Celtics vs. Hawks Series Odds & Betting Preview: NBA Playoffs Picks for Boston vs. Atlanta
Getty Images. Pictured: Trae Young (left) and Jayson Tatum.
All season long, the Boston Celtics have played like a team of destiny.
After losing the NBA Finals last year, despite suffering preseason injuries and the drama of their coach being suspended for the season, the Celtics led the league in overall record until late in the year when Milwaukee caught them. But the Celtics have led in all the key advanced metrics.
Now the playoffs have arrived and they face a Hawks team that has been defined by their potential instead of their accomplishments despite a conference finals appearance two years ago. Let’s take a look at the Celtics vs. Hawks series odds and betting preview some best bets.
The Most Important Thing: Boston’s Shooting Variance
When the Boston Celtics shoot 40% or better from 3-point range this season they are 31-1.
Thirty one. And one.
There is no way to stress this enough: when the Celtics hit their 3s, they almost always win. Boston finished 26-24 in games with less than a 40% 3-point percentage, which is still good! But when they hit their 3s, you’re in trouble.
The Hawks honestly have just not taken enough 3s. There’s been this idea that the Hawks have taken more 3s once Quin Snyder was hired, and that’s just not accurate. They’ve made them at a higher percentage, but the Hawks took roughly the same amount per 100 possessions in their last 20 games as in any other 20-game stretch, and it wasn’t enough.
The Celtics are the supremely better defensive team, so the Hawks’ real chance in this series is to outpace them offensively. If Boston hits a good percentage of its allotment of 3-point shots, the Hawks just won’t be able to keep pace.
Now, the good news for Atlanta is they they allowed the seventh fewest 3-point attempts per 100 possessions in the league over their last 15 games. So they might be able to hold off the attempts. But given that they finished 25th in overall defense, it may not matter.
Atlanta has to play better defense than they have all season, and on top of that, good defense won’t matter if Boston makes a good percentage of 3s. The curve here is sharp.
The Pendulum: Dejounte Murray
The Celtics primarily switch in pick-and-roll. This is a nightmare for Trae Young, as he really struggles against switch coverage.
You saw this last year in the Hawks’ first-round series vs. Miami who completely shut him down with their physical, switching defense.
(“But wait,” you ask, “the Hawks just beat the Heat. Why didn’t the Heat switch vs. Young in that game?” That’s a great question, reader! I wish I knew!)
The Celtics will drop the screener defender sometimes, most notably when Robert Williams III plays. That will give Young some room. But for the most part, he’s going to have a hard time in this series.
Which is why Murray matters so much. The Hawks went 15-6 this season when Murray scored 25 or more points. The Celtics have multiple great defenders they can throw at Young. Derrick White held Murray to 3-of-10 shooting in the regular season.
But if Marcus Smart is going to get the primary assignment on Young, and if the Celtics are going to switch consistently, Murray has to space the floor and fill in the scoring gap. If Murray has a breakout series, that can tilt things and maybe open things up for Young and the wings. If Murray struggles and the Hawks become even more one-dimensional, this will get out of hand in a hurry.
The Mirage: Clint Capela is vital to the Hawks
Capela was magnificent in the Play-In win vs. Miami, dominating the glass and punishing the smaller Heat inside.
But in this series … he may need to not play, much. In fact, he might need to play little. Like, a very little. Capela played 39 minutes this season vs. Boston and the Hawks were outscored by 33.6 points per 100 possessions.
That’s small sample, just two games. But Onyeka Okongwu is obviously the future for Atlanta, and they’ve looked to create space for him by moving Capela in the trade market over the last year.
Capela’s advantage is clearly on the glass. One problem: Boston is the No.1 team in defensive rebounding percentage this season. They don’t give up offensive rebounds. They also don’t need to get offensive rebounds. They’re bottom-three in that category and still manage a hyper-efficient offense.
The Hawks’ best strategy, alongside improving their 3-point rate, is to mimic the Celtics by going to a smaller lineup and playing to their athleticism. Snyder may never get there, it’s not like Okongwu won his minutes vs. Boston, either. But I’ll be looking for opportunities to bet the overs on Okongwu and the unders on Capela as the series progresses.
The Bet: Celtics -2.5 (-162)
The implied probability here is 63% and I just can’t get to anything that low.
There’s variance here that makes me nervous. Just as the Celtics are nearly unstoppable when the 3s fall, when those 3s fail to drop, it gets tough in a hurry. Their offense can run aground like a ship that steers wrong in a storm.
But ultimately, the Hawks have not had enough time to change their identity under Snyder. Atlanta has the talent to push buttons but they never seem disciplined enough to reach for the panel. Young is still the main offensive engine of the Hawks, and teams like Boston tend to neutralize him.
Yes, if the Celtics play Robert Williams heavily and give Young the opportunity to get to his floater and pull-up 3s, Atlanta will gain momentum. They have wings like DeAndre Hunter, Saddiq Bey, and John Collins to counter Boston’s athleticism.
The Celtics are just so much sharper. They defend better, they shoot better, they rebound better. They don’t foul. They don’t turn the ball over. They don’t allow points in the paint, off turnovers, or off second-chances.
I’m not super confident here, I hesitate with it being a best bet. But I do think it’s the best value.
Atlanta’s difficult to predict. They should have lost the play-in game to a more focused, more disciplined Miami team. Instead they beat the brakes off them. They should have won the division, they finished second despite every opportunity.
I’m going to trust the more trustable team.
Pick: Celtics -2.5 Series Spread (-162)
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