It has come down to this for the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers. Win, or go home for the summer.
That’s the ramifications of a Game 7, which the Mavs and Clippers will engage in when they battle each other on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at STAPLES Center in LA. The winner will move on to open a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series against the Utah Jazz on the road on Tuesday, while the loser will have a long summer to digest and decide what’s next for their franchise.
The Mavs have been busy going over every possible detail as they try to break loose from a 3-3 series tie with the Clippers. And as far as guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is concerned, a Game 7 is as tasty as a kid pulling up a chair and eating a bowl of ice cream.
There’s probably no greater moment.
“A lot of guys on our team probably have never been in a Game 7, let along a Game 7 on the road,” Hardaway said. “It’s going to be 15 (Mavs players) strong in there, ready to have each other’s back, ready for a dog fight and ready to do our best to go out there and come out with a victory.
“It’s not going to be easy. This whole series hasn’t been easy. But like I said, this is what you dream about, so you’ve got to just cherish that moment and go out and compete.”
Only one Maverick has played in a Game 7. Josh Richardson was in two of them with Miami. But that matters not at this point, the Mavs said, because what happened in the past has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going to happen on Sunday.
“This is part of the growth process,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our team’s been through a lot this year, and our guys are together, they’re locked in together and they’re really fighting.
“It’s been great to be a part of this experience and the last chapter of this series is on Sunday, so we look forward to that.”
The Mavs also are looking forward to the home court being a disadvantage again. Incredibly, the road team has won all six games in this series, and the Mavs are hoping that will be the case again in Game 7.
“Like I said, throughout this whole entire series it’s going to come down to the first person that won at home before getting to this point, and none of that has happened,” Hardaway said. “So now we’re at a Game 7 and all I can say is that we’re going to bring it.
“We’re going to go out there and show up and show out and do our best to come out of there with a victory.”
As a franchise, the Mavs are 4-2 all-time in Game 7s. The results:
*1988: Lost to the Lakers in LA in the Western Conference Finals
*2003: Beat Portland in Dallas in the first round of the playoffs
*2003: Beat Sacramento in Dallas in the conference semifinals
*2005: Beat Houston in Dallas in the first round of the playoffs
*2006: Beat San Antonio in San Antonio in the conference semifinals
2014: Lost to San Antonio in San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs
Although the Mavs unfortunately failed to close out this series on Friday after they lost Game 6 at home, 104-97, special moments like a winner-take-all Game 7 really has them excited about the prospects.
“This is what you want – being a basketball player,” said Hardaway, who scored 23 points in Game 5. “You live to get to these moments, to play in a Game 7 in the playoffs on the road. I’ve never done it before – this is only my first time.
“But just being able to watch those games and see my pops (Tim Hardaway Sr.) be in a couple of them throughout his career, it’s something big, it’s something exciting, it’s something you dream of. So we’re going to get our rest, we’re going to get ready to go and be ready to go into a hostile environment.”
The Mavs also will try and devise a scheme to contain Kawhi Leonard, who scored 45 points in Game 6 on 18-of-25 shots.
In addition, the Mavs are hoping Leonard doesn’t become a terror on the defensive end of the court.
“He’s been a big factor defensively throughout the series,” Carlisle said. “He’s going to make it tougher on any individual player that he’s on. He’s going to make it tougher in any two- or three-man situation that he’s involved with.
“The fact that he had the energy offensively to hit those shots down the stretch – the majority of which were very difficult – is something to behold. We’re going to have to do a better job. We’re going to have to look at our scheming of him. We’ve done everything in this series, and we’ll have to be ready with the kitchen sink in Game 7.”
Adding a wrinkle or two is always an option for the Mavs, as it is with any team.
“In most cases both teams have seen pretty much everything, but I’m not sure that that’s going to be the case here,” Carlisle said. “We’ve seen a little something different in each and every game. We’ll just have to wait and see.
“One of the things about the way today’s game is played, it’s turned every guy on the court into a playmaker. These guys have all seen virtually every junk defense, they’ve seen every kind of matchup thing to try to manipulate, they know a difficult situation. NBA players have evolved and done a good job of reading situations. There are certainly different things that can happen with lineups and rotations – even strategic things. But we’ll find out on Sunday.”