Heat vs. Celtics Series Odds & Betting Preview: Eastern Conference Finals NBA Playoff Picks

Heat vs. Celtics Series Odds & Betting Preview: Eastern Conference Finals NBA Playoff Picks article feature image
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Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics plays defense on Kyle Lowry #7 of the Miami Heat during Game 6 of the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals.

The Boston Celtics are four wins away from back-to-back Finals appearances. The Miami Heat are two wins away from their second Finals appearance in four seasons. The playoff-series series is 1-1 and this is the rubber match for these cores.

The Heat have the coaching advantage with Eric Spoelstra. The Celtics have the depth advantage in their top seven guys. The Heat have Jimmy Butler. The Celtics have Jayson Tatum. The team that wins a conference finals Game 1 has gone on to win the series with a record of 75-17 (81.5%) of the time. Game 1 is going to be massive.

Let's break it all down in the Heat vs. Celtics series preview.

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The Most Important Thing: 3-Point Shooting

It's vital in any playoff game nowadays.

Teams that shoot below 36% from deep in a playoff game since 2021 (post-Bubble) are 64-109 (37%) SU and 64-108-1 (37.2%) ATS in the playoffs. Teams that shoot better than 36% from deep are 103-56 (64.8%) SU, 102-56-1 (64.6%) ATS. Better than 40%, and it jumps to 73% SU and 72.4% ATS.

The Celtics are a volume 3-point team. Boston is 12-13 SU in the playoffs the last two seasons when shooting lower than 40% from 3. They are 13-4 when shooting 40% or better from 3-point range. It is a massive bellwether for this team.

Meanwhile, Miami is 7-1 in the last two playoffs when shooting 40% or better and 14-10 (58%) when shooting less than 40%. Miami shot the lights out vs. the Bucks to give them a chance for the upset in the first three games. They have shot 32.3% over the last eight games of the playoffs from deep.

The Celtics have a lot more weapons. The Heat have to drag this game down into the mud. Miami has held opponents to 33.8% 3-point shooting but faced a Bucks team that always struggles to shoot in the playoffs and a Knicks team that quite honestly was a round further than it should have been.

(The Knicks were a good 3-point team in the regular season at 11 makes per game, and the Bucks were fourth, so they objectively faced good 3-point opponents and dragged them down.)

You will very likely see a lot of zone in this series from Miami. The Heat use the most zone of any team so far in the playoffs, holding opponents to the second-lowest points per possession mark in those possessions. Boston has averaged a 113 offensive rating so far vs. zone but only on a handful of possessions.

If Boston can shoot over the Heat and find transition 3-point opportunities, the Heat likely will not be able to keep pace without Tyler Herro.

Conversely, if the Heat can get outlier 3-point shooting, they're going to compete a lot more in this series than they should. And the Heat always seem to find what they need to compete better than they should.

If you're wondering how you bet that game to game, you can't. This is what makes Boston a tough game-to-game bet. They have tendencies to get away from their process and if they're not in rhythm, it's a real problem. The Heat is not a good 3-point shooting (or offensive, generally) team, but sometimes they pour it on.

The averages are maybe what matters, which is why the Celtics are big favorites in this series.


The Pendulum: Heat Bench

Butler has a bad ankle; that's pretty apparent. It's clearly limited him. But also, shockingly, the Heat are just +0.7 in the playoffs with Butler on the court in net rating. That means they haven't won by a margin in Butler's minutes. They've crushed the bench minutes.

That second unit has very little talent but has made the most of it, with Kyle Lowry coming off the pine and random midseason pick-up Cody Zeller giving great minutes. Duncan Robinson gives them a burst of shooting.

The Celtics were probably the deepest team in the league all season and certainly the deepest team left in the playoffs. They have interchangeability and different ways to play. But their starters have a lot more firepower than Miami's especially without Herro.

The Heat need to absorb punches and then drag the game back within reach. If they win the starter minutes? All the better, but they need to put games away with the bench in that case.

Miami has the best bench-point differential in the playoffs.


The Mirage: Boston Learning Its Lesson

After the Celtics lost two games to the Hawks — a team they should have swept — people thought they got it out of their system. Then they turned around and lost Game 1 against the Sixers with no Joel Embiid. Then they completely melted down in Game 5 to let the Sixers go up 3-2.

This is who the Celtics are at this point; they do not take care of business. This series against the Heat went seven games last year. They went seven games with the Milwaukee Bucks last year with no Khris Middleton for the entire series. The only series they've kept the foot to the pedal was last year's first round series against the Brooklyn Nets, andTatum hit a game-winner to win Game 1 at home in that series.

The Celtics have not learned their lesson. They will continue to give up games with a lack of effort.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but the easiest to explain is that the Celtics' offense doesn't have go-to's. They run a low percentage of pick-and-rolls. They don't run post-ups. They don't have go-to mechanisms other than ISOs. And so when things are off offensively, they are severely off (hence the 3-point shooting variance impacting their win rate).

When their offense is off, they lose the plot defensively.

But if you think, "surely, after almost losing to the Sixers, the Celtics won't screw around anymore," you're wrong. Don't trust them until they give you nothing but an absolute reason to.


The Bet: Heat +2.5 Series Spread

I am very certain of two things going into this series: the Celtics are going to screw around and lose at least two games, and the Celtics are going to win the series. It may take seven games again. This Heat team is worse than last year's No. 1 seeded team, but this Celtics team is (slightly) worse as well because their defense isn't as good as last year's team.

Teams coming off Game 7s struggle mightily: Since 2003, home teams are 11-13 straight up in Game 1 of the next series. The Heat will absolutely pour everything into stealing a Game 1 to steal home court. Boston will likely be a little fatigued (an extra day off helps).

I actually think there's some value in taking the Heat to lead 2-1 (+350 at FanDuel). I'll bet that smaller and then play back when the Heat take the lead. If I can get the Celtics at a number below -150, I will take it.

The Celtics are going to the Finals, it's a matter of time. But the market has had to over-adjust for the Celtics based on their Finals liability from preseason and during their hot start to the season.

There will be a right time to bet the Celtics. This isn't it. Take the Heat +2.5 now and be ready to bet Boston if they actually trail in the series.

Pick: Miami Heat +2.5 Series Spread


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