How important is Game 1 in deciding an NBA playoff series?


Game 1 is just one game, but what does it tell us about how an NBA playoff series is going to end?

There’s a lot of basketball to be played in a best-of-seven NBA series. Even after winning Game 1, a team needs to go .500 or better over the rest of the series in order to pick up the four necessary victories required to get past its opponent.

Still, it never hurts to start out on the right foot. And as history shows, winning Game 1 can go a long way in deciding which team advances and which one goes home.

Here’s a look at how important Game 1 is in determining the course of a series:

How often does the winner of Game 1 win an NBA playoff series?

Historically, Game 1 plays a major factor in determining the winner of a series.

Of all best-of-seven series in NBA playoff history through 2021, the winner of Game 1 went on to win the series 75.6% of the time (433-140).

How often does the winner of Game 1 at home win an NBA playoff series?

A three-quarters chance is impressive, and the number rises even more when it comes to teams that take care of business at home in Game 1s.

Teams that were victorious in Game 1s on their home floor won their series 84.8% of the time (352-63). That higher number can be expected since the team with the better regular season record earns home-court advantage in a given series.

How often does the winner of Game 1 on the road win an NBA playoff series?

Conversely, teams that start a series on the road face an uphill battle, even if they win Game 1.

Teams that stole the first game of a series on the road won their series 51.3% of the time (81-77). 

How often do teams with a 2-0 lead win the series in the NBA playoffs?

Winning Game 1 is a great first step, but winning Game 2 puts teams in an even more comfortable position to advance.

Teams that started out a best-of-seven series with a 2-0 lead won the series 92.4% of the time (302-25).

How important was winning Game 1 in the 2020 NBA Playoffs?

It should be noted that all of the data above includes series results from the 2020 playoffs, which took place in the Orlando bubble.

Game 1 winners won their series 73.3% of the time (11-4). Teams that won Game 1 “at home” won 87.5% of their series (7-1), while “road” Game 1 winners won 57.1% of their series (4-3).

How important was winning Game 1 in the 2021 NBA Playoffs?

Game 1 did not play a huge role in determining the winner of a series in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, especially for the eventual champions.

Despite home-court advantage returning to some degree in the 2021 postseason, the team that took Game 1 won just 53.3% of its series (8-7). The Milwaukee Bucks went just 1-3 in Game 1s during their playoff run and even fell behind 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals and NBA Finals, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. fought back each time on their way to an NBA title.

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