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Bucks vs. Celtics Series Betting Preview: Bet on Overs Early

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Photo credit: USAToday Sports. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 4 Boston Celtics

Series odds: Bucks -310 | Celtics +250

Last year, the Celtics dispatched the upstart Bucks in seven games as the higher seed in the first round. This season, the Bucks are the 1-seed and favored to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

See below for the series schedule, advanced metrics breakdown and expert analysis from Matt Moore on how he’s betting this series.

Bucks vs. Celtics Schedule

Game 1: Sunday, April 28 at 1 p.m. ET | Bucks -7.5, O/U: 223.5
Game 2: Tuesday, April 30
Game 3: Friday, May 3
Game 4: Monday, May 6
Game 5: Wednesday, May 8
Game 6: Friday, May 10
Game 7: Monday, May 13

Advanced Metrics Breakdown

Expert Analysis

The series may hinge on Brook Lopez. If the Bucks manage to make Lopez viable and keep him on the floor as a net positive, it could break Boston’s defensive hold on the series.

Lopez was a huge negative on the floor during the season series whenever Al Horford was on the court, and you can expect the Celtics to try smallball right out of the gate to try and bend the Bucks to their will. If Lopez is able to either defend Horford in the pick-and-pop or manage to contain on switches vs. Kyrie Irving effectively, his spacing makes the offense so good it can overwhelm Boston.

Lopez had a 0.0 Net Rating vs. the Celtics, but with Horford on the court that number went to -33.5! What’s shocking about that: It wasn’t the defense that broke down, as you’d expect.

You’d think that Horford’s ability to space the floor and get Lopez in motion, combined with Lopez’ struggle on switches, would be the issue. Instead, while the defense was bad with Horford on the floor at a 109.5 Defensive Rating, the offense was at a 76 per 100 possessions mark, which is catastrophic and the opposite of Milwaukee’s identity.

The Bucks, one of the best 3-point teams in the league, shot 9-of-31 against the Celtics with Lopez on the floor vs. Horford. Was that scheme or randomness?

That will decide a lot in this series. Lopez was 3-of-14 from 3-point range vs. Boston. If that was certifiably something Boston was doing, then it could throw a huge wrench. If it was an outlier and Lopez gets going, he’s going to rain down hellfire.

Speaking of those 3-pointers… the Bucks give up the most 3-point attempts in the league per 100 possessions, and, sure enough, the Celtics shot a season-high 43 per game vs. Milwaukee. The Celtics are a jump shooting team, and if Milwaukee gives them those shots, they’ll take them.

The Celtics shot 37% on those attempts, which isn’t bad on the surface for Milwaukee, but when you expand for volume, you get an average of 16.2 makes per game;  Milwaukee’s defense can’t survive that. With the Bucks on defense, the Celtics made 27 three-pointers with Horford on the floor vs. Milwaukee. Nineteen of those — almost 70% — came with Lopez on the floor. If Lopez helps down, he can’t then recover to the perimeter.

Horford is a great pick-and-pop player. If the Bucks dare him to make those shots and he does, that can swing a game.

Here Lopez is switched off onto Gordon Hayward and again helps down because the Bucks are obsessed with shutting down the paint. But Boston’s happy to shoot jumpshots, and here Hayward gets a great look:

This is the biggest reason to play the team total overs for the Celtics. They are a pedestrian offense against a league that tries to contain 3-pointers and force contested mid-range shots. The Bucks try and shut off the paint and rotate the ball to the shooters they want, but Boston has five guys on the floor at all times (without Aron Baynes) that can shoot — and will shoot — jumpers.

That may seem like a sketchy strategy, and it is, which is why Milwaukee is favored. On the nights the Celtics are hitting, they’re going to hit huge. On the nights they’re missing, they’re going to put up scoring in the 90s. On the nights they’re hitting, it’s going to be sky-high.

Now, if the Bucks switch up their defense, literally switching, that messes with a lot of what Boston wants to do. But will Milwaukee make that change?


Bled to Water

Eric Bledsoe had a terrible series last year vs. Boston.

How he does in this series will go a long way towards Milwaukee’s offensive performance. What’s most interesting is how the Celtics’ counter to Lopez by going small with Horford at the 5 is then countered by Bledsoe. In last year’s playoff series, Bledsoe shot 37% from the field with Baynes on the floor vs. 47% with Baynes on the bench.

In the regular season without Baynes, Bledsoe was able to get to the rim at will.

So the trade-off of the Celtics being able to challenge Lopez more in space might result in more aggressiveness and opportunities from Bledsoe.

Malcolm Brogdon’s absence is going to be felt in the first two games. He will likely be back for Game 3, but after averaging 13 points per game with the third-best Net Rating vs. Boston this year, his absence hurts the offense. Once he returns, however, he gives a third creator in a lot of lineups and a shooter off the move, which is vital for their offense.


Takeaways

Out of the gate, playing the overs should be under consideration. The Bucks are going to take a lot of 3s and likely make more. Boston’s first round was against a paralyzed, limited Pacers offense. This is a different situation.

On the flip side, the Bucks played a Detroit team with no real shooters, and they will dare Boston to make jumpers. Boston will take them. With Lopez on the floor, the Bucks offense may improve to standard levels, but the defense is likely to remain vulnerable. We’ll have to watch Games 1 and 2 to see how willing the Bucks are to adapt.

I’ve cooled on the Bucks since starting my research on this series.

I still think they will win, and Bucks in 6 remains good value at +400. However, I’ve cooled on Bucks in 5 at +275 and think there’s increasing value for Celtics in 6 at +600 as a hedge play.

The reality is that Milwaukee’s been the better team all year, but the Celtics have the better scorer in the series. It may simply come down to Giannis Antetokounmpo and how much he can make the Celtics break perimeter contain to help on the interior. He has to punish them.

I think we’re likely to see a more offensive series out of the gate, but if the first two games wind up in a sludge match, it’ll be time to re-evaluate quickly. We just don’t know what the Bucks’ transition offense — such a key to their regular-season success — will do vs. Boston.

Either way, with Brogdon out Game 1, there’s value on the Celtics at +7.5 and their team total over at 108.5 based on the history of Mike Budenholzer’s defensive schemes and his desire to try and make the Lopez lineups work.

Moore’s Series Pick: Bucks in 6

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