Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM

Monday's Playoff Essentials

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Playoff Results | Playoff Projections

Eastern Conference First Round - Game 4 - Celtics lead 3-0
Boston at Philadelphia (-6.5/204.5), TNT, 6:05 p.m. ET

The 76ers are favored for the fourth consecutive time in this series and clearly haven’t handled the role well. Despite entering the conference semifinals as the East’s favorite to play for the championship, Philadelphia basically failed to show in Game 1 and has been outclassed in late-game situations in each of the last two encounters. It reaches Game 4 on the brink of elimination.

No NBA team has ever rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. There have been 129 squads who have tried and failed to reverse the damage.

Philly head coach Brett Brown said a lot of the right things after his team’s Game 3 collapse, including wondering aloud why his Sixers can’t be the ones to make history by capturing four straight. Certainly, they’re the deeper team in this matchup, not saddled with the loss of their two highest-paid players, but the answer to his question is looking back at him in the mirror.

After the clinic we’ve seen Boston’s Brad Stevens run against him and his staff, it’s inconceivable that Brown’s Sixers can overcome a coaching mismatch to win four consecutive times. [...] is offering 6-to-1 odds if you want to back Philly for value’s sake, but Toronto (15-to-1) is the more lucrative option if you’re down with taking a chance at history and don’t mind flushing some money down the toilet.

After all, they’re going to play fourth quarters in every remaining game last we checked. As dominant as LeBron James has been in the series we’ll break down below – so much so that LeBronto, Canada has begun holding elections – Boston has been equally impressive when games matter most.

The Celtics have won the second half all three times, which includes prevailing in OT in Saturday’s Game 3, which featured confetti falling from the rafters at Wells Fargo Center after Marco Belinelli’s game-tying bucket at the buzzer was incorrectly judged to be a 3-pointer by game operations staff. The Italian sniper’s foot was clearly on the line upon review, so when the celebratory scraps of paper finally stopped falling from the sky onto the court, Boston went back to work on lapping Philly with its late-game execution.

After a 117-101 Game 1 loss, the 76ers squandered a 22-point lead in Game 2 to put themselves in a must-win situation coming back home. After struggling early, they used a 25-8 run to get in position to cover a 7.5-point first-half spread that looked inflated but nonetheless drew a lot of action as a result given the venue change and Philadelphia’s need to come out and secure the result.

As with most things in the series, Boston made plays when it mattered most, scoring five of the final six points of the half to get to the break down by a single possession. It then traded blows with the 76ers throughout a tightly contested second half that culminated with Jaylen Brown making a pair of buckets inside the final 24 seconds before Belinelli’s last-second shot forced the overtime.

Likely NBA Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, who has been a disappointment in this series, failed to be in position to catch an errant J.J. Redick pass late in regulation and then made the foolish error of not pulling the ball back out with a lead inside 24 seconds after an offensive rebound in the OT session. Stevens made the most of things by calling a timeout just before Marcus Morris was going to settle for a long pull-up jumper, setting up an out-of-bounds play that produced Al Horford’s eventual game-winning layup with 5.5 seconds left.

Simmons made a bad entry pass into Joel Embiid that Horford stole away with the score just 99-98, piling on to the late-game carnage that has essentially cost the 76ers this series. Following a pair of free-throws, Belinelli’s final attempt misfired, putting Philly in its current hole. NBA expert Marc Lawrence uses trends as a key part of his handicapping and one angle he dug up could have you fading Philadelphia in Game 4 on Monday.

"Teams that take it on the chin three times in a row do not fare well when laying points in Round Two. While it’s often times a rare occasion, it’s confirmed by the fact that teams laying points off three consecutive losses are 3-14 ATS in these games since 1993,” said Lawrence. “Worse, if the tripped-out chalk dropped their last game straight up as a favorite these teams generally fall off the map - and out of the playoffs - going 3-7 SU and 0-10 ATS."

Brown has made excuses for Embiid due to a mask he feels has limited his center’s production and lamented Simmons not making better decisions when it’s mattered most, which indeed is part of having a rookie point guard. Of course, counterpart Terry Rozier has been an x-factor in this series despite being forced into a starring role after being Kyrie Irving’s backup all season, but that’s a whole other story.

To his credit, Brown has refused to pin the mistakes entirely on youth, which is a good thing since the Celtics have a number of young kids they’re counting on. 20-year-old Jayson Tatum has displayed the most poise and surpassed Larry Bird with five consecutive games scoring at least 20 points, a Celtics’ playoff record for a rookie.

