NBA Playoffs Series Odds, Predictions: Betting Analysis for Celtics vs. Bucks and Grizzlies vs. Warriors
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies.
The two most compelling series left in the NBA Playoffs are clearly between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conference. Both matchups are knotted at one game a piece, headed back to Milwaukee and San Francisco.
Celtics vs. Bucks: Hanging in the Balance
Series Tied: 1-1
Honestly, part of me wonders if the best way to bet this series is just to bet whoever loses each game to win the title.
Milwaukee was thought to be doomed when the series started based on the absence of Khris Middleton. So of course they came out and played one of the best defensive games I’ve seen since the mid-00’s and shut down Boston in Game 2.
Our Buckets crew was on Boston in Game 2, it was a pretty obvious bounce-back spot; Boston could not, would not go down 0-2 at home. The Celtics did what they needed to, shooting 20-of-43 from 3-point range and holding Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday to just 18-of-47 shooting.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Celtics had a great night. I’m not ready to say it was an outlier. Based on expected eFG% from shooter, shot location, and contest level, Boston had the 14th-best game of these playoffs in Game 2. Not all-time or even last five years.
They shot better than expected from behind the arc and they did it on 40 attempts, which matters. But teams are not going to shoot roughly as expected game by game and the Celtics’ margin of victory was such that if they had shot worse, they still win that game.
Additionally, much of the Bucks’ issues stemmed from how they defended, which was pretty poorly. Game 1 was a clinic from the Bucks. They were just about perfect defensively and the Celtics were rattled by it, having just come off playing the play-dough Brooklyn Nets defense.
In Game 2, the Bucks’ closeouts were not just late but poorly executed:
Jayson Tatum deserves a lot of attention, but I don’t know if he deserves Bobby Portis helping down alongside Antetokounmpo and Holiday.
Certainly, Jaylen Brown in particular took and made a bunch of tough shots after a lousy Game 1. That’s going to happen, he’s a great player and he responded.
I have two questions on the next one:
- Why are you blitzing Payton Pritchard in pick-and-roll?
- Why are you helping down off Grant Williams?
The Bucks did a lot of doubling and blitzing in Game 2. The problem was they did it very poorly. They’re pushing Tatum at 38 feet here, and he’s tall enough to easily reverse the floor, which leads to another wide open corner 3-pointer.
The Celtics took nine corner 3s in Game 1 and 16 in Game 2. The Bucks made the Celtics take contested, off-rhythm, hurried 3s in Game 1 and let them take open rhythm corner 3s in Game 2.
There’s your difference.
I don’t think the Celtics played perfectly, but Milwaukee does purposefully limit what other options you can take. If the Bucks execute, they should be able to limit the damage on the defensive side.
Offensively, though, there are real problems.
Antetokounmpo is shooting 20-of-52 in this series (38%) from the field. Holiday is shooting 15-of-40 (37.5%).
Antetokounmpo’s situation is interesting. The impulse is to say, Well, look, Giannis isn’t going to struggle that badly for the entire series, he’s too good.
But we said the exact same thing about Kevin Durant, and he shot 38.6% from the field in the first-round loss to the Celtics.
Some of the shots, for sure, you look at and say, he usually makes that. But the Celtics are putting so many layers of intense pressure on him from the perimeter to the rim that these misses aren’t shocking.
Holiday has always been offensively inconsistent with the Bucks. Last season, when the Bucks won the title, Holiday shot 40.6% from the field and 30% from 3-point range. At home, the splits were not markedly better.
I just don’t know if there’s much you can expect from Holiday offensively given how high he is on the scouting report against this particular team.
There are counters to get Antetokounmpo and Holiday going, however. I’d recommend reading this from Eric Nehm who covers the Bucks for the Athletic on how that’s going to look.
The second half of Game 2 was a pretty big deal for the Bucks. Their overall numbers were bad, but they cut the lead to 13 points with a few minutes to go before the Celtics rattled off an 8-0 run to finish it. More importantly in that second half, the Bucks had a 107.7 Net Rating with Antetokounmpo on the floor, and a 110 Offensive Rating with Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, or Wesley Matthews on-court.
Their defense in those Giannis minutes as stellar as well at sub-100.
Some of this, no doubt, was the Celtics taking their foot off the pedal with a huge lead. Some of it was tactical adjustments. The Celtics did what they needed to do.
I like the Bucks in Game 3, but won’t be betting it heavily. This series is priced appropriately at near a coin flip. If you believe Antetokounmpo is more unstoppable than Durant, you should lean Bucks. If you think the Celtics shooting won’t regress, you should bet Celtics.
