Game 7's to decide Miami-Charlotte, Toronto-Indiana series
MIAMI >> The mere mention of Game 7 got Dwyane Wade's undivided attention.
He knows there's nothing better.
There were two ultimate games in the entirety of the 2015 NBA Playoffs, and there will be two on Sunday alone as the first round of this postseason draws to a close. Charlotte goes to Miami in the afternoon and then Indiana plays at Toronto in the evening, the winners of those games to quickly move on to an Eastern Conference semifinal matchup against one another on Tuesday.
"You have to love what Game 7 is," said Wade, the Miami guard who led his team to a season-saving Game 6 road win over Charlotte on Friday. "At this point in my career, I play for these moments. I don't play for regular season basketball, which is all fine. But the playoffs, like our coach says, it's what makes you feel alive.
"Whether it's winning, whether it's losing, in between, it just makes you feel alive. And Game 7 is the best feeling to be a part of. "
Which means it can also be the worst feeling — as Toronto knows all too well from its last Game 7, two years ago.
Toronto has been in two Game 7's, one at home (against Brooklyn in 2014), one on the road (against Philadelphia in 2001's second round), and lost both by a single point. The Raptors haven't been out of the first round since that 2001 season, and the pressure they'll face Sunday against a Pacers team that has held leads of 17 points in each of the last three games will be enormous.
"In this situation, pressure's on both teams," Indiana forward Paul George said. "It's the final game. It's win or go home. There's pressure on both teams to come out with a win. But yeah, it's added pressure on them, being at home and their troubles getting out of the first round. It comes down to who wants it. And we feel good about it."
If Toronto wins, the Raptors will have home-court over either Miami or Charlotte in the next round. If the Raptors lose, the Miami-Charlotte winner would play host to the Pacers in Game 1 of the East semis — and yes, just in case, Indiana's travel party arrived for its charter flight to Toronto on Saturday packed for a weeklong trip.
A look at Sunday's Game 7's:
Hornets at Heat, series tied 3-3, 1 p.m., ABC
The teams were both 48-34 in the regular season. Miami won two at home to open this series, then Charlotte answered with two wins at home. The Hornets then stole one on the road, so the Heat rebutted by stealing one on the road. Oh, and for good measure, the teams are now 5-5 against one another this season.
The season started with a Miami win over Charlotte at home, and the Heat know the Hornets will do anything to avoid their season ending the same way.
"Do or die," Charlotte's Kemba Walker said after scoring 37 points in Game 6. "Both teams want to advance. It's going to be a battle just like this whole series. There's a reason we're going to Game 7 — and it's because both teams have been scratching and clawing."
There are injury concerns on both sides.
Charlotte's Nic Batum was hobbling again in Game 6, that long-problematic left foot again troubling him, and Spencer Hawes is out with a knee injury. Miami rookie guard Josh Richardson had an MRI on Saturday on his left shoulder, which he hurt in the final seconds Friday colliding with Charlotte's Cody Zeller. But the Heat expect Richardson to be able to try and play Sunday.
"Two very competitive teams," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You know what? It's a privilege to be in a Game 7. It's a privilege to be in a competitive series like this with an opponent that's challenging you. It's something to really embrace and cherish."
Pacers at Raptors, series tied 3-3. 8 p.m., TNT
George sure seems like he loves playing in Toronto. He scored 41 points there in the All-Star Game in February, when there was no defense.
He's scored 33, 28 and 39 there in this series, with defense. Or attempts at it, anyway.
Toronto's Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, meanwhile, have not exactly played like All-Star guards. They're averaging a combined 30.1 points, almost 15 points below their regular season average, and are shooting a combined 30.2 percent from the field.
"It's like our Super Bowl, win or go home," Lowry said. "It's one game. Survive or don't survive. That's the mentality that we've got to have. Gotta win. Gotta win."
If that continues Sunday, the Raptors' postseason struggles are likely to continue — and they know it.
"We'll respond like we're supposed to. It's as simple as that," DeRozan said. "We've got an opportunity. We can't make it seem like it's a funeral."
AP Sports Writers Steve Reed in Charlotte, North Carolina and Michael Marot in Indianapolis, and AP freelance writer Ian Harrison in Toronto contributed to this report
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