The Lakers have the best player, but Boston's depth of big-time playmakers will prevail in a game like this. I count eight Celtics -- the four current or former All-Stars in their starting lineup, plus Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, Nate Robinson and little-used Michael Finley, a three-point shooter with the potential to become this game's Steve Kerr -- who have it in them to make the big shot. The absence of Kendrick Perkins may create more offense for the Celtics, and they'll make up for his rebounding with a team effort led by Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Anticipate nothing less than a tightly wound classic played to a tempo that suits Boston.
With a Game 7 at home, the pressure tilts back toward the Lakers, and they will come out tight while the Celtics are free. By establishing an early lead, the Celtics will force the Lakers to play catch-up, and Kobe Bryant to stay on the court. In a closely contested series, the last game will come down to the final possessions, and the depth of the Celtics will help them survive one last surge from Bryant. Just like 1969, an aging group of Celtics will upset the Lakers in Los Angeles and celebrate on their floor.
Before the Finals, I had the Lakers in seven, and that still sounds right. Boston should come out with more fire than in Game 6. Expect big games from Paul Pierce as well as -- and I can't quite believe I'm typing this -- Nate Robinson off the bench. I'm envisioning another crazy Lakers finish that will end with Ron Artest's running around looking for someone to hug as if he were an overgrown Jim Valvano. It may be wishful thinking to expect a one-point finish, but after an uneven series these two teams are primed for a brilliant finish.
Consistency is a foreign word in this series, which makes a Game 7 very difficult to predict. For instance, the Celtics were crushed in L.A. in Game 6, but they played almost flawlessly to win at Staples Center in Game 2. Meanwhile, Ron Artest played an efficient game offensively in Game 6, but he has been a bull in a china shop for most of the rest of the series. Still, I'm taking Boston. The Celtics' defense won't get run over again like it did on Tuesday, and for one game, Boston should be able to compensate for the loss of Kendrick Perkins. Rasheed Wallace and/or Glen Davis will need heroic performances, but in what could be their last hurrah, the Celtics will get strong efforts from all their stars and celebrate a title on the Lakers' home floor.
I haven't seen anything to dissuade me from believing the Celtics still are going to pull out this title, the injury to Kendrick Perkins notwithstanding. Whenever the Lakers have punched them, the Celtics have found a way to respond. Boston's performance in Game 6 was human nature; it knew it had two games to win one, while Los Angeles was in a must-win situation. It is definitely dangerous to play that game, but the Celtics have gotten this far tempting fate. They will show the same resolve in Game 7 that they showed in Games 2 and 4. Yes, the injury to Perkins hurts them. But if a starter was going to sustain an injury, Perkins is the one they can most afford to lose. Either way, it should be classic.
Even if the Celtics were at full strength, they wouldn't have enough to overcome the Lakers' home-court edge and Kobe's hunger for a fifth ring. Another title puts him in the same conversation as Michael Jordan, and that alone should squeeze a ferocious effort from him. Bryant will have plenty of help from the Lakers' big men, who should find more open looks near the hoop without Kendrick Perkins defending the paint. Combine that with the boost L.A.'s bench will receive playing at home, and the Lakers look set to coast to their second straight title.
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