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NBA Odds, Picks & Predictions: Moore’s Bets for Celtics vs. Heat (May 23)

NBA Odds, Picks & Predictions: Moore’s Bets for Celtics vs. Heat (May 23) article feature image

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat during Game 1 of the 2023 Eastern Conference finals.

Celtics vs. Heat Odds

8:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Heat -1.5 | Total: 216.5

The video game “Mortal Kombat” features a character named Shang Tsung. The finishing move for this character features him reaching in and drawing out the soul of the opponent, leaving a lifeless, soulless, withered husk.

That’s what Jimmy Butler and the Heat have done to the Celtics in this series.

There are two ways of looking at the Heat vs. Celtics series.

One is that shot variance has bent severely against Boston and severely toward the Heat. Boston is shooting 2.3 percentage points worse than expected based on shot location, Miami is shooting 8.8 percentage points better than expected. That second number is flat-out nuts. It’s hotter than the sun. It melts diamonds.

The other way is that one team has been tougher, more physical, and more focused, and the other team has completely surrendered.

If you believe in the shot variance concept, then the Celtics have to be the play. They were heavy favorites in Games 1 and 2, 4.5-point favorites in Game 3, and now are 1.5-point dogs. That’s a six-point move off Game 3.

Shot variance should not dictate that kind of line movement. Even if the initial lines in this series were off and these teams are closer, were they that far off?

If you think they were off, you should bet the Heat. If you think shot variance shouldn’t create that move, you should bet the Celtics, who were a great shooting team all season.

But if you believe in that second idea, the Heat are the move. The Heat have broken teams in this postseason. They have left a swath of proud teams hanging their heads in humiliation and despondency.

The Celtics in Game 3 were a shell of themselves. They completely let go of the rope, and the postgame comments were about embarrassment and a sense of being lost, not knowing what to say.

There is a mental ramification here that’s difficult to quantify. We can talk spreads and shooting percentages. I can break down pick-and-roll or how Butler gets to his shoulder bump fade every time. But ultimately it doesn’t matter if Boston does not believe. If they’re not connected. If they lack the resolve.

That’s a real thing, not just a narrative.

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How I’m Betting Heat vs. Celtics

Setting aside the fact that the Heat have been the most profitable moneyline team in the playoffs and one of the most profitable ATS teams over the last 10 years under Erik Spoelstra, there is historical precedent.

I wanted to look at what happens when a team gets absolutely demoralized down 2-0 in Game 3. Since 2003, when a team has lost twice in a series and loses Game 3 by 20 or more, those teams are just 20-32 (38.5%) straight up, 21-31 (40.4%) ATS in the following game. They are 2-12 straight up on the road in that following game.

Dogs in an elimination game, after losing by 20, are 10-24 SU (29.4%) and 15-19 (44%) ATS.

And teams to lose by 20 facing elimination in a potential sweep on the road are 3-6 straight up and ATS.

So you’re telling me I only have to lay 1.5 on a team with Butler and history on its side against a squad whose postgame quotes were basically written in whatever crayon “regret” is? (I think it’s a deep purplish-blue.)

For a few years here at Action, I would try and anticipate shooting regression. I would try and play against a team that was hot, thinking it would come back down to earth. But the payout in those scenarios is not good. This is not “hot hand” theory, so much as it is not wanting to try and anticipate when these streaks will end, letting them play to their natural conclusion.

“The Heat have shot the lights out so they will continue to shoot the lights out” is not a good betting strategy. But “The Heat may not regress to the mean in this particular game, and even if they do they can still win because the Celtics appear to have given up on basketball life” is closer to good strategy.

The Celtics have responded when down 3-2 before, twice in these last two playoffs. But 3-2 is “We had a chance and let it go.” 3-0 is “We’re lost.”

Maybe Brad Stevens writes the second-greatest email of all time behind David Griffin’s in 2016. Maybe the Heat just go cold. Maybe the Celtics hit enough 3s to push the series to a fifth game.

But I’m willing to bet against it and take the best bet in the playoffs so far, Heat to win.

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