NBA Playoffs Odds & Series Betting Preview: Our Best Bets for Celtics vs. Heat Eastern Conference Finals, Including Series MVP
Omar Rawlings/Getty Images. Pictured: Jaylen Brown #7 and Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Al Horford of the Boston Celtics has entered health and safety protocols, Marcus Smart has a foot injury and both are out for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. For real-time injury updates, check out our FantasyLabs NBA news page.
The Eastern Conference finals features a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the East, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, who each took impressive paths to reach this stage.
The Heat have been outright dominant defensively and have matched that intensity on offense behind some outstanding performances from Jimmy Butler. The Celtics have also used their relentless defensive pressure to stifle opponents and have emerging superstar Jayson Tatum leading giving them a nearly unstoppable scoring punch.
These two evenly matched teams meet in Miami for Game 1 of a potentially long series and our NBA experts have a few angles they like before the series tips off. They discuss their thoughts and series picks below.
NBA Series Odds & Picks
Heat Win Game 1 / Celtics Win Series
Austin Wang: After a grueling seven-game series against the Bucks, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Celtics weren’t at their best form for Game 1 in Miami.
Since the 2002-03 season, teams off a seven-game series are 10-23 (30.3%) straight up in Game 1 of the next round, per the SDQL at Gimme The Dog. The Heat are excellent at home and are winners of nine straight and 8-1 ATS at the FTX Arena.
I think the Heat will take Game 1, but the Celtics will storm back for the series win in a scenario playing out similar to their previous series against the Bucks
The Celtics are better on both sides of the ball and have a stronger supporting cast around their two stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The growth and resiliency they showed against the Bucks will serve them well against a Heat team that has coasted its way to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat haven’t met as much of a challenge, defeating an inferior Hawks team and a 76ers team that featured a hurt Joel Embiid. The Heat have shown on multiple occasions that they will go through these scoring droughts, and I fear some of their team chemistry issues may come to light against a true test.
Heat +1.5 Series Spread
Matt Moore: The Heat aren’t getting enough credit for how well they match up with the Celtics. Bear in mind that the Heat are the No. 1 seed, with the home court advantage, while the Celtics played a Game 7 less than 48 hours ago and yet are only short favorites at home in Game 1.
That’s a sign that the market doesn’t give Miami the respect it deserves.
The Heat play a particular brand. They don’t blow you out or run away with it. They keep themselves within range and trust in their ability to hit you with clutch plays when you hit a bad stretch.
Miami doesn’t take home run swings. They pick at you, like a flock of birds. You feel like you’re in a good spot, then Jimmy Butler hits a runner and-one. You turn the ball over, then Max Strus hits a 3-pointer. You can’t get a good possession, then Adebayo gets a putback and suddenly it’s an 8-0 run. You work your way back into it just in time for them to hit you with another run.
They’ll test the Celtics’ patience and resiliency, like they did in 2020. This is a better Celtics team on multiple fronts, but if Milwaukee was a test of wills, this is a test of focus for Boston.
That’s a sign that the market doesn’t give Miami the respect it deserves.
I think Boston will win the series based on its overall talent and execution level, but the odds of a Game 1 Miami win directly contradicts that. Teams who have won Game 1 at home in the Conference finals have gone on to win the series in 74 of the 90 matchups in NBA history, per WhoWins.com.
As such, while if I had to make a prediction, I would say Celtics in 7, I think there’s value on Heat +1.5 wins at BetRivers at -139 on the series win spread. There’s also value on the Heat -1.5 at +255.
Jaylen Brown Series Points Leader
Joe Dellera: I like this matchup for Jaylen Brown a lot.
While Jayson Tatum is the player that most people will look for to lead the Celtics to victory, I think it will be option 1B for the Celtics that will prove the most impactful, especially scoring the basketball.
In three games against the Miami Heat this season, Brown has averaged a matchup-high 24.7 points per game while draining 3.7 3s on 7.7 attempts per game — nearly 50% from 3 point range. The next closest player is Butler who averaged 22.0 points in two games against Boston.
The notable trend here is that Brown’s usage ticks up to 30.1% compared to 29.5% and Tatum’s drops from 32% all the way down to 26%, per Cleaning the Glass. Tatum and Butler likely cover each other and Adebayo can switch onto him as necessary as well.
Brown will likely be guarded by a less than 100% healthy Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, or even Duncan Robinson. While the Heat have an effective team defense, this is an exploitable matchup for Brown.
I’ll back him to lead the series in scoring at (+800) on DraftKings and I’ll also take him to win the inaugural Eastern Conference finals MVP (+1000).
Jayson Tatum Series Assists Leader
Roberto Arguello: So far in the playoffs, only four total players on the Heat and Celtics have averaged over four assists per game: Kyle Lowry (5.2), Jimmy Butler (5.4), Jayson Tatum (6.1) and Marcus Smart (6.2). Lowry has already been ruled out for Game 1, and Marcus Smart is questionable with a foot sprain suffered in Game 7 against the Bucks.
If Smart can’t go in Game 1 or re-aggravates that foot injury (or the quad injury that caused him to sit out Game 2 against the Bucks), then Tatum will have a big edge in racking up total assists since he will pick up more of the ball handling duties.
In the only game that Smart missed against the Bucks, Tatum tied his series-high with eight assists. Furthermore, the Heat will play a much different defensive scheme than the Bucks, who predominantly played drop coverage and allowed Tatum to walk into pull-ups.
The Heat will do everything they can to limit Tatum’s space on the perimeter and force him to beat them as a facilitator, like they did with James Harden and Trae Young. With the Heat ganging up on Tatum and limiting points in the paint, there should be open looks on the perimeter for other Celtics shooters.
I’d have him priced right with Smart and ahead of Butler, but it doesn’t make sense that Smart is priced at -105 while Butler is +225. At +350, I love playing Tatum here and if Smart is ruled out before tip, it’s worth betting even more if the line is still up on DraftKings.
Jaylen Brown Series MVP Winner
Brandon Anderson: I like the Celtics in this series.
I don’t trust the Heat to score. Miami has been mostly a one-man offense with Jimmy Butler having an incredible postseason, but we just saw Boston take care of business against heliocentric offenses featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant.
As great as Butler has been, he’s not quite that level. I worry Miami will struggle to find consistent points unless they make a ton of 3s against the league’s No. 1 3-point percentage defense.
Butler will have to deal with Jayson Tatum this series – and vice versa – and the two could end up somewhat neutralizing one another. That’s a win for Boston if those two players offset, because the Celtics have more offense and defense behind their star, and the offensive part of that is Jaylen Brown.
Brown led the Celtics in scoring in all three Heat regular season games, averaging 24.7 PPG to Tatum’s 17.7 on 42% shooting. Brown hit at least three 3s in each game too. I’m expecting a big scoring series from him.
We still give these awards out to flashy scoring numbers. Jaylen Brown will be the X factor and could end up the leading scorer (+800 at DraftKings) on the winning team. I love getting Brown at 10-1 to win the first ever and keep the first ever Larry Bird Trophy where it belongs — in Boston.
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