Bucks-Celtics Betting Guide: Is the Market Still Undervaluing Milwaukee?

Bucks-Celtics Betting Guide: Is the Market Still Undervaluing Milwaukee? article feature image
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Photos from USAToday Sports. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum

Betting odds: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics

  • Spread: Celtics -3
  • Over/Under: 221.5
  • Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • TV channel: TNT

>> All odds as of 12 p.m. ET. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NBA odds and track your bets


The Milwaukee Bucks are the last undefeated team left in the NBA (7-0) and will face a tough test on Thursday night against the Boston Celtics. This line opened at Celtics -2, suggesting these teams are nearly even on a neutral court.

Will the Bucks keep rolling, or will the Celtics remind Milwaukee who is in control of the East? Our analysts weigh in.

Moore: What I’m Watching for Tonight

OK, consider this more of a theoretical testing ground than anything. Read below in the “Betting Trends to Know” section for all of Evan’s great reasons why the under seems like a spectacular play here.

All right, so these are the two best defenses in the league — the only two teams allowing fewer than 100 points per possession — which in this scoring economy is basically an Iron Curtain of defense.

So I was curious what has happened historically when defenses such as these have met. I spitballed and put the threshold Defensive Rating at 103. Basically, if you have a Defensive Rating below 103 over the past few years since the Warriors started warping reality, you’re doing pretty well.

Since 2015, the over has gone 193-170-5 when two teams with sub-103 Defensive Ratings have met, a figure that shocked me considering, I mean, it’s a rock fight. However, with how games tend to buck conventional thinking, that had me leaning pretty hard toward the over in this matchup.

However, the over is getting 89% of the money and 61% of the bets as of this writing, and the total has jumped from 215 all the way up to 221.5. There have been only seven games since 2003 in which both teams have had a 103 Defensive Rating or better with a total of 220 or more; the over is just 2-5 in such games.

Drop to sub-100 Defensive Ratings, which both the Celtics and Bucks have currently, and there has never been a total this high for two teams with that identity (in our Bet Labs database).

From an Xs and Os standpoint, this game is fascinating.

The Bucks have the length and athleticism to hang with the Celtics’ wings and the interior defense with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez to contest at the rim. Don’t be surprised if the Celtics go small in this game; Aron Baynes is an unheralded key component for Boston, but you don’t want to put anyone on the court who keeps Giannis when he’s at the 5 or Lopez down low. You want to open up the interior for the smart cuts and DHO action the Bucks want to use.

There’s no cost for Boston on the defensive end, as the Bucks are 16th in post-ups per game and 22nd in post-up points per possession. Even if Boston gets hurt on the defensive glass, the cost benefit for what it opens offensively is huge.

One issue for Boston is the lack of reasonable switches. For all the fawning over Brad Stevens’ offense, when the Celtics run quality offense, they don’t get great looks or many makes. They’re sometimes at their best just letting Jayson Tatum or Kyrie Irving cut loose in ISO.

With Milwaukee, though, a 1-4 pick-and-roll with Irving and Al Horford (or Tatum) gets you a switch onto Giannis. A 1-5 puts you on Lopez, and that might be how the Celtics attack, but Milwaukee can counter small with Giannis at the 4, and then you’re looking at Ersan Ilyasova, who is a bit harder to exploit.

But that’s assuming they even switch.

The Bucks are usually going to drop their big; it’s a staple of Mike Budenholzer defenses. It worked against Kyle Lowry on an off night:

 

But it won’t work most of the time against Tatum and Irving.

Watch Jimmy Butler here. The Bucks are bringing over Khris Middleton for help if he tries to attack middle, but Butler just goes away from the screen and gets Lopez moving backward:

 

On the other end, the switches the Celtics employ will struggle against this Bucks team. Last season, the spacing was clogged up, which allowed Boston to strangle the Milwaukee offense in the playoffs. But with better passing and spacing, Boston might have a harder time.

You have to send help vs. Antetokounmpo, and if you do, he’s much more likely to find a shooter during the regular season than he is during the playoffs. The Bucks have completely redefined their offense toward open 3-pointers, and that can hurt Boston.

This has the makings of one of the best games of the early season. Matt Moore


Mears: Keep Buying the Bucks

The metrics for the Bucks this season are eye-poppingly insane. Per Cleaning the Glass, they’re the best team in the league, posting a stupid +18.4 Net Rating through seven games, all of which they’ve won.

That Net Rating would equate to … a 75-win season.

They rank second offensively, scoring 117.6 points per 100 possessions, and second defensively, allowing 99.3 points per 100 possessions. They’re a great shooting team so far, and they’re finally maximizing their talent on both ends of the floor. It’s been quite a run to start the season.

But the question is this: Is this their new norm (with some regression obviously), and what does that mean for their future? According to Bovada, they’re now -185 to win their division (they were about even money before the season), +650 to win the East and +2500 to win the title.

I would argue that, yes, our priors need to be adjusted for this team.

It isn’t just a team taking a leap because of raw talent getting older (although that’s true). The Bucks also had a fundamental change in their philosophies.

I’ve written about it extensively at this point, but the Bucks rank eighth in frequency of shots at the rim and second in 3-point rate this season. On defense, they’re allowing the lowest percentage of shots at the rim.

That is the new Milwaukee, and it honestly gives the team a much higher floor and ceiling this season. I think we’ve seen enough from this team — not in terms of results, but in terms of process — that the Bucks should seriously be discussed as threats to win the East along with Boston and Toronto. In fact, they might be the best betting value to do so right now. Bryan Mears

Betting Trends to Know

The Celtics are scoring 102.4 points per game (29th) and allowing 97.6 points per game (1st), for a combined single team over/under of exactly 200 points.

Entering Wednesday night, the average NBA team had a single team over/under of 224.14 points per game — which, coincidentally enough, is almost exactly the Bucks’ total over/under — and the Celtics average of 200 is the lowest in the NBA.

To put it simply: Brad Stevens and Boston are just playing a different game than most of the league is playing.

The team with the highest combined total? The Lakers at 244.3 points per game. The Celtics are 2-5 to the under this season, with the total going under by 12 points per game. The average over/under in their games has been 212.

Entering Thursday night, the Bucks are averaging 120 points per game, which is good for fourth in the NBA. Meanwhile, Stevens and the Celtics are allowing the fewest points per game this season (97.6).

As coach of the Celtics, Stevens is 22-13-1 against the spread (62.9%) when facing a team averaging at least 110 points per game … but there’s a catch.

In those games, the Celtics are 15-21 (41.7%) against the first-half spread and 23-13 (63.9%) against the second-half spread. Additionally, if you think the Bucks get up on Boston early, the Celtics are 16-6 against the second-half spread in this spot when trailing at the half. The only coach more profitable to bettors in that situation since 2013 is Budenholzer (12-2 ATS). Evan Abrams


Editor’s note: The opinions on this game are from the individual writers and are based on their research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

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