The NBA playoffs continue Monday at 7:30 pm ET as the Boston Celtics attempt to stop the human freight train and reigning NBA Finals MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo's 42 points fueled the Bucks' big win on Saturday, earning them a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Despite Milwaukee's edge in the series, Boston has been the better bet, covering in each of the last two games. The oddsmakers made a slight adjustment as the Celtics open as a small road underdog (+1.5) with their backs against the wall, fighting to avoid heading back to Boston in a 3-1 series deficit.
All three games thus far have finished under the closing total, which has dropped six points from Game 1 (217.5-211.5). The defensive battle should continue the rest of the way, as Boston looks to limit possessions to slow down Milwaukee's transition offense.
I always pictured this series going seven games, so I am going to stick to my initial prediction and take Boston to recapture homecourt advantage tonight. Here are my thoughts on the best ways to play Boston in a pivotal Game 4.
One of the reasons I liked Boston's chances in this series is Celtics coach Ime Udoka. After a discouraging loss in Game 1, we saw Udoka make adjustments on both sides of the court to help the Celtics get back in the series with a blowout win of their own. The chess match is on, and it's Udoka's time to counter. I am confident he can find ways to get Jayson Tatum some space through screens, so he isn't forced to drive deep into the paint where he's struggled all postseason. Boston can build off knowing that it played the Bucks close, down to the final possession with Tatum struggling while Holiday and Antetokounmpo were at the top of their games.
A big turning point in Saturday's game was the third quarter, when poor perimeter shooting (1-7 from 3-point range) coupled with some mental defensive lapses in transition turned a four-point halftime lead to a 13-point deficit. Boston was still able to battle back and put themselves into a position to send the game to overtime on the final possession. I am betting the Celtics capitalize tonight, making this a best-of-three series heading into Game 5. Boston has been the second-most profitable road team to the number all season (25-15-1 ATS) and has been a perfect 3-0 ATS in the playoffs. Considering how important it is for them to tie the series, I see more value in the moneyline here than the +1.5 points.
The first two games of the series were won by wide margins (12, 23), but I never expected that to continue considering how evenly matched these two teams are. In Game 3, the action tightened up and the outcome was decided on the final possession. That's classic Boston Celtics basketball, and what we should expect going forward. In road games during the regular season, their average margin of victory was only 7.2 points. Even in their sweep of Brooklyn, they won their two road games by six and four points. I like Boston to win the game outright, and so if I can grab +400 for the Bucks to stay within two buckets, I will take it.
Getting Tatum on track is critical for the Celtics' chances at long-term success throughout the series, but Boston should look to Jaylen Brown to carry them on the perimeter tonight. He was the catalyst for their quick start in Game 2 while shooting 6-of-10 from beyond the arc and racking up 17 points in the first quarter alone. Brown went over the 2.5 mark in both of the first two games in Boston before being limited to a single trey in Game 3. With Boston looking to even up the series, I expect Brown to come out very aggressive, making this a solid bet to the over.