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Celtics vs. Nets Series Odds & Betting Preview: Wait, Are the Nets Finally Underrated?

Celtics vs. Nets Series Odds & Betting Preview: Wait, Are the Nets Finally Underrated? article feature image
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Via Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images. Pictured: Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum

The Boston Celtics went from being lost in the woods to kings of the castle. They have the best Net Rating in the league, an MVP candidate in Jayson Tatum, the league’s best defense, and the No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets, meanwhile, were title favorites for most of the season and conference favorites despite all their problems, from Kyrie Irving’s absence to James Harden’s disengagement and trade request, to Kevin Durant’s injury and their overall struggle to win against contenders.

Now the two meet for the second year in a row, but this time it’s the Celtics who are favored. Can Boston end the superteam’s run before it begins? Or will the Nets push past with their superstar duo?

Here’s what you need to know to bet Celtics-Nets.

The Trends You Need To Know

The Celtics are 17-9 (65.4%) straight up and 18-8 (69%) ATS at home in the Jayson Tatum era in the playoffs. They are 12-6 SU and ATS (66.7%) as a home favorite in the playoffs. They’ve been really good at home in the Tatum era. This is a different matchup, a different team, and a different coach, but that trend stands out.

On the other side, Kyrie Irving is 7-2 straight up and ATS in the postseason since leaving the Celtics in free agency in 2019.

All four meetings between the two teams have gone over, with an average combined total above 230.

Nets Matchup Advantage: Switches Against Al Horford

On Tuesday night after the Nets earned the 7-seed with their win over the Cavs, youngster Bruce Brown spoke a bit about the matchup with the Celtics:

Bruce Brown: "Them not having Robert Williams is huge. Now we can attack Horford and Theis."

— Matt Brooks (@MattBrooksNBA) April 13, 2022

 

Kevin Durant immediately scolded Brown for such statements, having been bitten by playoff hubris in the past.

But when I started to dive in, Brown’s not wrong here. The Nets shot 70% efG%, scoring 31 points on 25 possessions when Horford switched.

Theis was not available for their lone matchup after being traded there, so there’s no way to really judge that matchup. We can look at Grant Williams, though, who will have to have a big series in small ball rotations. The Nets scored 17 points on 14 possessions with Williams switching.

This isn’t about those defenders. It’s mostly about Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant:

There’s not much you can do there. You have to live with most of the points from Durant and Irving.

Andre Drummond is relevant here, as well. Drummond is exploitable in halfcourt defense, and certainly Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be able to take advantage of him.

But Horford gives up a ton of size to him and Williams gives up even more. Drummond has averaged nearly five offensive rebounds per 100 possessions with Horford as his halfcourt matchup over the last four seasons.

The Nets got absolutely annihilated in Drummond’s minutes this season vs. Boston with Durant and Irving in the March 6th matchup. They lost those 17 minutes by 11 points.

However… Robert Williams III was on-court for all but five of Drummond’s minutes, and in those five, the Nets played even.

Brown’s right. Williams’ absence looms large in this matchup, even if the youngster should have kept that observation to himself.

Celtics Matchup Advantage: Creating One-on-One Advantages

Jayson Tatum ranks in the 58th percentile offensively in isolation, and Jaylen Brown ranks in the 87th percentile via Synergy Sports. The Nets give up the 11th-highest isolation defensive mark. Nic Claxton winds up in switches the most as the versatile big, but he gives up free throws 13% of the time. The Nets decided to waive James Johnson to give Kessler Edwards more minutes. Edwards gives up 58% shooting on ISOs.

The Nets’ switch-heavy system makes it difficult to send multiple defenders and layer coverages. Their personnel is also compromised. They want to switch but don’t have enough rim protection unless they play players who can’t switch. The Celtics shoot 70% at the rim, the third-best mark in the league.

Tatum and Brown should be able to get downhill, which will force the Nets to bring help, which will open up catch-and-shoot threes — which is the real cornerstone of the Celtics’ offense— which negates the entire value of the Nets’ defensive scheme.

Celtics Matchup Disadvantage: Missing Williams.

