NBA Odds, Picks & Predictions: Matt Moore’s Expert Bets for Heat vs. Celtics (May 29)

NBA Odds, Picks & Predictions: Matt Moore’s Expert Bets for Heat vs. Celtics (May 29) article feature image
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Maddie Meyer/Getty Images. Pictured: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics grabs a rebound ahead of Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat.

  • We've reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, and the pressure is at a fever pitch.
  • The Celtics host Monday’s deciding game against the Heat after storming back from an 0-3 deficit. Can they pull off the comeback?
  • Matt Moore details how he's betting Heat vs. Celtics Game 7, with an angle on the spread and an expert pick for the total.

Heat vs. Celtics Odds

8:30 p.m. ET
TNT
Spread: Celtics -7.5 | Total: 204

A Game 7 with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line. What could be better?

The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics have played an emotionally draining series so far. The Celtics were in a deep hole after Game 2 and looked like they had nothing left in Game 3.

I'll admit, I bought the narrative. The Celtics looked like they quit in Game 3: body language, postgame quotes, effort level, the whole shebang. They were done.

Except they weren't.

My Action Network colleague Stuckey pointed this out after Game 3 and it's been hanging with me since:

Oh it definitely loses all of the time too. I just think more times than not the quit narrative gets overbaked https://t.co/R1XmayciOn

— Stuckey (@Stuckey2) May 23, 2023

The right side in Game 4, based on a 5-point line movement from Game 3 to Game 4, was to bet the Celtics. But I was so wrapped up in the idea that they had quit on themselves, on their season, on their coach, that I couldn't see out of it.

And now here they are in 3-3 series with a chance to be the first NBA team to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series.

My other colleague, Brandon Anderson, wrote about this when he bet Jayson Tatum to win Finals MVP +1200, the only solution if the Celtics do win Game 7. Here's how he summed up why he thought there was value on the Celtics despite how the looked after Game 3:

"Boston is a very good team facing an opponent it’s significantly better than in any number of measurable ways — as good a chance on paper as any to overcome an 0-3 deficit — and the Celtics are down 0-3 in part because of tremendously unlucky shot variance at the worst time."

He's effectively sitting on a +1200 Celtics moneyline ticket. If any team was going to do this, it would have to be a team in the Celtics' situation — they were title favorite coming into the series with home-court advantage and a better overall team when taken out of the context of the 0-3 deficit.

I've also been thinking about how insane it is that no team has come back from trailing 0-3 and how much of that daunting stat has to do with the inherent context of it. If a team in down 0-3, they are, most times, the objectively worse team, badly outmatched. The Celtics don't fit that criteria. They are the better team by any objective determination. The only way you can say the Heat are better is if they do indeed win Game 7.

In our probabilistic world of betting, we know better. The Heat aren't better, the unlikely probability simply occurred four times out of seven, which is how it goes sometimes.

So am I betting on the Celtics, the superior team, in Game 7?

NO WAY.

So what am I betting?

Let's get into breakdown Heat vs. Celtics Game 7.

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Home Teams Aren't Invincible

First, I want to disabuse you of a popular narrative I myself have believed that's started to lose steam: Home teams win Game 7.

Home teams in a Game 7 are 36-19, according to Bet Labs. Incredible mark, the historical marker that many will reference, or they'll go back throughout NBA history, which is a wider sample but divorced from the current state of the league.

Since 2013, home teams in a Game 7 are 20-12.

Since 2018, home teams in a Game 7  are 7-8.

Over the past three postseasons, home teams in Game 7 are 3-5.

(Note: These numbers exclude the Bubble because those games were neutral sites.)

So we've got two problems here; one is that the overall trend has faded as we approach this moment in history with how teams play now, more reliant on 3-point variance. Home teams have not been as dominant as they have been historically.

But the sample is smaller. We have a larger, more stable sample of home teams in this spot, and they win. The smaller, more analogous teams to this moment have struggled, comparatively.

Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Jaylen Brown #7 and Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics talk during 2023 Eastern Conference Finals.

It should be noted that the Brooklyn Nets have two of those Game 7 home losses since 2013, including the 2021 series when Kyrie Irving and James Harden were both hurt. One of the losses was the by the Golden State Warriors against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the current greatest series comeback in NBA history. One was the Phoenix Suns' implosion against the Dallas Mavericks in the second round last year. One was the Sacramento Kings losing to the Warriors during these playoffs.

Do you see the point? The larger sample is strong, but it's divorced from the current context. The smaller sample indicates there's probably value on the Heat here, but those moments can be spliced apart easier by context.

This is why sample size matters, obviously. But in this context, I think you should avoid the Game 7 home trend.

Favorites, however, are another matter.

