Opening Price (via DraftKings): Boston Celtics (-1000) Atlanta Hawks (+700)
There are many who believe the Boston Celtics are the best team in the NBA, and it is hard to argue against that theory. Boston finished in the top four in both non-garbage time offensive and defensive efficiency, and led the league in net rating (+6.9) as a result. It would seem that the first round is just a formality, and that Atlanta is due for a quick exit against the reigning Eastern Conference champions.
However, this is clearly not the same underperforming Hawks team that stumbled its way into the seventh seed. Quin Snyder has slowly implemented his offensive system, and since he’s taken over as head coach this team has averaged the fourth most points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time (121.0). This team still has its flaws, but there is certainly a chance they are better than the market indicates.
That offense is certainly Atlanta’s best shot to be competitive in this series, and when it faced Boston back on March 11 it showed that it could have success against the Celtics’ defense.
Boston loves to funnel their opponents to the mid-range area of the floor, as it is content to allow opponents the least efficient shot in basketball. Atlanta loves to do just that. The Hawks took the second most mid-range attempts in the NBA, and they still do that under Snyder, albeit at a slightly lesser degree (34.0% of shot attempts). Trae Young is a mid-range scorer, who takes 49% of his attempts from that area of the floor and hits 44.9% of those shots. Under Snyder Atlanta has also ramped up its rate of shots within four feet. They have attempted 35.4% of their shots at the rim since he’s taken over, compared to the 31.1% rate before he became head coach.
These all matter, because if Boston had a weakness it would be in those two areas of the floor on defense. They finished the regular season 15th in opponent shooting at the rim (66.5%) and 21st in opponent mid-range shooting (44.6%). However, the more I’ve looked into this series, the more it feels like grasping at straws in order to build a case for the underdog.
The Celtics are still one of the best defenses in this field at 111.5 points per 100 possessions allowed in non-garbage time. Their halfcourt defense has slipped to 11th this season (97.4) after they led the league in that category last season, but they still boast an incredible transition defense. Boston limited opponents to 1.195 points per play in transition overall, and 1.112 per play off live rebounds. Atlanta was 11th in transition offense this season (127.6) but will have its hands full in trying to catch this defense sleeping.
On the other end of the floor there is something that does bother me about Boston. That would be its reliance on 3-point shooting.
The Celtics take 44.5% of their shot attempts from beyond the arc, and while it finished sixth in overall 3-point shooting (37.9%) it does leave this offense vulnerable when those shots aren’t falling. Just look at some of their worst stretches of basketball this season. From Dec. 10 to Dec. 21 they went 1-5 SU/0-5-1 ATS while averaging 103.0 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time. They shot just 29.0% from 3-point range over that stretch. From March 3 to March 13 they went 2-4 SU and ATS with an offensive rating of 113.2 while shooting 35.8% from deep.
There is no real way to predict whether or not those shooting slumps will come, but if they do it does make Boston extremely mundane on offense which is something Atlanta can take advantage of. But, if you’re betting a team and hoping that its opponent will fall into a shooting slump you’re putting yourself in a terrible position.
Truthfully, I came into my research for this series hoping to find a reason to back Atlanta in some way, but nothing concrete came up. The Hawks are a team that should be better in theory, but they have not shown anything of merit to financially back them here. Atlanta’s win over Miami showed us a glimpse of its potential, but 82 other games say this team is going to be largely inconsistent when it comes to its efforts, especially on defense.
When it comes to the series price I will say that I believe the gap between Boston and Atlanta is smaller than that between Philadelphia and Brooklyn, but the Celtics are a bigger favorite in their series. That means there is some theoretical value in taking the Hawks on the series, but it is nowhere near enough of an edge worth betting on.
Bet Recommendation: None