Saturday’s Playoff Tips

Eastern Conference – Game 3
Boston at Philadelphia (ESPN, 5:05 p.m. ET)

It seemed like this could be the season where the “Process” would take shape in Philadelphia and the 76ers would take the next step towards a championship. Following a five-game series victory in the opening round over Miami, the Sixers were ready to take out the beat-up Celtics in the second round.

However, the 76ers need to climb out of a 2-0 hole after dropping the first two games in Boston, as the Game 2 defeat will be especially difficult to get over. Philadelphia built a commanding 51-30 lead with 5:22 remaining in the second quarter, but Boston rallied before halftime by going on a 21-5 run to cut the deficit to five. The Celtics took control in the second half and improved to 6-0 at home in the playoffs with a 108-103 victory as 3 ½-point underdogs.

Jaylen Brown returned for Boston after missing Game 1 with a hamstring strain as the shooting guard contributed 13 points off the bench. Rookie standout Jayson Tatum paced the Celtics with 21 points, as Boston knocked down 15 three-pointers, including four each from Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. For the second straight game, the Celtics burned the 76ers from long distance after hitting 17 treys in the series opener.

Philadelphia’s long range came to life in Game 2 after converting only 5-of-26 three-point attempts in Game 1. On Thursday, the 76ers hit 13 three-pointers, including five from J.J. Redick, who led Philadelphia with 23 points. The number that sticks out for Philadelphia is 1, the amount of points scored by Ben Simmons in 31 minutes of action. The good news is in the previous nine instances in which Simmons was limited single-digits this season, he followed it up with a double-digit effort the next game.

For as automatic as Boston has been at home during the playoffs, the C's have been the complete opposite away from TD Garden. In three postseason games, the Celtics own an 0-3 SU and 1-2 ATS mark with all three defeats coming at Milwaukee in the opening round. In two of the losses, the Celtics were limited to 92 points or fewer, while shrinking a 16-point halftime deficit in Game 4 to drop a 104-102 decision for its only road cover in the playoffs. Dating back to last season’s conference semifinals, Boston has lost seven of eight road playoff contests, while cashing only three times.

The 76ers have been an excellent team to back at Wells Fargo Center since mid-January by posting a 23-2 SU and 19-6 ATS record the last 25 home contests. One of the two losses came to the Heat in the opening round, but 10 of the past 11 home victories have come by double-digits.

How rare of a pointspread situation is this? The Sixers opened as a nine-point favorite for Game 3, as this is the first time since the 2008 NBA Finals that a team trailing a series, 2-0 is laying this amount of points. In that scenario, the Lakers fell behind the Celtics, 2-0, but Los Angeles won Game 3 at Staples Center, 87-81 as 9 ½-point favorites and failed to cover.

Chris David of wasn’t surprised by Boston’s 2-0 lead and he still believes Philadelphia has a shot to win the series, especially when you look at the road tendencies of the Celtics.

He explained, “Boston was an incredible road team in the regular season, going 28-13 and that was the third best mark in the league. However that includes a 7-8 record when listed as an away underdog, which tells you that they were just below .500 versus top teams. In the playoffs, the Bucks took all three at home against the Celtics in the first round and that’s been an issue with Boston since Brad Stevens took over.”

“I give Stevens a ton of credit since he hasn’t had a full deck of players, but it’s hard for me to ignore the fact that Boston has gone 4-12 on the road in the playoffs since he arrived. The Celtics have turned a slight profit (9-7 ATS) during this span despite having some offensive issues and that alarms me. In those 16 games, Boston is only averaging 95.8 PPG and that’s translated into an 11-5 ‘under’ mark. The team total on the Celtics for Game 3 is 99 ½ and based on what we’ve seen so far, I would lean to the low side for the visitor on Saturday.”