Even though Game 3 went to overtime, the 'under' (206 ½) still managed to connect. The total for Game 4 opened 204 ½ and VI NBA Chris David is leaning to the ‘under’ based on the defensive form of the Celtics and their offensive tendencies on the road in the playoffs.

“Rather than wait around and hope Philadelphia’s offense finally connect from distance, the smarter investment is on Boston’s defense. The unit has held the Sixers to 41 percent shooting over three games and Ben Simmons has been humbled, which isn’t surprising because he struggled against the Celtics in the regular season too,” David explained.

“Including Saturday’s result, the Celtics have seen the ‘under’ go 12-5 in road playoff games under Brad Stevens. That effort is stressed knowing Boston’s offense hasn’t performed well outside of TD Garden. In those 17 games, the club is averaging 98.6 PPG. Knowing the Celtics own the best road defense (100.5 PPG) in the league, I expect another grinder on Monday and the low side seems more than doable again.”

A Boston sweep pays out 75-to-1 if you got in on an emphatic upset before the series started, although I don’t imagine there are many of those tickets floating around. If the 76ers manage to get on the board, Game 5 would be played Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Eastern Conference First Round - Game 4 - Cavs lead 3-0
Toronto at Cleveland (-5.5/213), TNT, 8:35 p.m. ET

If you were wondering, as most were, how Toronto could allow LeBron to get up the floor for a game-winning look without seeing a double-team on the final play of Saturday night’s 105-103 Game 3 win, the answer is that he blew right past the trap that was supposed to come.

After Tyronn Lue smartly opted not to advance the ball following a timeout after rookie OG Anunoby tied the game on a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left, James was supposed to deal with immediate pressure from the Raptors, but simply beat it and got downhill, ultimately getting to his spot for a complicated runner that he banked in at a difficult angle. Calling it a fluke would be disrespectful since he absolutely meant to go glass despite the degree of difficulty, ultimately producing a result that for all intents and purposes, knocked out the East’s top seed.

Toronto did win the fourth quarter 38-26 to build some confidence entering Game 4, but have lost nine consecutive games at the hands of the Cavs. Including the regular-season, Cleveland is 44-1 when holding a lead entering the fourth, which goes hand-in-hand with the dynamic that James is the game’s ultimate closer at the moment, executing whatever he wants whenever he wants against the overmatched Eastern Conference. Although the 76ers and Raptors had better odds of getting out of the East when this round began, Cleveland is back in the driver’s seat as the expected champ.

James is averaging 34.8 points, his highest in the playoffs since 2009, adding 9.5 rebounds and a career-best 8.8 assists. Kevin Love has bounced back from a rough, injury-riddled season against Indiana by coming out aggressively in each of the past two games, averaging 26 points and 13.5 rebounds after scoring only seven in Game 1 of the series.

Veteran point guard George Hill has also provided a boost after getting healthy following a back issue and playoff-tested contributors like Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver have each answered the bell. At home for Game 4, the Cavs would love nothing more than to put this series away in order to avoid a trip back to Canada. Given the work load James has undertaken all season, rest would be ideal before the Eastern Conference finals.

The Raptors got excellent play out of point guard Kyle Lowry and Anunoby in Game 3, but All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan was benched in the fourth quarter since Toronto made its run without him and finished just 3-for-12 from the field. He must bounce back for his team to have any chance to extend the series. The same goes for Fred VanVleet, who head coach Dwane Casey inserted in Serge Ibaka’s place in an effort to better match up. Ibaka played well enough of the bench after loafing up in Toronto that it remains to be seen whether he’ll replace Jonas Valanciunas in the lineup to offer a much sleeker look that would be better able to match up with Cleveland’s first five.

As things stand now, Lue has gotten the better of Casey in terms of coaching adjustments and strategic tactics. Although Casey has a shot at NBA Coach of the Year honors after leading the Raptors to their most successful regular season in franchise history, his inability to give his team a better chance at success in this series could lead to his dismissal, especially if they’re swept.

A second-round playoff trend that Lawrence offered to VI was in play for Game 3 this past Saturday and connected, so we'll touch on it again for Game 4. The angle applies to taking Toronto as the No. 1 seed.

“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,” Lawrence noted. “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.

The total is listed at 213, which would be identical to where the Game 2 number closed. The first two games each produced victories for over bettors, who would’ve again prevailed in Game 3 had James’ final shot misfired and the action went into overtime.

If Cleveland is able to break out the brooms, exact series price bettors who showed no faith in Toronto against LeBron would be rewarded with a 30-to-1 payout. The series price for the Cavs at [...] was listed at +185. If the Raptors can begin to stage a rally with an upset, Game 5 would be played at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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