Celtics don't figure to play dead again

In an all-or-nothing game on their home court, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers will be tough to beat. But they might not be so difficult to bet against.

After a blowout and a dramatic momentum swing in the NBA Finals, oddsmakers opened the Lakers as 7-point favorites over the Boston Celtics in tonight’s Game 7.

Everything went the Lakers’ way Tuesday in a 22-point victory in Game 6. The Lakers played with more energy, Bryant’s supporting cast produced from start to finish and the defense smothered the Celtics.

The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall said he expects a different story to unfold in the series finale, and he recommends taking the points with an underdog that is unlikely to play dead again.

“I believe the defining trend to respect is Boston’s ability to bounce back from defeat in the postseason,” said Marshall, citing the Celtics’ 6-1 record against the spread after a playoff loss. “The Celtics have had a few no-show efforts, but they have bounced back to not only cover but win impressively in the next games.”

The past four games turned into grinders that went under the totals, and the total in Game 7 is either 187 or 187½ at Las Vegas sports books.

“I would expect things to be even more physical and more stop-start than in any of the first six meetings, none of which have been a Picasso,” said Marshall (goldsheet.com). “For that reason, the ‘under’ is probably worth another look.”

Boston lost center Kendrick Perkins, a strong defensive force, to a knee injury early in Tuesday’s game. His backups, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace, shot a combined 0-for-10 from the field.

The Celtics’ offensive stars — Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo — are capable of covering for Perkins’ absence.

“More characteristic production from Allen and Pierce should give the Celtics a fighting chance,” Marshall said. “The nature of the series between these two this season has been pretty competitive, with the teams splitting the first eight meetings and all but two of those games decided by single-digit margins.

“It would be a greater surprise if the Lakers pull away as they did in Games 1 and 6 than for this one to stay close throughout. The pendulum is due to swing back the Celtics’ way.”

Bryant, the Finals’ top scorer at 29.5 points per game, always is there for the Lakers. Pau Gasol was strong in the middle with 17 points and nine rebounds in Game 6. Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom are wild cards.

“There are several unpredictable elements on the L.A. side to count on them all delivering at the same time, and the delicate balance involved with Kobe is always subject to disruption,” Marshall said. “Gasol is probably the key element for the Lakers, given that Bryant is probably good for 30 points regardless. But with the chips on the table, Garnett and the other Celtics bigs have shown they can summon a supreme effort against Gasol.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.