On top of the previously mentioned problems with the Nets attacking Horford are the overall issues without Williams.

The Celtics’ Net Rating with Williams on the floor vs. the Nets this season: +24.4

The Celtics’ Net Rating without Williams on the floor vs. the Nets this season: +1.5

Williams is a better rim protector; he’s one of the league’s elite, actually. Daniel Theis on non-post-ups surrenders a 62.9% FG% at the rim this season with Boston. Horford’s much better. But when you’re facing quick, shifty scorers like Patty Mills, Seth Curry, and Cam Thomas, you really want a rim protector present.

Again, Durant and Irving are going to do what they’re going to do, and you have to bake in 60-70 points from them into any game plan. But Williams helps chip away at that efficiency, and if he’s not available this series — as Ime Udoka has suggested he won’t be— it could be the difference in a tight margin.

Nets Matchup Disadvantage: Stopping the Transition Attack.

Things slow down in a playoff series. It turns into more of a possession-by-possession grind. But in a close series, the ability to generate easy points in transition is huge, and this is a weak spot for the Nets.

Brooklyn is eighth in transition points allowed per possession, which is really good, but they’re 25th in transition points allowed per game. They allow a ton of transition opportunities, and the efficiency on those (1.096 points, per Synergy Sports) is always going to be higher than halfcourt possessions (where the Nets allow just 0.969 points per possession).

The Celtics generated their second and fourth-most fastbreak points in any game this season vs. Brooklyn, including a +14 fastbreak margin in that pivotal March 6th matchup where Jayson Tatum went for 54. Brooklyn has a lot of firepower, and in that game it generated better efficiency in pick and rolls, isolations, post-ups, and spot-up opportunities. But the Celtics won the margins with things like transition scoring and got the win.

The Nets do not have the physicality to match teams with serious intent in transition. As much as I tend to shrug off transition success in the regular season translating to the playoffs, the Nets are just flawed enough, and the Celtics are just excellent in their execution enough for those little margins to matter.

The Narrative Bounce: That Sunday March 6 Win Is Seen as a Defining Moment for this Matchup.

The Nets, finally with Irving and Durant both, lost on the road in early March where the Nets will have to play four of seven in this series.

Except, when you dig in as I noted above, a lot of weird things happened there. The Celtics generated +14 in transition, +5 in points off turnovers, got 54 from Jayson Tatum, and won by just six.

All that, and you eke out a six-point win at home?

The Nets do not feel like a good defensive team. They are exploitable, and we’ve seen this in marquee matchups consistently. But the numbers bear out they are more than good enough. They contain at the rim, they frustrate you with switches, they have small ball options they can turn to and Drummond to hit the glass and protect the rim.

The Nets are not a great team, honestly, but they have the best player in the series. Tatum has been an MVP candidate over the back half of the season. Kevin Durant is a former MVP who was leading in the odds before his injury. Those two are not the same, for as good as Tatum is (and Tatum is legitimately a better defender by a wide margin at this point).

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The Bet

I think this should be a coin-flip series. I think it should be -110 either way. Instead, you can get the Nets as high as +130 at some books.

That’s enough for me to bet, though not heavy, on Brooklyn. I look at the matchups, and while Boston has been unstoppable for months, the Nets have an unbelievable amount of firepower. The Celtics on the other hand are a team that wants to generate spot-up threes, but they don’t really have that many shooters. The Jays are excellent, Grant Williams has been phenomenal, and then there’s a huge drop off.

I worry that Steve Nash won’t push those buttons, won’t make Derrick White or Marcus Smart beat them. I worry that the Nets will always resort back to “we don’t need to run disciplined offense, we can just have Kyrie and Durant score in isolation,” and over the course of a seven-game series, the Celtics will probably wear that down.

But ultimately the Celtics have gotten too much public and sharp love and been overvalued by just enough to see value on the Nets. I won’t go heavy with this bet —the Celtics are too good with homecourt— but I do see value on the Nets to “upset” the Celtics despite having better odds to win the conference.

The Bet: Nets +128 to Win the Series at BetRivers

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