Note from Author: This NBA Playoffs betting preview was written on April 20 when the status of Rajon Rondo was unknown. It was recently announced that Rondo is out for Game 3 due to a thumb fracture he suffered in Game 2.
Miami became just the second 8th seed in NBA Playoffs history to win the first two games of its playoff series on the road. The first came in 1993 when the Lakers defeated Phoenix in the first two games but, interestingly, Los Angeles went on to lose the next three games in the five-game series. The Celtics entered the postseason as one of the most overrated No. 1 seeds in NBA history.
Indeed, their point differential of plus-2.7 points per game during the regular season was the lowest for a No. 1 seed since the 1978-79 Seattle Supersonics. That point differential, which is a much better indicator of future success than wins, is more consistent with a No. 5 seed.
Moreover, the Celtics’ underwhelming point differential suggests that they won a lot of close games during the regular season, which is a much better indicator of future success than wins.
It should also be noted that the Celtics have the least playoff experience (5,461 minutes) of any No. 1 seed since the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns. Heck, Dwayne Wade alone (6,380 minutes) has more playoff experience than Boston’s entire roster. Entering the NBA Playoffs, Wade and Rajon Rondo had 260 playoff games and four world championships between them.
Another issue facing Boston is the lack of scoring when Isaiah Thomas is on the bench. After the All-Star break, Boston averaged just 93.8 points per 100 possessions with Thomas on the bench, 20 points fewer than it scored with him on the court.
In Game 1, Thomas scored a game-high 33 points and the Celtics outscored the Bulls by 12 points in the 38 minutes he was on the floor.
However, Boston was a woeful minus-16 in the mere ten minutes Thomas was getting a breather. The most prominent issue haunting the Celtics is their inability to rebound. Boston ranked 27th in both defensive (75.3) and total rebound (48.5) percentages during the regular season and entered the 2016-17 season with the smallest roster in the league.
Boston gave up 20 offensive rebounds in Game 1, and Chicago converted those boards into 23 second-chance points. The Bulls finished tied for first in the NBA in second-chance points per game.
In its two regular season wins over Boston, Chicago outrebounded the Celtics by 17 and 19, respectively. In the six games in which these teams have played one another (4 regular season; 2 postseason), the Bulls own a startling +60 rebound margin.
Not only are the Bulls dominating the glass, but they are playing their basketball of the season. “I’m not surprised because everybody’s so locked in right now,” Jimmy Butler said after Game 2’s win. “Everybody’s putting in extra work right now, watching film, working on their game, and that’s where your confidence always comes from.” Chicago head coach Fred Hoiberg has also made some excellent adjustments in the NBA playoffs.
Chicago has been nothing short of spectacular over its last five games, averaging 111.4 points per game (47.0% FG%; 42.3% 3-PT) and allowing just 90.8 points per game (39.8% FG%; 25.9% 3-PT%).
Meanwhile, the Celtics’ defense has all but disappeared over the last five games, yielding 106.0 points over that span. While the Bulls slogged their way through the regular season with plenty of lackluster performances, they saved their best for the league’s best teams.
Specifically, Chicago was 12-9 SU against the top eight teams in the NBA, third behind only the Warriors and Spurs. The Bulls also had the league’s third-best defense in the second half of the season, and they covered the spread in ten of their final 14 regular season games to clinch the 8th spot.
Boston also has to be concerned about the fact that the Bulls have a commanding 2-0 lead despite Nikola Mirotic shooting just 27.3% from the field and 21.4% from beyond the arc.
Mirotic made 39.7% of his three-point attempts in Chicago’s wins this season compared to 27.0% in its losses. The Bulls managed to win Game 1 with Wade shooting 33.3% from the field and Mirotic going 1-for-9 from the floor and 0-for-5 from beyond the arc.
There’s no shortage of bad news facing Boston in this series, and I expect the Bulls’ veteran leadership to keep their foot on the pedal in Game 3 (and beyond).
Finally, Chicago is a profitable 23-9 ATS in its last 32 games when playing with two days of rest, 37-18 ATS in its last 55 games versus .601 or greater opposition, 7-3 ATS in its last ten games following a double-digit win and 7-1 ATS in its last eight affairs versus teams with a winning record (4-0 ATS L/4).
In contrast, the Celtics are just 3-8 ATS in their last 11 conference affairs, 7-19 ATS when playing with 2 days of rest, 0-4 ATS in their last four Conference Quarterfinals games and 3-9 ATS in their last 12 games overall.
With Boston standing at 0-6 ATS in its last six games after giving up 100 or more points, take the Bulls as Oskeim Sports’ NBA Playoffs Free Sports Pick.
Head-to-Head: Boston is 9-19-2 ATS in the last 30 meetings in this series, including 3-10-1 ATS in the last fourteen clashes in Chicago. The favorite is 7-3 ATS in the last ten meetings, while the home team is 7-2 ATS in the last nine games between these two squads.
Oskeim Sports’ NBA Playoffs Free Sports Pick: Chicago Bulls (+2) (-110)