If you were watching Game 6 of Clippers-Mavericks on Friday night, you heard about a hundred times how there’s never been a series in the NBA where the road team won the first six games — until now, since Los Angeles notched a 104-97 victory behind 45 points from Kawhi Leonard.
What you didn’t hear repeatedly was how rare Leonard’s performance was, given the circumstances, only the fourth (or fifth) time in league history, according to Stathead, that someone has put up 40-plus points in Game 6 on the road to help his team force a deciding seventh game.
The reason that it’s “fourth (or fifth)” is that it happened last year, when the entire league was bubbled up at Disney World, but the Nuggets were the lower seed and technically the road team for Game 6 against the Jazz when Jamal Murray went off for 50.
The last time someone went into an opponent’s building and scored 40 to extend a series to Game 7 was the 2016 Western Conference Finals, when Klay Thompson tallied 41 points in Oklahoma City. Four years earlier, in the Eastern Finals, LeBron James saved the Heat’s season with 45 points and 15 rebounds in Boston. The one other time it happened was 2003, when Chauncey Billups put the Pistons on his back with 40 points in Orlando.
The natural follow-up question, with Game 7 set for Sunday in Los Angeles, is what happened in the Game 7s after these big performances?
Billups scored 37 in Game 7 against the Magic, putting the Pistons into a second-round matchup with the 76ers, which Detroit won. The Pistons’ run that year ended in the conference finals with a sweep by the Nets.
James went back to Miami and closed out the 2012 Celtics with 31 points, following that with Finals MVP honors as the Heat crushed the Thunder.
And speaking of the Thunder, after Thompson lit them up for a record 11 three-pointers in Game 6, Steph Curry was Oklahoma City’s undoing in Game 7 in Oakland, scoring 36 points on 7-of-12 shooting from downtown. Thompson was no slouch in that decider, shooting 6-for-11 from beyond the arc on the way to 21 points.
Golden State was on the other end of a 40-point stay-alive Game 6 effort in the next series, as James went for 41 to extend the Finals. But that wasn’t a road game, it was in Cleveland, as the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit.
Murray and the Nuggets also won Game 7 against the Jazz, with Murray scoring 17 and Nikola Jokić leading Denver with 30 points — completing the first of the Nuggets’ two comebacks from 3-1 down in last year’s playoffs, followed by their takedown of Leonard’s Clippers.
The Mavericks do have Luka Dončić, but can’t like that all of these big road Game 6s were followed by victorious home Game 7s. But, as we all know, there’s also never been a series quite like this one in NBA history.