The Herald Bulletin
---- — Game 7.
The phrase bespeaks mystique, and no margin left for error. It is the ultimate crunch time. It is the final answer. The jury is finally coming in.
Game 7 suggests two teams who have endured good nights and bad, highs and lows, ups and downs. And the time has come at last for someone to say uncle.
Game 7 makes the matter clear to the Indiana Pacers. Win and go on, leaving everyone to admire how they revived themselves at the 11th hour. Lose and go home, leaving everyone to ask how it all fell apart.
Game 7 is graduation day, or expulsion.
Come today, there will be three of them in the NBA; at Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. Three in one day. That has never happened before in league history.
While we're on the subject of unprecedented, know how many Game 7's Indianapolis has ever hosted as an NBA team?
None. Zero. Not in Bankers Life or Conseco or Market Square Arena. Not before Reggie Miller or during Reggie Miller or after Reggie Miller. This is a first, and there are not many chances to say that in the playoffs.
The Pacers have played in six of them on the road, and won twice — at Boston in 2005 and at New York in 1995. Matter of fact, Indiana owns nine percent of the Game 7 road wins in the annals of the NBA. There have only been 22, ever, and we're talking a postseason record book that goes back to 1947. Home teams are 92-22 in Game 7.
Why? Who can say for sure? The home team is the higher seeded, so it should win a majority of the time, but that can't explain how one-sided the statistic is. Perhaps the crowd is more zealous, the noise louder, the atmosphere more intense. Maybe Game 7 and all its trappings can get in a visitor's head.
So history is a Pacer fan. History might as well be wearing a Blue Collar, Gold Swagger t-shirt.
The question is, does history mean anything in this most peculiar postseason of 2014?
Home court advantage has seemingly gone the way of the phone booth. Take the Pacers and Atlanta Hawks. The home team is 2-4, and has lost three in a row. "They know as well as anybody that they can beat us on our floor," Paul George was saying of the Hawks, who have built 20-point leads three of their last four games in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "We're not scaring them in that aspect."
It would appear hardly anyone in the league is scaring its visitors. Road teams are 23-19 so far in the playoffs. Chicago's United Center, with the Michael Jordan statue by the door? The Bulls went 0-3 there against the Washington Wizards.
It's one reason why this postseason has been so exhausting, and it's barely begun. That, and the Oklahoma-Memphis series and Portland-Houston series producing seven overtime games between them.
Game 7. The best thing about it is, there is no Game 8. It verifies, ratifies, qualifies and clarifies.
Game 7 is its own universe. Nothing much that's happened before counts. The two teams have gone thisaway, and thataway, and ended up back in the same place, where the series began, even up.
It doesn't matter that of Indiana's two 2014 All-Stars, George scored 24 points Thursday night and Roy Hibbert has scored 24 points in the entire series.
It doesn't matter that the Hawks have built a camp at the line, making 36 more free throws through six games.
It doesn't matter how the Pacers were humbled at home in Game 1, and crumbled at home in the first half of Game 5.
"We should be ready for this moment," George said Friday on his 24th birthday. "They're in trouble because I'm going to have a lot of energy."
One night makes it all better, or makes it all worse. One night gives a team another series, or shows it the door. That's why the league loves them, and the networks yearn for them.
Game 7. Welcome to Indianapolis.