Favorites in a Game 7 are 40-19 (67.8%) SU, according to Bet Labs. Since 2013 they are 24-12 (66.7%). Since 2018, they are 12-7 (63.2%) and excluding the Bubble they are 9-6 (60%) in that span.

The Game 7 home trend is more closely correlated with who's favored. For example, home dogs in a Game 7 are 1-2 since 2015.

Boston is an 8-point favorite in Game 7. Favorites of more than 4.5 points in Game 7 are 34-9 SU since 2003 (79.1%), 20-6 (76.9%) over the past 10 seasons, 9-4 since 2018, and 8-3 excluding the Bubble.

"OK, Matt. So it's not home teams; it's favorites. The Celtics are favored. So you're betting Boston, right?"

Again, I tell you, no.

A Make or Miss League

The Celtics will win if they make their 3-pointers. Boston is 20-8 straight up (71%) and 19-9 ATS (68%) in the last two playoff runs when they make at least 35% of their 3s. That includes 3-1 vs. the Heat.

That number goes to 8-2 straight up and ATS when they hit 40% of their 3s.

Boston is 5-10 straight up and ATS (33%) in the last two playoff runs when they shoot less than 35% from three.

I am not someone who wants to simplify things. I want to make things into matchups and context and rotation and strategy.

This is about the Celtics' 3-point variance.

Yes, turnovers matter. Yes, there are other factors. But in the last two postseasons, when the Celtics shoot 35% or better from beyond the arc — a relatively low mark — they allow 103.9 points per game. When they shoot worse than 35% from deep, they allow 107.

The under in the last two postseasons when the Celtics shoot 35% or better on 3s is 15-13 (53.6%). The over when the Celtics shoot worse than 35% from 3 is 8-7.

When the Celtics shoot better, their opponent scores less, and when their shooting is worse, their opponent lights them up.

The Celtics' defense, which has been an incredible strength for them, is inextricably linked to the offense. If the Celtics are making 3s, they engage on the defensive side. (Or maybe it's the opposite; maybe the defense is what gets them going and in rhythm offensively.)

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.

But here are the potential outcomes:

  • The Celtics shoot terribly from 3, the Heat get their offense going, the Heat win, and the game goes over.
  • The Celtics shoot terribly from 3, the Heat also struggle offensively because it's a Game 7 and the Heat win a clutch-time game with Jimmy Butler doing Jimmy Butler things.
  • The Celtics shoot decent-to-well from 3, gets stops, and win comfortably while holding the Heat to a pitiful number
  • The Celtics shoots terribly, and so do the Heat. It's a rock fight, and the Celtics' edge in personnel gets them to a clutch win
  • The Celtics shoot awesome from 3, the Heat shoot awesome from 3, and it's a shootout that the Celtics win

There are a lot more paths here for Boston than Miami, which is what the spread of -7.5 reflects.

But those paths also dependent on that 3-point variance. If the Celtics aren't hitting 3s, this game goes haywire in a hurry, and the outcome is in doubt.

If you feel confident in the Celtics hitting 3s at home, fire on the Celtics -7.5. The Celtics are 9-6 against the spread at home the past two postseasons when shooting better than 35% from 3. Two of those losses came in the NBA Finals last year. Don't mess with the moneyline, you're paying too much. Lay the 7.5 and live with it.

I have no idea what to expect; the Celtics dug themselves into this 0-3 hole just like they fell into an 2-3 hole against the Philadelphia 76ers when Joel Embiid missed the first game of that series.

So I won't bet the side. (I will say I lean Boston; they're the better team, favorites win in this spot, and I think Miami is just out of gas.)

Good Ol' Game 7 Unders

Since 2005, unders are 37-22 (62.7%) in Game 7s, according to Bet Labs. Since 2013, unders are 22-14 (61.1%). Since 2018, unders are 14-5 (73.7%) and 10-5 (66.7%) excluding the Bubble.

The under in Game 7s Jayson Tatum has played in are 5-2. Unders in Game 7s Jimmy Butler has played in are are 2-1 and 1-0 in his Heat tenure.

All of those patterns above except one (a shootout, which isn't likely based on the history of the two teams) lead towards an under. The first three games of this series went over; Miami shot the lights out, and Boston shot terribly. It would have to be an exact replica of Games 1 and 2 in Boston. Can the Heat shoot like that on the road in Game 7?

The total moved six points from the Game 6 total of 209. Since 2003, when the total moves more than 5 points down from the Game 6 total, the under is 18-2 (90%). The market knows what to expect, and it's been right way more often than wrong.

(Notably, all 20 of those instances have come since 2012.)

My strongest expectation is that Boston engages defensively with one game to win to pull off the biggest comeback in history (but not the greatest), fueled by a home crowd. They hit shots, win the game, and this goes under. But instead of betting on Celtics shot variance, I'll stick with the under and feel good about it.

Betting data courtesy of KillerSports.com unless otherwise noted.

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