Seven Game Sevens

The Seven Greatest Game Sevens

 

There is nothing in sports like the seventh game of a series, absolutely nothing to compare with two baseball, basketball, or hockey teams, exhausted from six previous tilts, battling it out and giving everything they have in order to advance. It’s kill or be killed in Game 7 of any series, which has given rise to several of the finest moments in the history of sports.

Without further adieu, here are the seven essential seventh games in the annals of the three sports that utilize them.

 

  1. 7: 1962 NBA FINALS: Celtics 110, Lakers 107 (OT)

 

Frank Selvy once scored 100 points while in college at Furman University. In fact, Selvy was the primary reason the Lakers even had a fighting chance at beating Boston for their first championship in the home they had adopted three years prior. With time running down, Selvy clutched up and scored two critical field goals that evened the contest at – interestingly – 100 points apiece.

 

However, when oldtimers reflect upon Selvy’s career, inevitably they are drawn to the final play of regulation, when the journeyman fired a shot at the buzzer that would have secured victory for Los Angeles. It rimmed out, and overtime belonged to Boston, which got 40 rebounds from Bill Russell as the Celts’ dynasty rolled onward.

 

  1. 6: 2016 NBA FINALS: Cavaliers 93, Warriors 89

 

The mother of all culture clashes saw Golden State meet Cleveland for the NBA title in the Oracle Arena, which the Warriors had owned the entire season en route to a 73-9 ledger, unparalleled in pro basketball history. In fact, the W’s had taken three of the first four games and looked to finish off the Cavs in Game 5. Cleveland stood tall, however, as back-to-back 41-point performances from future Hall of Famer LeBron James brought the series to a deadlock.

 

The W’s took a seven-point lead at the break behind a fantastic performance by Draymond Green, but the second half belonged to the Cavs. Golden State, which had played in the regular season at a breakneck pace, was ground to a halt and managed just 13 points in the stirring final stanza. An 89-all tie was broken with :53 left by Kyrie Irving’s three-pointer, and James fittingly put the icing on the cake with a free throw that sealed the Forest City’s first pro sports title in 52 years.

 

  1. 5: 1987 PATRICK DIVISION SEMIFINALS: Islanders 3, Capitals 2 (4OT)

 

The Easter Epic commenced on Holy Saturday and was not written into the history books until Easter Sunday, as New York and Washington played what has not really been threatened as the longest Game 7 in hockey history. The Isles had laid waste to a 3-1 series deficit and now battled the Caps in front of a national cable audience for a chance to meet the Flyers for the division championship.

 

Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier nailed a goal with a little over five minutes on the clock that evened the score at two apiece. After this, the squads fought… and fought… and fought some more, through three overtimes into the fourth in what became the longest hockey game in more than four decades. Finally, another HOFer in Pat LaFontaine ended affairs mercifully after 128:47 of play, a slap shot that careened off the left goalpost to secure a New York victory.

 

  1. 4: 1991 WORLD SERIES: Twins 1, Braves 0 (10 Innings)

 

Arguably the most extraordinary World Series ever played wound to a conclusion at the Metrodome with two dazzling games. First, the Twins used Kirby Puckett’s walk-off home run to even the series at three games apiece in Game 6, setting the stage for probably the greatest pitcher’s duel in World Series history.

 

For nine innings Atlanta’s John Smoltz and Minnesota’s Jack Morris bordered on untouchable. With a television audience of 50 million hanging on every pitch, the Twins loaded the bases off of Smoltz in the bottom of the tenth when Gene Larkin’s pinch-hit single drove in the winning run. Named Series Most Valuable Player was Jack Morris, whose ten shutout innings in the decisive game solidified an otherworldly postseason in which his earned run average was a mere 1.17.

 

  1. 3: 1957 NBA FINALS: Celtics 125, Hawks 123 (2OT)

 

The entire 1957 edition of basketball’s championship series was a rollicking affair between a pair of upstart franchises, as both Boston and St. Louis were making their first appearance in the Finals. It was not one to be forgotten. The average margin of victory the first six games was razor-thin, and none of St. Louis’ victories came by more than five points.

 

Ten Hall of Famers contested the series but none loomed larger than rookies Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn. And in Game 7 the two put up performances that belonged for the ages: 37 points and 23 rebounds for Heinsohn and 19 points and 32 rebounds for Russell. The pesky Hawks did not go quietly as they erased late Celtic leads to force both overtime periods. Alas, what would have been the tying bucket in the second extra session rimmed out, and the Boston Celtics’ rise to basketball’s flagship franchise had begun.

 

  1. 2: 2016 WORLD SERIES: Cubs 8, Indians 7 (10 Innings)

 

The Cubs and Indians shared a collective world championship dry spell of 174 seasons when the two met in the Series of Series in the tumultuous autumn of 2016. The Tribe took three of four from Chicago – including two in the first World Series games at Wrigley Field in 71 years – to move within one win of the title, but the Cubbies battled back with wins in Games 5 and 6 to force a dream matchup at Progressive Field.

 

Things began ominously for Cleveland as Dexter Fowler led off one of the most memorable sporting events in history by depositing a home run into straightaway center field. Suddenly, Chicago had a 5-1 lead and the end of the famous “Billy Goat Curse” in its sights. The resilient Indians, however, knotted the game at 6-6 in the eighth when Rajai Davis dumped Aroldis Chapman’s 0-2 offering into the left field seats. A brief rain delay heightened the tension, which was released when Ben Zobrist finished the Tribe for good with the go-ahead single that withstood a late Cleveland charge and stopped the Cubbies’ drought at 108 years.

 

  1. 1: 1960 WORLD SERIES: Pirates 10, Yankees 9

 

For those of a certain age, Game 7 only evokes one contest. The drama enacted by Pittsburgh and New York over nine days and nine innings ranks as one of the most encounters not only in the history of baseball, but all of sports. The teams split the first two games in the Steel City, but the Pirates took two of three at Yankee Stadium to obtain a 3-2 series lead as Pittsburgh eyed its first world championship in 35 years.

 

After the Yanks won 12-0 to force Game Seven, the Bucs pummeled New York in the early innings to take a 4-0 advantage. The Yankees crawled back and took a 5-4 lead on a Yogi Berra home run in the sixth inning, and it looked for all the world like the Yankees would reign again. But the final twist of the drama was yet to come.

 

The Bronx Bombers pieced together an RBI single and double to take a 7-4 lead that was erased, incredibly, by Hal Smith’s three-run homer the next inning that made the score 9 to 7 in favor of Pittsburgh. In what was to be the final of the day’s many comebacks, the Yankees scored twice more in the ninth frame and the game was all square entering the Pittsburgh half of the last inning.

 

Bill Mazeroski was the first batter of the inning. After taking a ball, “Maz” lifted a long drive into left field that astonishingly became the first – and to date only – walk-off Game 7 home run in World Series history.

Patrick Andres, Staffer

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