Grizzlies vs. Warriors: Memphis Is Live, Kind-of
Series Tied: 1-1
The Grizzlies really needed to get Game 1.
It came down to Ja Morant being unable to beat Stephen Curry on a layup attempt, and that might honestly decide who makes the Conference Finals.
That game was a massive decider in series outcome. Memphis got the split, but it was close in Game 2. Now Memphis still needs to win three of five.
I bet Memphis +2.5 wins after Game 1 at -115 and still feel good about that. It’s now off the table and the win spread is Grizzlies +1.5 +140.
I don’t think there’s value there, nor is there value on the Grizzlies to win the series outright at +275. Essentially, what the books are saying is that Memphis can absolutely hang with the Warriors, but are unlikely to win three games, and I agree.
Warriors in five is +175 currently at BetRivers, the shortest odds of any outcome, yet the books will not hang a Grizzlies +2.5 wins line. That’s telling.
Morant is breathing fresh air against this Warriors defense. The Wolves took away Morant by blitzing him in pick-and-rolls. The Warriors hate putting two on-ball. It means they have to make multiple rotations; their entire defensive scheme is built to avoid such rotations.
That’s why switching is their base scheme. But when they switch Jordan Poole onto Morant, it’s grill master time. Morant has positive EV results against every switch the Warriors have shown him except Jonathan Kuminga and Curry. Morant has torn up everyone but Andrew Wiggins.
The Warriors’ best coverage of Morant has come with Wiggins defending Morant and Looney playing drop coverage.
But Morant has been careful not to go too much into this, and instead, Memphis has used guard screens to force switches onto worse defenders.
Additionally, the Warriors keep playing drop coverage with Kevon Looney on-court. The Grizzlies have a 119 Offensive Rating with Morant on the floor against Looney in this series. The Warriors have scored in kind at 118, but winning both the Looney and non-Looney minutes is significant, especially with GP2 out.
The Warriors just have not been able to slow down Morant at all. Memphis has the edge in fast break points and points off turnovers. They’re losing the battle for second-chance points and points in the paint.
In related news, Steven Adams is out of Health and Safety Protocols. Adams was played off the floor by the Wolves in the first round. If the Warriors are deliberate in targeting Adams to get him off-court, they could do so. But this goes against everything that Kerr believes, which is to run your stuff and be who you are.
To that end, Adams can be a real addition for the Grizzlies, helping them on second chance points and in tandem with Morant. If nothing else it gives them more options.
All that said, the Warriors shot great in Game 1, and terribly in Game 2 (7-of-38 from 3). This Warriors team is a lot more inconsistent offensively than the peak Splash Brothers years. They have games where they look like the unstoppable fire birds of old (Games 1 and 2 of the Denver series) and games where they look pedestrian.
So why isn’t there value on Memphis to win this thing?
Because Golden State still won Game 1. That single game flipped the probability on this series considerably and rearranged the value on a potential upset. In every good series there are a handful of games that can go either way. That one could have gone either way, and it went against Memphis.
The Grizzlies are losing the bench minutes badly, which is bizarre considering both teams’ rotations. This will be helped by adding Adams and playing a bigger front line, allowing Brandon Clarke to go more in the non-Draymond minutes.
But Golden State has definitively underperformed offensively so far. The Warriors have a 103 Offensive with Curry on the floor in this series. Klay Thompson and Curry are a combined 16-of-52 on heavily contested shots per Second Spectrum, with Thompson shooting 30 percentage points worse than expected and Curry shooting over eight percentage points worse.
Good defense? Absolutely. The Grizzlies are making it tough on them. But ultimately these are two of the best shooters in NBA history, Curry undoubtedly the best of all time. Those shots will fall in at least two more games.
The Warriors are adequately priced. I’m hoping for a Game 3 win, which will likely push the Grizzlies Game 4 price above the +7 it sits currently at for Game 3 without Dillon Brooks.
These are my estimates, not built off a model, of possible outcomes for this series:
- Warriors in 5: 20%
- Warriors in 6: 40%
- Warriors in 7: 20%
- All other outcomes: 20%
So yes, there’s slight value on Warriors -360 (2.2% EV) on the Warriors to win the series but less than even value on Warriors -1.5 at -180.
I’m not betting anything further beyond Ja Morant overs on points until the Warriors show a scheme that can slow him down, and I’ll look for Steven Adams props overs. (Brandon Anderson, our props and futures analyst, likes the unders based on similar logic to the Wolves series.)
If anything, the best play is to hope for the Grizzlies to upset the Warriors in Game 3, putting it Grizzlies 2-1, at which point I’ll be firing on the Warriors sides.
I feel confident the Warriors are going to win this series. But it will not be easy.