Tonight's NBA Finals is the epitome of everything fans love about the NBA: Celtics v. Lakers in a win-or-go-home game for the title.
We all know about the rich and legendary history this rivalry has created. The first six games of this year's saga have been perfect examples: Ray Allen's historic performance in Game Two, Kobe's stamp on history, Derek Fisher's ageless abilities, and the selfless nature that has brought the Celtics to Game Seven.
As the opening tip approaches, here are seven keys to Game Seven that will affect exactly who escapes the Staples Center with the Larry O'Brien trophy...
It is amazing how little media coverage has been given to the lack of three-point shooting in this series (besides Ray Allen's effort in Game Two).
Both teams have shot terribly from outside the arch, and if either team wants to establish the tempo early and make a difference, it will be imperative that it comes from the three.
In each of the Celtics' wins, they have made seven or more three-pointers. Expect the Celtics to go to Ray Allen early, and if he has a performance anything close to Game Two, things could get interesting.
With Kendrick Perkins out with a torn ACL and MCL, the Celtics bench will be very important.
Doc Rivers has still not announced if it will be Glen Davis or Rasheed Wallace that will get the start, but whoever it is will need to be effective.
The reason the Lakers dominated so much in Game Six was the lack of production from the Celtics bench. Wallace went 0-for-7, and no Celtics bench player shot 25 percent or better from the field.
We saw in Game Six how important players like Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown are to establishing the long-term tempo for the Lakers, and Game Seven will be no different.
The play of Ron Artest has been so sporadic that if he's not on, the bench players will be crucial in making up the difference.
If the Lakers are going to have success, the bench will be vital to a Game Seven victory. Expect Lamar Odom to get plenty of playing time if things get close.
Kobe is 4-1 all time in Game Sevens, but this will be the first NBA Finals Game Seven of his career. There is an interesting paradigm when you look at Kobe's history in closeout games and how his lack of success leads to overall team success.
In the four series that have gone seven games and the Lakers have won, Kobe Bryant has never shot above 50 percent from the field. This may be detrimental for the Lakers, unless they find another scorer other than Pau Gasol.
Take a look at the numbers:
2009: Conference Semis v. Houston; Bryant 4-12 (W)
2006: First Round v. Phoenix; Bryant 8-16 (L)
2002: Conference Finals v. Sacramento; Bryant 10-26 (W)
2000: Conference Finals v. Portland; Bryant 9-19 (W)
2000: First Round v. Sacramento; Bryant 7-16 (W)
So, in an way, Kobe's failure is the Lakers' success (Someone should alert Ron Artest and Lamar Odom).
This factoid of NBA history does not bode well for the Celtics...
In the history of the 2-3-2 format of the NBA Finals, no team has ever lost Game Three at home and come back to win the series. The only time a team lost Game Three at home and won the series was the in 1993, but the Bulls already led that series 2-0.
I wrote an article about this a week ago and many Celtics fans began to panic. Let's hope the Celtics acknowledge history and do their part to change it.
If history does repeat itself, we're looking at a 16th title for the L.A. Lakers.
It will be crucial for each team to establish themselves early to win tonight. In the first six games of the series, the team that has won the first quarter has gone on to win the game.
This means that the starters will be the biggest factors, seeing as they will play most of the first quarter. If either team comes out flat from the tip, they might as well forget the following three quarters and hit the showers.
2010 NBA Finals First Quarter:
Game 1: L.A. 26, Boston 21
Game 2: Boston 29; L.A. 22
Game 3: L.A. 26: Boston 17
Game 4: Boston 19; L.A. 16
Game 5: Boston 22: L.A. 20
Game 6: L.A. 28; Boston 18
Game 7: ?
This will be the fifth time these teams have met in a Game Seven to decide the NBA Finals. Boston has the edge, winning all four of the previous Game Sevens (1962,'66,'69, and '84).
Most of those were in the early days of Boston's overwhelming dominance in the league, but I can bet that many Southie faithfuls will be thrilled to know that when it comes down to it, the Celtics have always been in command.