Two of the best words in basketball, and frankly in all of sports, is “Game Seven”. This final game is when stars put everything on the line- and they’ll either advance to the next round or go home in disappointment. This Sunday, the NBA world is treated to two Game 7’s and the stakes could not be higher for the teams involved.
When analyzing this series, the most important factor to consider are the two stars that have lead their respective teams to this moment. Both Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic have played phenomenally, demonstrating that both of these stars are destined to be future pillars of the league. In this series, it has been their play that has lead their clubs to impose their will on the floor, and game 7 will not be an exception.
For Portland, Damian Lillard has been a consistent scoring threat throughout the entire series scoring 26.2 points per game on 42% shooting. Yet more than his scoring, is his understanding of pace. Unlike other point guards, Dame is always looking to get his fellow teammates involved, and is never forcing bad shots. He carefully and methodically picks his moments to score, but has faith in his teammates to make plays within the half-court setting. This forces the opposing defense to stay on their assignments, and allows his teammates to expose certain matchups. A perfect example was in game 6 Damian Lillard consistently allowed Ernes Kanter to work in the post against Jokic. On paper this may appear to be ineffective as the center only was able to make less than 20% of his shots. What most do not realize is that through this matchup, Kanter was able to draw 3 fouls on the Jokic forcing him into foul trouble early in the second half. Liliard understood, that while he could have simply initiated the offense himself on most of the plays, he knew that by passing the ball to Kanter, that he would be able to force the Nuggets’ best player to be placed on the bench. Through his ability to read the defense, and infallible faith in his teammate, allows the trailblazers to flow effortlessly.
The only major issue that Lillard has faced this series is his ineffectiveness behind the three-point line. In this series he a 3 point field goal percentage of 29%, this is significant lower than his season average of 36 %. While some credit needs to be given to Denver, it is clear that in order for Portland to win Lillard has to hit his shot in Denver.
For Denver, their star Nikola Jokic has been playing at an extremely high level throughout the entire series. Joker in this series is averaging 14 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and scoring 26.8 point per game on over 50 % field-goal percentage. To put his stats into context, Jokic is the playoff leader in both rebounds and assists. What makes him so special is his unique style of play in the center position. Most centers are seen as dominant isolated forces focussed on defense and post scoring. Many of the best centers have been athletic phenoms able to dominate the game on their physical abilities alone. Jokic on the other hand relies on his incredible basketball IQ and multiple offensive skills to help lead the Denver offense. As a center, he can score from legitimately anywhere on the court. Jokic can effectively shoot from behind the arc (shooting 50% this series), has a nice mid-range game, and if needed can utilize traditional post-moves to bully smaller players. This impressive offensive arsenal is very tough on Portland’s defense as there are just many ways he can break the opposing defense. With this impressive talent also comes a brilliant understanding of the game. He understand where his teammates are and is always looking to set-up his teammates for open looks.
This has helped players like Jamal Murray, Paul Milsap, and Gary harris to as they are able to create solid shots off the passes made by Jokic. Its going to be a tight affair in Denver, but if it’s a battle between the two stars, I have to go with Nikola Jokic and Denver earning this win. Throughout this entire series the Joker has been more consistent and has been a problem that the trailblazers have no legitimate answer. Even in the last game, Jokic was in major foul trouble which is unusual for the Serbian big man. Expect the Nuggets to win behind the play of their star player . Regardless of the outcome, both players will continue to make a major impact on the league, and will have many more opportunities in the future to compete for a championship.