We’ve got three games on tap for Sunday, including the first game of the second round.
The Toronto Raptors will kick things off vs. the Boston Celtics in what should be one heck of a series. They have been two of the best teams in basketball over the course of the season, and they’ve been even more impressive in the bubble. The odds for this matchup are pretty thin, so the sportsbooks agree that this should be an entertaining series.
We’ve also got two Western Conference Game 6’s on tap for Sunday. It starts with the Clippers vs. the Mavericks, and LA will be looking to punch their ticket to the second round.
The Jazz vs. the Nuggets is the nightcap, and that should be another fun contest. There has been tons of offense on display in that series, and the Jazz are listed as slim favorites.
Let’s break down all three matchups to try and identify some betting value.
Toronto Raptors (-2.5) vs. Boston Celtics — 216.0 total
Series price: Raptors -142/Celtics +116
These two teams have been incredibly even throughout the season. The Raptors posted the second-best record in the league and the Celtics finished fifth. The Celtics finished with the third-best Net Rating, the Raptors finished fourth. These teams also played three times prior to the shutdown, and those contests were decided by an average of just 2.0 points.
Both of these teams are coming off sweeps in the first round of the playoffs, but they did it in vastly different ways.
The Celtics were a defensive juggernaut. They limited the 76ers to an effective FG% (eFG) of just 45.2%, and they also ranked first in expected eFG%. They limited the 76ers to the lowest frequency of 3-point attempts and fifth-lowest frequency of shots at the rim, so they were forced to live in the midrange. That’s a very effective way to build a defense.
On the other hand, the Raptors ranked fourth in eFG% during the first round of the playoffs. The majority of their shots came behind the arc and at the rim, so something is going to have to give in this matchup.
Toronto is going to need to find success on the offensive end because they appear to be due for some regression defensively. They didn’t have a great defensive profile vs. the Nets, but they got away with it because the Nets were playing without most of their best players. Ultimately, they ranked third in eFG% but 10th in expected eFG% during the first round.
On the injury front, Kyle Lowry is listed as probable for Game 1 of this series, so he should be pretty much a full go. The Celtics will be without Gordon Hayward, so the Raptors have a clear edge in that department.
Still, this series ultimately comes down to one thing for me: Jayson Tatum. He is undoubtedly the best player in this series and has blossomed into one of the best players in the league. He was tremendous during the regular season, and he carried that production into the first round of the playoffs. He averaged 27.0 points per game while shooting 48.7% from the field and 45.2% from the 3-point line.
His production isn’t limited to the offensive end of the court, either: He finished sixth in the league in Defensive Win Shares.
The Celtics’ increased their Nat Rating by +11.0 points per 100 possessions with Tatum on the court this season, which put him in the 96th percentile for all NBA players. He should carry a massive workload during this series, which should increase the Celtics’ ceiling.
The Raptors don’t really have that extra gear to go to in the playoffs. They’ve exceeded all expectations after losing Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers, but they’ve still struggled a bit when playing against elite competition this season. That is reflected in their mark of 1-3 vs. the Celtics during the regular season.
I can’t pass on the Celtics as underdogs in this series, and the same goes for Game 1.
The Pick(s): Celtics +2.5, Celtics to win the series +116
Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Clippers (-10.5) — 238.5 total
This series was looking like a potential classic after Luka Doncic hit a game-winner in Game 4:
That said, things have changed since then. For starters, Kristaps Porzingis has been ruled out for the rest of the first round with a right knee injury. The good news is that’s not the same knee that caused him to miss the entire 2019 season, but it’s still a major blow for the Mavs in this series.
Doncic is going to be asked to carry a massive workload with Porzingis out of the lineup, but it remains to be seen if his body can handle it. Doncic is one of the most offensively gifted players in the league, but he is dealing with ankle injury. He’s not even a lock to play — he’s currently listed as questionable — so he could be a bit limited. The Clippers are also a tough matchup for Doncic, so asking him to win without Porzingis is definitely a tough ask.
Additionally, Patrick Beverley has been upgraded to questionable for Game 6. He’s missed each of the past four games and has previously been listed as doubtful. The Clippers have solid depth, but getting Beverley back would be huge for their rotation. He’s the perfect defensive fit next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and the Clippers have increased their Net Rating by +5.1 points per 100 possessions with Beverley on the court. That’s the third-highest mark on the squad, so his importance can’t be understated.
The Clippers were able to assert their dominance in Game 5 of this series, winning by a final score of 154-111.
We could definitely be looking at another blowout, but history actually favors the Mavs in this contest. They are coming off such a massive loss that it’s only natural for the point spread to become inflated against them. Historically, teams coming off a loss of at least 25 points in the playoffs have gone 60-45-0 against the spread in their following contest.
As long as Doncic is in the lineup, I think 10.5 points is probably too many.
The Pick: Mavericks +10.5
Utah Jazz (-2.5) vs. Denver Nuggets — 221.0 total
This series has been extremely entertaining through the first five games. Both of these teams have been elite offensively — the Jazz rank first in eFG%, the Nuggets rank third — and they’ve combined for an average of 236.0 points per 100 possessions.
That said, these teams both seem due for some regression on that end of the court. Offensive numbers are up in the bubble, but these two teams have exceeded expectations by extremely large margins.
The Jazz have posted an eFG% of 63.1%, but their expected eFG% is 55.0%. That’s still the sixth-highest mark among the playoff teams, but it’s still a massive gap.
The Nuggets rank just 14th in expected eFG%, and they’ve outperformed their mark by +4.5%. The Nuggets in particular are living in the midrange, so it’s unlikely they can continue to produce at that level.
Neither of these teams have been playing great defense, but this level of offense just can’t continue.
That’s what my hope is at least for Game 6. These teams have hit the over in four of their first five games, but they did start to pick up the defensive intensity in their last game. They also played to a pace of just 94.3 in Game 5, which is super slow. Both of these teams were below-average in terms of pace during the regular season, so I’m expecting another slow paced game today.
If we can get just a little bit of shooting regression, I think the under could hit pretty comfortably.
The Pick: Under 221