Game 7, the two most beautiful words in sports. The first of the 2019 NBA Playoffs is set for Saturday night when the Nuggets and Spurs take the court in Denver.
Every elimination game has a hero and with the mixture of Game 7 vets and rookies, we asked our NBA.com experts to call their shot and predict the hero coming out of Saturday nights game.
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): Nikola Jokic
Game 6 should have been the moment that Nikola Jokic shushed all of the doubters for good.
Even though he deserves zero blame for that loss, the truth is that's not the way this works in the grand scheme of things, especially for a star in a star-driven league. It's not good enough for a player to signal his arrival with a big performance in a losing effort. Just ask Tracy McGrady.
If the Nuggets lose Game 7, nobody will remember Jokic's Game 6 masterpiece. His entire 'star is born' campaign will be remembered for a playoff flop, the 2 seed paper tiger that got bounced in the 1st Round.
Which is why this needs to be his time to shine. Jokic needs to carry the load and deliver the goods in the exact same way he did in Game 6.
I think he gets it done. Jokic won't be the T-Mac of his generation.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): Will Barton
The biggest adjustment in the series so far was when Mike Malone inserted Torey Craig into the starting lineup sending Will Barton to the bench. So far it's worked out for the Nuggets and they're in a position to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Craig has given Denver the defence needed in the starting lineup, but now that Barton is coming off the bench he's in a role where he should be the spark plug. Game's 4 and 5 Barton was able to provide some bench scoring before handing it off to the starters to close the show however in Game 6 Barton was nowhere to be found finishing with just two points shooting 1-for-7.
The Nuggets are at their best when Will The Thrill is aggressive and forcing the issue. Barton scored at least 16 points in 10 games during the regular season - Denver went 8-2 in those contests.
There will be nerves in the early going for the Nuggets, I expect Barton to come off the bench and provide the team with a spark that will not only calm them down but also ignite the home crowd.
If Barton has a big game, I expect the Nuggets to advance to the second round.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): LaMarcus Aldridge
The odds are against you playing in Game 7 on the road, but after surviving a career-night from Nikola Jokic in Game 6 to keep their season alive I like the experienced Spurs team to pull off this upset.
If they're going to go into Denver and come out with a win, it'll be a huge performance from their All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge that gives them the boost they need.
He's not the flashiest star in the league by any means and in typical fashion, his solid Game 6 performance was overlooked because of the numbers Jokic produced.
Aldridge went for a double-double of 26 points and 10 rebounds, going 10-for-18 from the field with five assists and zero turnovers with his team's back against the wall. In Game 7 he'll be under a great deal of pressure to perform and I see him stepping up to that task.
Aldridge doesn't receive the recognition other All-Stars do and on the stage of an elimination game he has a chance to show how great he can be. He's extremely consistent but is more than capable of exploding for massive games, such as his career-high 56-point game earlier this season or the nine other times he went for more than 30.
He hasn't scored over 30 points in a game yet in this series and I anticipate that big game coming when his team needs it the most. If DeMar DeRozan can play the way he did in Game 6 and Aldridge takes his game to the next level, the Spurs should be able to pull off the improbable of winning on the road in Game 7.
Benyam Kidane (BenyamKidane): DeMar DeRozan
Big playoff games belong to the biggest names and for the Spurs, DeMar DeRozan is THAT guy.
DeRozan has experience on his side, playing in three Game 7s throughout his career with the Toronto Raptors, where he has averaged 25.3 points per game and if things get close he will likely have the ball in his hands down the stretch.
In Game 6, led by Aldridge and DeRozan, the Spurs dominated the mid-range game combining to shoot 20-of-29 on mid-range jumpers, with the duo working in tandem and feeding off each other.
A good game for DeRozan usually proves to mean a good game for Aldridge, so the pressure is on those two to lift the Spurs on the road.
Of the 132 Game 7s played in NBA playoff history, the road team has only won 28 times, so the odds are already against the Spurs, if they're going to have a chance, DeRozan has to fire.