They are the best two words in sports: Game 7.
The win-or-go-home nature of a Game 7 is unmatched, especially in the NBA playoffs. After six back-and-forth matchups, many series come down to the deciding contest with the season – and sometimes a championship – on the line.
Basketball has a storied history with Game 7s dating back to when the NBA was the BAA. How often do they happen, and which team is most successful with the series on the line?
Here’s a 75-year look at Game 7s in the NBA playoffs:
How many Game 7s have there been in NBA playoff history?
There were 142 Game 7s in NBA playoff history from 1947 through 2021.
How many times have the NBA Finals gone to a Game 7?
Nineteen NBA Finals have been decided by a Game 7.
While history says a Finals series has around a one-in-four shot at reaching a Game 7, it was a more common occurrence in the early days of the league. Ten Finals needed a Game 7 from 1947 to 1970 compared to just nine since. Only four NBA Finals have needed a Game 7 since 1994, with the most recent instance coming in 2016.
The following Finals are the ones that needed a Game 7: 1951, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1960, 1962, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1984, 1988, 1994, 2005, 2010, 2013 and 2016.
Postseason history says the Finals are less likely to reach a Game 7 than a second-round or conference finals series, but more likely than a first-round series. Here’s a round-by-round breakdown of how often series required a Game 7:
Finals: 19 Game 7s (25.3%)
Conference finals: 36 Game 7s (28.1%)
Conference semifinals: 58 Game 7s (26.9%)
First round: 29 Game 7s (19.1%)
Has an NBA Game 7 ever gone to overtime?
Seven Game 7s have needed overtime to decide a series with one extending to double overtime.
Two of those overtime Game 7s came in the Finals. The Boston Celtics won the 1957 title with a double-overtime victory over the St. Louis Hawks and the 1962 title with an overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Four of the remaining overtime games happened in the conference semifinals and the other one happened in the conference finals. The most recent overtime Game 7 came in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals, as the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks beat the Brooklyn Nets on the road.
Which NBA playoffs had the most Game 7s?
The 1994, 2014 and 2016 NBA Playoffs hold the record for the most Game 7s with five apiece.
As mentioned earlier, two of those postseasons culminated with a Game 7 in the Finals. The Houston Rockets got a Game 7 win over the New York Knicks to win the 1994 championship, while the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in an epic Game 7 to clinch the franchise’s first title in 2016.
By contrast, all five of the Game 7s in the 2014 playoffs came in the first round.
Which NBA playoffs had the least Game 7s?
There have been 13 NBA postseasons without a Game 7, but it’s been a while since that last happened.
The most recent playoffs without any Game 7s was 1999, back when the first round had best-of-five series. Every playoffs in the 21st century has featured at least one Game 7.
Of the 13 playoffs without a Game 7, seven occurred when there were just three best-of-seven series each year. Prior to 1968, the division semifinals were best-of-five, leading into best-of-seven division finals and Finals.
The following playoffs are the ones without a Game 7: 1947, 1949, 1950, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1967, 1972, 1983, 1985, 1989, 1991 and 1999.
Which NBA team has played in the most Game 7s?
The Celtics hold the record for most Game 7 appearances in NBA history with 33. The Lakers have the next-highest total with 24, while the Philadelphia 76ers are in third place with 17.
Speaking of the Sixers, they have the most Game 7 defeats in league history with 11. Five of those came against Boston, with Celtics-Sixers being the most common Game 7 matchup historically with seven showdowns dating back to 1959, when the Sixers were the Syracuse Nationals.
Which NBA team has played in the fewest Game 7s?
The Minnesota Timberwolves have the lowest number of Game 7 appearances among active teams with just one. The New Orleans Pelicans and Charlotte Hornets are next with two each.
While the Timberwolves hold the record for fewest appearances, they also hold the record for the highest Game 7 win percentage in league history. Minnesota won its lone matchup, beating the Sacramento Kings in the 2004 second round, leading to the organization’s only Western Conference finals appearance.