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Game 5: Series tied 2-2
Will the real Boston Celtics defense please stand up? Boston’s inconsistent play on that end of the floor has burned them throughout this series, and it reared its ugly head once again on Sunday.
In the first half of their loss to the 76ers in Game 4 the Celtics gave up 1.204 points per possession, and they trailed by as much as 16 points in the second quarter. However, a suddenly dominant defense put the clamps on Philadelphia in the fourth quarter, limiting it to 0.75 points per possession (6-of-19 shooting) before losing in overtime. The Celtics have now held the 76ers to an offensive rating of 108.5 or lower in two games, both wins, while also giving up an offensive rating of 124.7 or higher in their losses.
Since its win over Atlanta in Game 2 Boston has allowed 119.8 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time, the third worst defensive rating in the postseason and the worst among teams still alive. It has been impossible to predict which team shows up defensively tonight, but it would seem we can rely on this team’s offense.
The Celtics lead the postseason in non-garbage time offensive rating with an average of 121.4 points per 100 possessions. Against the 76ers they have up put 124.3 per 100 possessions, and they have not had a game with an offensive rating worse than 117.7 (Game 3). Philadelphia has clearly not had an answer for Boston’s offense, and if that is the case, then we can depend on at least the scoring to be consistent for the Celtics.
Boston’s poor defense might contribute to an over for the game, but given the fickle nature of their play on that end of the floor it would be better to bet on the one constant in this series.
Best Bet: Celtics TT Over 110.5
Game 5: Series tied 2-2
In both the podcast and in this column I have discussed being willing to take losses in this series if it meant losing to historic performances on the other end. Well, losses were taken and historic performances were had.
Devin Booker loaded Phoenix up on his back and in two games at home put up 83 points on 34-of-43 shooting while dishing 20 assists. Booker became the only Suns player with three consecutive 35-point games in the postseason, the fourth player in NBA history to score 40 or more points on better than 80% shooting, the second player in NBA history to score 45 or more points on 70% shooting from the floor twice and his 34-of-43 shooting in the two games at home is the highest field goal percentage in a two-game span in postseason history by a player 6-foot-5 or shorter.
Whew! Now, do it twice more and at least once on the road.
It is not hard to see why anyone, like myself, would still believe Denver has an advantage and can win this series with two of three games in this series at home. Booker’s historic stretch of play has allowed Phoenix to tie up this series, but their bench concerns are magnified on the road. In the first two games of this series the Suns’ bench managed just 21 total points, and they shot a combined 12-of-50 (24.0%) from beyond the arc in non-garbage time. Role players tend to struggle in road environments, and if we get the expected dip in production from the two stars for Phoenix this could be a similar outcome tonight.
The betting market has really pounced on this number, and the number as of this morning is up to -6 across the board. There is no real pre-flop position worth taking in my opinion, but there is an in-game angle that is there for bettors to track.
With Booker and Kevin Durant forced to play 41.8 minutes per game each the fatigue can really start to take hold late in a game played at altitude. In the first two games of this series Phoenix was outscored by a combined 18 points and posted a -14.2 net rating in the fourth quarter. If this is a tight game by the time the final frame comes around it might be worth it to jump on the Nuggets, which could pull away against a fatigued opponent in the fourth quarter.