For as much as the Celtics seem like a “defensive-minded team,” Boston has eclipsed the OVER in seven of nine playoff games, including each of the first two games of this series. Philadelphia posted a 2-3 mark to the UNDER in the first round against Miami, but the lowest total in that series was 213, while the highest total in this series was 206 ½ in Game 2.

Eastern Conference – Game 3
Toronto at Cleveland (ABC, 8:35 p.m. ET)

The Raptors would have a clear path to the NBA Finals as long as they avoid the Cavaliers. Cleveland knocked out Toronto in six games of the 2016 conference finals and swept the Raptors in last season’s conference semifinals. Now, the Cavs are two wins away from eliminating the Raptors again – and they get the next two games at home.

After Cleveland rallied to shock Toronto in overtime in the series opener, the Cavaliers pulled away in the second half of Thursday’s Game 2 for a 2-0 series edge. Cleveland turned a two-point halftime deficit into an 11-point advantage after three quarters as the Cavs rolled the Raptors, 128-110 to cash as seven-point underdogs.

LeBron James torched Toronto for what seems like the 100th time by shooting 19-of-28 from the floor and putting up 43 points to go along with 14 assists. Kevin Love finally showed up for Cleveland by eclipsing his point total from the previous three games combined as he scored 31 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Cleveland converted 59% of its shot attempts from the field, while George Hill, J.R. Smith, and Jeff Green all posted double-figures.

The Raptors still shot 54% from the floor in the loss, but could only muster 47 points after halftime following a 63-point first half. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combined for 45 points in the defeat, but DeRozan owned a -22 plus-minus rating, while Lowry was -18. Toronto has lost five straight home playoff matchups with Cleveland since 2016 and may have played its final game at Air Canada Center this season.

The Cavaliers have won 10 of the past 11 home meetings with the Raptors dating back to December 2014, including five straight victories in the playoffs by double-digits. In the two regular season matchups at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs picked up two wins over the Raptors, while covering each time. On March 21, Cleveland erased a 15-point halftime deficit to stun Toronto, 132-129, led by James’ 35 points and 17 assists. In the next meeting on April 3, the Cavaliers didn’t need to rally as they led wire-to-wire in a 112-106 win, while limiting DeRozan and Lowry to 1-of-9 shooting from three-point range.

David believes Game 3’s side wager could be argued both ways but he does have a lean to the total.

He explained his position, “Backing Cleveland as a home favorite hasn’t been a good investment all season and despite going up 2-0, I can’t ignore that trend. On the other side of the court, it’s hard to have much confidence in betting Toronto when it appears that it doesn’t have any in itself.”

“The Raptors were only listed as road underdogs 12 times this season and they went 5-7 in those games. Delving into those numbers further, the lack of success was attributed to the defense which allowed 112.1 PPG and that led to an 8-4 ‘over’ mark. In this particular series, Toronto has had no answer for Cleveland’s offense and that’s been the case for the last four seasons. Going back to 2015, the Raptors are 6-16 SU and 7-12-1 ATS versus Cleveland while the ‘over’ has gone 13-8-1. In the six games that the Raptors won, they held the Cavs below 100 points. Based on what we’ve seen from the Raptors this season and within this series, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland being held under triple digits on Saturday.”

Bettors that enjoy using trends in their handicapping should check out Marc Lawrence’s angle that could have you leaning to Toronto and the points on Saturday night.

Lawrence noted, “One golden rule in this round applies to top seeds, namely: do not lay points against No.1 seeds. That’s because inferior teams are just 20-33-1 ATS when laying points into No. 1 seeds since 1996. Worse, if the inferior teams are laying less the 5 points they are just 9-25 ATS, including 3-20 ATS when they own a win percentage of .575 or more.”

Check out all of Lawrence’s 2nd Round Playoff Trends right here.

Since the start of the 2016 playoffs, the Raptors have compiled an 11-5-1 mark to the UNDER in the playoffs on the road. Two of those UNDERS occurred in the opening round against Washington, while being limited to 100 points or less 10 times in this span.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.