In the immortal words of Zaza Pachulia, “We’re going to Game 7 baby! Game 7! Game seveeeeeeeen!”
The former NBA big man bellowed those words when his Atlanta Hawks forced a Game 7 against the eventual champion Boston Celtics in their 2008 first-round matchup. And while that matchup featured a No. 1 seed vs. No. 8 seed, Sunday’s Game 7 between the No. 2 Celtics and No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks will possess the same type of passion and energy Pachulia exhibited in his iconic postgame proclamation.
Here’s why Game 7 between the Celtics and Bucks is going to be an all-time classic.
Bucks & Giannis’ championship heart
As the defending NBA champions, the Bucks have a bit of extra motivation heading into Game 7. They don’t want to forever be known as a one-and-done champion. A fluke. Or just lucky.
That 2021 championship will forever be part of Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo’s already iconic legacy. He willed his team to victory, dominating with his freakish athleticism and one-of-a-kind skill set.
Antetokounmpo nearly did the same thing in Milwaukee’s Game 6 loss, becoming the first player in NBA history to record 40-plus points, 20 rebounds and six assists in the playoffs. He also became the first player since Hall of Fame big man Shaquille O’Neal to have 40-plus points and 20 rebounds in a playoff game, finishing with a whopping 44 points and 20 rebounds.
Given Antetokounmpo’s track record, it’s very likely he puts up another historic performance in Game 7. He’s not satisfied with just one championship, and Game 7 is his opportunity to show how hungry he is for another ring.
Plus, as former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich once famously said, “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”
While Antetokounmpo was sensational in Game 6, Celtics All-Star swingman Jayson Tatum was equally spectacular.
Making sure his team lived to fight another day, Tatum put on an offensive clinic against the Bucks, making a superstar statement with a masterful performance of 46 points and nine rebounds. Tatum’s shot was wet like water all game long, going 17-of-32 from the field (53.1 percent) and 7-for-15 (46.7 percent) from behind the arc.
In NBA history, only five players have ever scored 45 or more points to force a Game 7: Jamal Murray, LeBron James (the Lakers superstar has actually done this twice in his illustrious career), Wilt Chamberlain, Kawhi Leonard and now, Tatum. That’s pretty iconic company to be part of. (Yes, Murray is the anomaly, but he’s still only 25 years old so who knows how great he can be.)
Similar to Antetokounmpo, if Tatum was able to do that in Game 6 on the road, what’s stopping him from etching his name even further in the annals of NBA history at home in Game 7?
Game 7 at the Garden
Since they finished the regular season No. 2 in the East, the Celtics have the homecourt advantage in Game 7 as the win-or-go-home matchup will take place at the TD Garden in Boston. And while it’s a more modern and corporate version of the Garden from Celtics lore, the TD Garden is still steeped in history.
Back in 2008, the eventual champion Celtics led by the Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen got past a LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers team in a second-round Game 7 matchup. The game was a seesaw battle that featured an epic battle between Pierce and James as the two tried to outduel each other. James finished with a game-high 45 points and Pierce had 41.
That year also featured a Game 7 between the Hawks and Celtics in the first round. This was the game that Pachulia hyped up. But despite Pachulia’s excitement, the Celtics made quick work of the Hawks, blowing them out, 99-65.
A year later, the young upstart Chicago Bulls led by Derrick Rose forced the defending champion Celtics to a Game 7 at the TD Garden. Chicago played the Celtics tight all game long and pulled within three with five minutes to go. But thanks to the superstar play of Pierce and Allen, the Celtics closed things out down the stretch and secured the win for Boston.
The Celtics have also had some notable Game 7 losses at TD Garden.
In 2009, the Celtics lost by 19 points to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic at home in Game 7. And in 2005, the Antoine Walker and Pierce-led Celtics got absolutely blown out by the Indiana Pacers, 97-70, in a first-round Game 7 matchup. The TD Garden was known as the FleetCenter back then, but while the name may change, the history still remains.
More recently, in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, the LeBron James-led Cavs beat a Celtics team that featured Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Tatum as a rookie and second-year forward Jaylen Brown. James was truly dominant in the game, finishing with a near triple-double of 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.
And while he was just in his first year at the time, Tatum’s performance foreshadowed his superstar future as he dropped 24 points and had this monster dunk on James:
With the history-steeped Garden serving as the setting, there’s no doubt Game 7 between the Celtics and Bucks is going to be a game for the ages.