The Los Angeles Lakers will face the Boston Celtics in the NBA finals tonight at Staples Center in Game 1, which could well determine the winner of the best-of-seven series.
Since 1984, the team winning the first game of the finals has won the finals 20 of 26 times, including each of the past eight years. Overall in NBA history, the team winning the opening game of a best-of-seven series has won the series 319 of 407 times, 78.4 percent.
Teams coached by Lakers Phil Jackson are 47-0 when they win the first game of a series.
"First games are really important," Jackson said following Wednesday's practice at Staples Center.
To Jackson, his teams' success when they win Game 1 "shows a little bit of dominance and preparedness."
Jackson learned the flip side of that when the Lakers last met the Celtics in the NBA finals in 2008.
"I felt we weren't prepared for all the things they were capable of running and they showed it," Jackson said. "They came out second half and had a great third quarter and really made it difficult for us."
The Lakers lost Game 1 of the 2008 finals, 98-88, and the series, four games to two.
However, unlike that game, this game will be at Staples Center, where the Lakers have won their last 11 playoff games, including all eight this year.
The Lakers and Boston split their two games during the regular season, with each team recording a one-point victory on the road.
"I think these teams are very evenly matched," ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy said on a conference call this week. "Both teams play offense and defense well. I think it's going to come down to possessions – who can rebound the ball better and who takes care of it better."
Fellow ABC analyst Mark Jackson said the key to the series is Laker star Kobe Bryant.
"I don't think they'll be able to contain him the way that they did in '08," Mark Jackson said. "Although they'll make life tough at times, I don't think they have the same interior defense that they had in '08."
Mark Jackson also anticipates that the Lakers will play better defense against Celtics forward Paul Pierce than they did in the 2008 finals, when he averaged 21.8 points per game and was named as the most valuable player.
"They could not contain him and he had his way," Mark Jackson said. "I think the Lakers have a similar defensive force to what LeBron James was able to do with Pierce [in the Eastern Conference semifinals].
"Ron Artest can do those same things which will not allow Pierce to be the best player in this series and allow Kobe to be just that, which will give them a tremendous boost."