Happy Mother’s Day to all the mommies out there. In addition to enjoying some R & R on the one day everyone shows their collective appreciation, there is some pretty intense NBA playoff basketball coming your way.
My wife literally couldn’t care less, but I’m sure many people care about this game, as it tips off the Eastern Conference Finals.
For the second year in a row, it’s the Boston Celtics hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to get to the NBA Finals. Boston won the top seed in the Eastern Conference last year, but an Isaiah Thomas injury hurt them in what ended up being a 4-1 breeze of a series for the Cavs.
The big difference this time around is Cleveland doesn’t have Kyrie Irving and outside of LeBron James and Kevin Love, their teams looks considerably different than it did a year ago.
Still, the Cavs out-lasted a pesky Pacers team in round one and swept the Toronto Raptors in round two, so most experts and NBA betting sites tentatively expect them to take this series.
That doesn’t seem like that tall of an order, seeing as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward won’t be suiting up.
Boston does have the home court advantage and the sheer brilliance of head coach Brad Stevens, but bettors have every reason to wonder if the Celtics can actually force their way to the 2018 NBA Finals.
Whether they can or not, you need to take it one game at a time. I sure have and it’s helped me go 11-8-1 with my NBA picks so far during the playoffs. That isn’t an amazing record, but considering some of the bad beats I’ve been handed, I’ll take it.
Let’s dissect game one and see where your betting loyalties should lie on Sunday:
Cleveland Cavaliers (-1, -109) @ Boston Celtics (+1, -109) Total: 205 (-109)
Right now the best pricing is over at GTbets, where you can take either side for a -109 price. This is a virtual pick’em, so as long as you don’t think this game ends up being decided by one point, you just need to decide which team you think will win.
If you’re worried about getting burned by the spread (Cavs would need to win by two to cover), Cleveland still offers solid value at -112. The same goes for the Celtics, who offer a solid -106 price. Obviously if you like the Celtics here, it makes sense to soak up the extra value and just bet on them to win.
From a matchup perspective, these teams match up fairly well. Boston has a slew of athletic wings that can give LeBron James trouble, while they also have a handful of bigs that could give Kevin Love trouble. On the other side, Boston isn’t quite the same defensive team without Kyrie Irving leading the charge, but they did just get done slowing down a very potent Philadelphia 76ers offense.
While the Celtics in theory have the defensive chops to give Cleveland problem, it hasn’t really translated to much success in the past.
Boston gave up well over 100+ points in every game during a 4-1 series loss in last year’s ECF. In the regular season this year, Boston’s defense again wasn’t quite good enough and dropped the season series, 2-1.
The big problem is nobody can really stop LeBron James. Indiana had improved defensively in the second half of the year and had some solid defenders to toss at James. He simply went nuts and propelled the Cavs to the next round. Toronto had even more versatile wing defenders to cover King James and they had even less success.
Boston has the tools to give James fits, but I fear he and the Cavs are in an unstoppable groove. This team isn’t as good as the one that crushed the Celtics last year, but Boston isn’t the same team, either.
It’s pretty arguable the Celtics have had it fairly easy thus far, too. They dispatched two talented teams that are very much on the rise in the Bucks and Sixers, but Milwaukee took them to seven games in round one. On top of that, neither Milwaukee or Philadelphia have much high level playoff experience.
Playoff experience, versatility and superior coaching gave the Celtics the edge in both of those series, but they won’t have those clear advantages in this series.
There is a very real narrative backing the Celtics here. They’re at home (where they haven’t lost yet in the playoffs), they have nothing to lose and they’ve been dynamite all year (59-33-2) against the spread. In fact, when Vegas has bet against them at the TD Garden, they’ve made the top NBA sportsbooks regret it by going 10-0.
Boston’s hot run ATS hasn’t cooled off in the playoffs, either. I backed them to close out Philly in their last game and they did just that, while adding to their gaudy 9-3 ATS mark in postseason play.
As nasty as their against the spread data is, I feel like the Celtics and the rest of the NBA world are in for a rude awakening. Cleveland has come up really big in huge moments in these playoffs and they’ve now ripped off five straight wins. They know they need to send a message in game one and I’m not convinced Boston is really equipped to stop them.
Many will be bracing for another tense seven-game marathon, but I’m not so sure that’s going to happen.
For now, though, I think King James comes in strong to prove a point and snatch a 1-0 series lead. I do expect a tight game, however, so I won’t dabble with spreads and simply take the Cavs at -112. If you can find them at a cheaper price before Sunday, all the better.