEL: Well, Game 6 on Tuesday night, with a furious comeback by the Heat, was such an exhausting emotional game. You have to wonder how either of these teams will have anything left in the tank for tonight.

PESCA: Right, and LeBron James talked about going to empty on the tank and then hitting the reserve tank. So, of course, both of these teams are physically drained. And it's natural to wonder, are the Spurs also emotionally drained, especially because Manu Ginobili - who had a great Game 5, an awful Game 6 - just flat-out talked about being devastated and not knowing how to get reenergized. But I think perhaps his comments are being overblown. And the Spurs are, if nothing, resilient.

Shane Battier, who plays for the Heat, was asked: Can you think of a player less likely to be emotionally affected by a loss than Tim Duncan...

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: ...the Spurs' future Hall of Famer. And Shane just honestly said, no, he is stoic and he will be fine from an emotional standpoint.

SIEGEL: OK, let's talk about strategy then. How are these teams likely to approach this big Game 7?

PESCA: By not changing too much. They're great teams and that's why they're here. The Heat have to decide what they're going to do in terms of guarding three-point shooters or doubling Tim Duncan down low. Now, the Heat talk about you can do both but I haven't seen the evidence of that. They haven't been able to both play outside and inside basketball. So that will be a factor.

Then I think turnovers will be huge part of the game. When the Heat, an active athletic team, have been able to turn the Spurs over, they have largely won. You know, the last big factor is Dwayne Wade. This is the Heat star who was pretty bad in Game 6, though he did contribute a bit defensively. But the statistics are shocking.

If you look at when LeBron James and Dwayne Wade share the floor, the Heat don't do well. They've been outscored by a lot in this series when both those guys are on the floor. When its LeBron alone, has more room to operate, the Heat have outscored the Spurs.

SIEGEL: But LeBron James in Game 6, took over and if Heat win this series, will all the criticism that he is scared or soft or tentative, will all that go way?

PESCA: He will never be indemnified because the answer to this was, yes. Last year, if he wins the title will he get a free pass? There is just something about LeBron James. Maybe it was that one bad media spectacle that left a taste in people's mouths. But he is the most unfairly criticized athlete I have ever seen. And I guess it's just fun to, you know, call the guy soft and say he's scared. But it doesn't matter, you know.

The Twitter thoughts about legacy will not compare to, in 30 years, what we think about LeBron James. And no one will tell their kids: Oh yeah, on Twitter that day, some guy called him soft.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: OK, Mike. That's NPR's Mike Pesca in Miami for Game 7 of the NBA finals. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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