The Clippers and Spurs square off in the only Game 7 in the West's first round. The 5-on-5 crew weighs in on Saturday's big game.
1. What has been the biggest takeaway from the first six games?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The growth of the Clippers. It feels like we've learned more about them than the Spurs in this series. They have shown resolve and even improvement. Game 6 felt like a big step forward for them. Today we'll find out if they can finish it off.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Something I usually believe to be true: Momentum doesn't exist from game to game. Only once in this series has one team won back-to-back games (the Spurs in Games 2 and 3). Add in the 2-4 record for home teams and, despite the track record of a huge home-court advantage in Game 7, I see this one as a total toss-up.
Ramona Shelburne, ESPN.com: Tim Duncan is still incredible. The man turned 39 in the middle of this series and seems to be getting better with age. He's had dominant scoring games, huge defensive plays and has flat out carried the Spurs through some huge moments.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: That home-court advantage, as anticipated, was essentially meaningless in this series. Both teams have gone on the road to score major series-altering victories to set up what's sure to be an epic Game 7 in Los Angeles. Conventional wisdom suggests that should favor the Clippers. But if we've learned anything so far, it's that conventional wisdom doesn't apply in this round between these teams.
Michael C. Wright, ESPN.com: We're watching an epic Western Conference series here, and the shame of it all is that one of these teams will have to go home at the conclusion of the first round. So the biggest takeaway here in my mind is the NBA needs to get rid of divisions as well as conferences, and just take the top 16 teams to the postseason. It's just the first round, and we could very well be watching the best series of the entire playoffs. That's a shame.
2. Who should be feeling more pressure: Clippers or Spurs?
Adande: The Clippers. Even though the stakes are probably higher for the Spurs, given the fact that this could be the last game that all-too-familiar cast of characters all plays for them, at least they can say they've already done it. Their worst-case scenario is they have had one of the most successful long-term runs in league history. If the Clippers lose today they might never get the chance to even start down the road the Spurs have traveled.
Pelton: Spurs. There's always pressure in the playoffs, but two of the Clippers' three best players are 26 and the third turns 30 next week. They can get back here, assuming DeAndre Jordan returns. This might be the last ride for Tim Duncan and the Spurs as we know them.
Shelburne: The Clippers. I know that this could be Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan's last game. Both are in the final year of their contracts and pushing 40. But last year's title made everything that came after it gravy. For the Clippers, it is essential they not only get out of the first round, but make some real noise in these playoffs. As Doc Rivers said before Game 5, as accomplished as this group is, "they know they haven't done anything yet."
Wallace: Clippers. For the loser of this Game 7, this could be the end to their roster as we know it. A loss by the Spurs might lead to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retiring after a remarkable run of excellence. But there would be no questions about the extent of what they've accomplished with the Spurs. The Clippers are in put-up or shut-up mode at this point. They've got no more excuses. What we probably can all agree on is this was a bad draw as a first-round series for either team capable of playing well into June.
Wright: The Spurs. What they've been able to accomplish over the years is nothing short of special, but they've never been able to repeat as champions. This is the team's best chance. After all, the Clippers have been ousted from the playoffs three consecutive years. So expectations for the home team -- despite all the starting five's talent -- aren't high. Would a first-round Clippers exit really surprise anyone?
3. What's the key to Game 7 for the Clippers?
Adande: Big Baby Davis. Never thought we'd say that before the series, but if he can't play because of his sprained ankle, the Clippers don't have an effective backup big man. Davis has done just enough when he has played in this series: a rebound here, a basket there, maybe a drawn charge. Doc Rivers has lost trust in Spencer Hawes and now he might have to go to him to rest Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the season's biggest game.
Pelton: Maintaining their composure. If the Clippers get distracted by refereeing as they did in Game 5, this game could get away from them. They displayed a different level of focus, resolve and effort in a more urgent Game 6 performance.
Shelburne: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have to be awesome. Not just good. Not just great. They have to be awesome. The Clippers bench has proved time and time again that it cannot be relied on. Even if Austin Rivers gives you something, it's probably not needle-moving. There's probably two good games between the group of DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford. But for the Clippers to pull this out, they need their two superstars to be superstars.
