Thursday night's Game 7 matchup is what the NBA is all about. The game's best player will lead the team with the best regular-season record against the team with the second-best mark.
Two epic Big Threes will collide to earn the right to call themselves NBA Champions, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh square off with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in a marquee attraction.
There's also the culmination of the head coaching chess match between San Antonio Spurs maestro Gregg Popovich and the ever disrespected and underrated Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
The taglines and hype could go on forever. After six games, there aren't a ton of consistencies with the winners and losers of the previous contests in the series. Both teams have lost games while succeeding in the areas that would appear to be integral to their success.
The unpredictable results are to be expected in a series where no team has managed to win back-to-back games up to this point.
However, after crunching the numbers and employing a bit of hoops logic, there are five key stats that will ultimately prove to be determining factors for which team will win it all.
The numbers for bench scoring have been up and down, with the Heat's reserves out-scoring the Spurs' backups in four of the six games. This stat hasn't proven to be a key to victory for either team, though. Both teams have come up short while holding an advantage in this category.
Though there is no definite connection to success and bench scoring in this series, hoops logic and NBA Finals Game 7 history says that the team that gets the most impacting performance from the reserves usually holds a significant advantage.
First the logic: Role players are usually better at home. Road teams in the playoffs have to lean heavily on their stars to win. The comfort of playing in front of the hometown crowd seems to bring out the best in the home-standing bench and shrink the play of the road backups.
History supports that concept. In only one of the last five Game 7s played in the NBA Finals has a team won without having its bench out-score the opponent. Take a look at the chart.
Stats per Basketball Reference.
|Year||Winner's Bench Scoring||Loser's Bench Scoring||Final Score|
|2010||Los Angeles Lakers 9||Boston Celtics 6||Lakers 83, Celtics 79|
|2005||San Antonio Spurs 20||Detroit Pistons 14||Spurs 81, Pistons 74|
|1994||Houston Rockets 19||New York Knicks 16||Rockets 90, Knicks 84|
|1988||Los Angeles Lakers 24||Detroit Pistons 43||Lakers 108, Pistons 105|
|1984||Boston Celtics 21||Los Angeles Lakers 13||Celtics 111, Lakers 102|
There is an exception to every rule and in this case, the 1988 Lakers played only eight players in their Game 7 win over the Pistons. Still, this data proves more times than not that the benches will play a major role in the deciding game.
Bosh's jump shot is a plus and his rim protection has been effective, but the biggest statistic in the Heat big man's line are his boards.
In the Heat's three losses in the NBA Finals, he's pulled down just seven rebounds per game. In the three wins, he's snagged 11.3.
Miami needs Bosh to board in order to limit the Spurs' second-chance opportunities and to give his own team second looks. Where would Miami be without Bosh's offensive rebound that set up Ray Allen's game-tying three-pointer in the waning seconds of regulation in Game 6?
Bosh's boards can also take pressure off James to be the team's primary glass-eater.
The Spurs have been an excellent free-throw-shooting team all season. They were third in the NBA with a .791 percentage from the stripe in the regular season. In the NBA Finals they have been decent in all but one game.
In Game 3, they made just under 58 percent of their attempts, but were able to hide their charity-stripe inequities with 16 three-pointers. The Spurs can't depend on another long-range barrage to carry them in Game 7.
Besides the Game 3 aberration, the Spurs haven't shot worse than 80 percent from the line as a team in a win over the Heat in the Finals. On the flip side, they haven't shot better than 75 percent in their losses to Miami.
It may seem like a small percentage, but one or two misses count. In Game 6, missed free throws by Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili helped set up Miami's comeback. Those slip-ups are part of the reason we have a Game 7.
Parker has been dynamic in many instances during the NBA Finals, but the Heat have contained him in the games they've won.
In the three Heat wins, Parker has been held to 34 percent shooting from the field. In the three Spurs' wins, Parker has been on fire, making 56 percent of his field-goal attempts.
When Parker is making his shots, it makes it harder to commit help to the Spurs' shooters. Miami must continue to use James and other bigger, stronger defenders on Parker to make scoring tougher for the Spurs star.
Containing him with one perimeter defender is paramount for the Heat's success.
LeBron does almost everything well, so it is easy for him to contribute and help his team in a variety of ways. That said, the Heat need James to score big to win Game 7.
The history of this series has proven that to be a key to victory for Miami.
In the Heat wins, LeBron is averaging 27.3 points per game. That number would be higher were it not for his modest scoring output in Game 2; James had just 17 points in the Heat's 19-point win because so many of his teammates played well.
In the three games the Heat have lost, James is scoring just 19.3 points per game. Unless he gets another huge effort from the bench or Dwyane Wade channels Flash circa 2006, 19 points won't get it done for the Heat.
Game 7 is 30 points or bust for James and Miami.