Game 7 Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics Odds and Predictions – 2012 NBA Playoff Free Picks: It all boils down to Saturday night’s Game 7 in South Beach for the second-seeded Miami Heat and the fourth-seeded Boston Celtics. The winner will claim the Eastern Conference crown and advance to the NBA Finals to face the Oklahoma City Thunder. The losing team will have to wait until next year and likely see its core broken up during the offseason. The stakes don’t get any higher, and the stage doesn’t get any bigger. Anything can happen in a do-or-die Game 7 scenario, and surviving and advancing is the only thing that matters. After evening the series on the road, Miami is a 7 ½-point favorite in the series finale at home.

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For Boston, the Game 7 has to bring a mix of emotions. As the underdogs in the series, the Celtics can’t complain about being in a Game 7 with a chance to reach the NBA Finals for the third time in five years. However, they also have to have a sour taste in their mouths after blowing a chance to close out the series in Boston in Game 6. Not only did the squander the chance, but the Celtics were beaten thoroughly from the opening tip. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have been through too many big games to be intimidated by any situation, but deep down, the “Big 3” have to know they might have let their best chance to eliminate Miami slip away Thursday night.

Even with the season-saving win in Boston, the same questions remain for the Heat. Can LeBron James and company handle the pressure that comes with winning a championship, or will he and his teammates disappear when it matters most? He certainly seemed to cope with the pressure in Game 6. James dominated on both ends of the court, dropping 45 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and shutting down Pierce on the defensive end. The three-time MVP showed a killer instinct that he hasn’t shown in the past, taking over the game and overwhelming the Celtics. If he has truly broken through whatever mental barrier has been holding him back in past years, Miami is going to win Saturday night. His performance in Game 6 was a good first step to silencing his critics. A repeat in Game 7 will leave little room to question his status as a “closer” in the NBA.

If the Celtics are going to win in Miami for the second time in this series, they need to have a solid shooting performance from beyond the arc. Boston made just one of its 14 3-point attempts in its ugly Game 6 loss, and Pierce went 0-for-6 from 3-point land. Point guard Rajon Rondo has already shown that the Miami defense can’t slow him down. However, its does the Celtics no good for him to penetrate and drive the lane if his teammates aren’t knocking down any of the open shots Rondo creates. The Heat are faster and more athletic as a team and are going to have the edge in transition baskets. Boston needs the 3-point shot as a counter, and another 1-for-14 performance isn’t going to cut it.

The X-factor in the game is Miami’s Dwyane Wade. Whether it has been injuries or something else, the star shooting guard hasn’t looked like himself in this series. Maybe he was intentionally being passive in order to force James to take over as he did in Game 6. Maybe Wade is really hurt and just doesn’t have the explosiveness he needs to get to the rim against a stout Celtics’ defense and play at his normal level. Either way, Wade can’t afford to be a non-factor Saturday night. James has shown he can more than pick up the slack, but it is going to be tough for Miami to knock off a proud Boston team without a little help.

In the end, Saturday’s game is more about desire and guts than talent and stats. Both sides are battling injuries and both sides have a ton riding on the outcome for this season and beyond. In a long series, the mental toll is as real as the physical toll, and Boston’s “Big 3” don’t lose the mental battle often. When I previewed this series, I picked the Boston Celtics to pull the upset in seven games. I’ll admit that the performance of James in Game 6 has made me question the pick to a degree, but the Celtics are still the same veteran bunch that have never been intimidated by the flash and star power of the Heat. In a Game 7 situation, I’ll still take the competitiveness and will to win of Pierce and Garnett over the athleticism and talent of James and Wade, especially with a 7 ½-point spread.

Prediction: Boston Celtics (+ 7 ½) Cover the Spread 

Current Odds: Favorite - Miami -7.5 Total - OVER/UNDER 178.5

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