The Los Angeles Lakers reputation will be on the line tonight when they face the Boston Celtics in the decisive seventh game of the NBA Finals at Staples Center.
"The whole season, you don't win a championship, it's a failure," Kobe Bryant said.
The Lakers forced a seventh game with an 89-67 victory over the Celtics Tuesday night at Staples Center, tying the best-of-seven series at three games apiece.
To Laker guard Derek Fisher, the keys to the game will be getting "loose balls, the rebounds that are kind of up for grabs... who's sprinting back harder in transition, stopping those easy fast break points" and "not giving up any layups."
Celtics forward Paul Pierce said "we've got to get off to better starts."
"I think when we get off to good starts, it carries over for the rest of the game," said Pierce, an Inglewood High School graduate. "We've got to rebound a lot better. They dominated us on the glass. Also keep our turnovers down. If we can do those things, I think we play our best basketball and we give ourselves a chance at winning."
The team with most rebounds has won every game of the series.
Boston starting center Kendrick Perkins will miss the game because of what he said were torn medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee sustained in Tuesday's game.
"I'd be lying to you if I told you it didn't hurt, but it hurts," Perkins said. "Can't do nothing but sit on the side and encourage guys to play better. I'll probably never get this opportunity again to even make it back to the finals. Physically, I'm doing better than I am mentally."
Perkins' absence "just takes a seven-footer, a very valuable player off the floor for us," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
"Somebody has a great opportunity and that's the way we have to look at it," Rivers said.
Rivers did not say who would start in place of Perkins, but it is likely to be Rasheed Wallace, a starter on the 2004 Detroit Pistons team that upset the Lakers in that year's finals.
A victory would give the Lakers their 16th championship, including five won when they were located in Minneapolis, one behind Boston's 17.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson confirmed Wednesday he will receive a bonus for the championship, but did not specify the amount. He said he would use the bonus "to fund some of the charities that I consider to be very necessary in my life."
"That's one of the things I made a promise to myself about," said Jackson, who has won a record 10 NBA championships as a coach, six with the Chicago Bulls and four with the Lakers.
This will be the 17th Game 7 in the NBA Finals, but just the second since 1995 and first since 2005. The home team has a 13-3 record in Finals Game 7s.
Online auction sites, which did not exist when the other two finals Game 7s were played in the Los Angeles area, have pushed ticket prices to previously unheard of amounts. Bidding on the web site StubHub.com this morning reached $81,083 for a courtside seat and $619 for a ticket in Staples Center's highest level.
The first finals Game 7 in the Los Angeles area resulted in some of the bitterest memories in Laker history.
A 108-106 loss to the Celtics May 5, 1969, at the Forum in Inglewood is best-remembered by Laker fans for coach Bill van Breda Kolff's refusal to put legendary center Wilt Chamberlain back in the game after suffering a knee injury in the fourth quarter and owner Jack Kent Cooke's decision to place balloons in the rafters in anticipation of a victory that never materialized.
The next Game 7 at the Forum resulted in a 108-105 victory over the Detroit Pistons on June 21, 1988 with James Worthy's 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists forever stamping him as "Big Game James."
The Lakers lost Game 7s to Boston in 1962, 1966, 1969 and 1984, losing the first three by a total of seven points.