Moore: There’s Value on the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals
Michael Reaves/Getty Images. Pictured: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics.
The Eastern Conference Finals should be an absolute blast. Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro (maybe Gordon Hayward later in the series), there’s star power. It’s a modern rivalry built on the backs of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James.
It is the best head coaching matchup remaining in the playoffs with Erik Spoelstra going against Brad Stevens. It’s a clash of styles and identities. It’s fascinating and should be fun. Let’s dive into things you need to know before you bet Celtics-Heat.
The Heat went over their team total in six of their nine postseason games. The Celtics have gone over in just four of their 11 games. The Heat have allowed their opponent to go over in only 3-of-9 and the Celtics have allowed their opponent over in just 2-of-11. Under bets in the playoffs have cashed 60% of the time, and in 14 of the 20 playoff games between these two teams.
So, is a defensive battle on the horizon?
I’m going the other way. The Game 1 total is sitting at 209.5 at most books, the third time this postseason that a game has a total below 210.
The Heat have been incredible on defense in the playoffs, holding teams to a postseason-best 48% Expected Effective Field Goal Percentage and the fourth-best actual eFG%. However, much of that can be attributed to the 3-point challenged Indiana Pacers without Domantas Sabonis, and the Milwaukee Bucks who simply imploded in the matchup constraints the Heat presented.
The Celtics’ matchup is much different. They are a perimeter-oriented team, with athleticism and speed on the edges. They’re willing to bomb 3-point shots, and are capable of busting the Heat zone.
The Cs will switch most everything on defense to keep the Heat in front of them. They’re fine challenging isolation off-dribble possessions with their length.
But the Heat have the volume and quality of shooters to put up enough points. If you’re wondering why the Heat would pose more of a challenge offensively than the Toronto Raptors did, it’s because the Raptors ranked 17th in halfcourt offense this season. The Heat ranked sixth.
The total in this game feels like it’s been primed to both bubble standards and not factoring the matchup. Offense should be easier to come by in this one.
Celtics Strike First
The Celtics have the second-best Net Rating in the first quarter in the playoffs. They get off to hell on wheels, with a 114 offensive rating and a 10.8 Net Rating. Only the Los Angeles Lakers have been better in the first period. Miami, conversely, has -4.6 Net Rating and gives up the second-worst first-quarter defensive rating of any team left in the postseason.
As a result, the Celtics are 8-3 against the spread in the first half in this postseason. The Heat are 6-2-1 in the first half ATS this postseason, but under Spoelstra, they cover the first half spread just 44% of the time in playoff games.
The Celtics are likely to find success scoring right out of the gate, especially because playing against the Heat as opposed to Raptors is going to feel like busting out into open air. The Heat defense has been good this postseason, but the Raptors had the best defense in the league.
Closing the Screen Door
The Heat create these opportunities by utilizing the handoff more often than any other team in the league, on 8.8% of plays during the regular season per NBA.com. This generates 1.07 points per possession along with a 55.4% eFG%. The problem is, the Celtics defend this play better than anyone in the league. They only allow 0.83 points per possession for a 42.9% eFG%.
This is one of Miami’s offensive staples, and Boston can effectively nullify that. The Celtics have the length to close out and force tough shots along with possessing the defensive acumen and agility to switch on the perimeter.
I’ve got one more. The Heat are the No. 2 team in points per possession in shots off screens in the postseason. The Celtics are the No. 2 team defending those shots.
Now, our Joe Dellera who wrote the guide likes the under for that reason, and the money’s moving that way as well, go read the guide for more. But my only counter would be that the Celtics will still to allow a lot of 3s to a great shooting team, they’ll just contest more than the Bucks did.
The Bets I Like
I’m on Boston -1.5 in Game 1, took an alternate line of Boston -2 for the first quarter (+125). I played the combined over as a feel-out in Game 1. It’s possible that no games are going over ever again, but I feel there’s probably a regression coming, and if so, I think it leans toward the Celtics. I’ll be playing their team total deeper in the series. I also like Goran Dragic’s under 18.5 points in Game 1.
I took the Celtics to win the series at -130, that price is low, I would feel confident in the Celtics all the way to -180, so I love it at -130. I also like Celtics -1.5 game spread +145 at DraftKings. I think it’s more likely that the Celtics twist the gears and finish this sooner than the Heat pushing the series to seven games.