Wallace: DeAndre Jordan's free throws. You know the Hack-a-Jordan onslaught is coming in a winner-take-all Game 7. Jordan has made 14 of 31 free-throw attempts the past two games, which is relatively respectable when compared with his regular-season percentages. If Jordan can make half of his attempts from the line, it might force the Spurs to abandon the strategy quickly. If he's struggling, those precious points could be the difference in the game. Either way, this game could rest as much in Jordan's hands as it does in CP3's.
Wright: Chris Paul will be Chris Paul, which is a positive. But Blake Griffin needs to stop relying so much on the jump shot and just impose his will physically on the Spurs, as he's one of the NBA's most explosive players. Griffin also needs to limit his turnovers. When he turns the ball over three times or more this series, Los Angeles has lost.
4. What's the key to Game 7 for the Spurs?
Adande: Kawhi Leonard. He has been the key to their season. When healthy and playing well, he's the dynamic, two-way player that franchise has rarely had (last seen in Manu Ginobili's younger days). He has slumped the last two games; a bounce-back by him would go a long way.
Pelton: Making effective use of intentional fouls. The Spurs have willingly put key players in foul trouble by hacking DeAndre Jordan, and it cost them when Tim Duncan was on the bench with three fouls in the second quarter of Game 6. If Gregg Popovich calls for intentional fouls, he needs Matt Bonner or another reserve to commit them.
Shelburne: Kawhi Leonard's gotta bring it. The Spurs have won games when he's been quiet this series, but I just don't know if they can win a Game 7 without Leonard imposing his will. Leonard has been inconsistent in dealing with the realities of stardom, more than the pressure of it. Double-teams bother him more than expectations. Tim Duncan explained after a loss in Game 1 that it takes years to learn how to attack when the other team is gearing its defense toward stopping you. Leonard is still finding that balance. He's got to strike it if the Spurs are going to win this one.
Wallace: Kawhi Leonard's mojo. He's got one game to get it back after losing it at some point over the past week. Leonard's scoring and shooting percentage has dipped drastically over each of the past four games, from 32 points on a 13-of-18 clip in Game 2 to just 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting in Game 6. He also committed six turnovers in the past two games. We're not accustomed to seeing that from one of the top three two-way players in the league. If Leonard doesn't turn in an Finals MVP-worthy performance, the Spurs will be first-round fodder.
Wright: Kawhi Leonard has struggled somewhat the past two games, but not more than Danny Green, who needs to be a much more significant contributor for the Spurs to walk out of the Staples Center victorious. Green has been 2 of 16 from 3-point range over San Antonio's last three games; not good enough.
5. Who wins Game 7?
Adande: The Spurs. They were my pre-series pick, and I hate having to go against myself, even if the evidence this series indicates otherwise. The Clippers have put themselves in position to win five of the first six games so far. But the other trend is the road team has won five of the six games. One of the hardest series to predict that I've ever covered.
Pelton: Spurs. In a series with such close margins, Glen Davis' ankle injury could be a difference-maker if he's unable to go, further stressing an already-thin Clippers bench. I'm not sure they'll have quite enough for another hard-fought 48 minutes.
Shelburne: If I answered this question 10 times I would pick each team five times for five different reasons. Part of me says the Clippers just need this series more. Another part says the Spurs' experience will carry the day. How much does home court matter when each team has won twice in the other's building? The Clippers' superstars can be more dominant when they're on. The Spurs are far deeper. I like Manny Pacquiao by decision over Floyd Mayweather in the fight Saturday night, can we stop there? No? OK, if I must pick, I'll say the Clippers, if only because I think they're more desperate.
Wallace: Spurs. I can't -- and won't -- count the Spurs out until they're actually out for the count. They've earned the benefit of the doubt after coming back time and time again against the odds.
Wright: San Antonio wins this one because they've overcome situations such as this in the past. They captured Game 7 in the first round last season against the Mavericks, and they lost Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat. Besides, Gregg Popovich called the Spurs "soft" after their loss Thursday night to the Clippers. The Spurs will respond resoundingly.