Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Sunday's Early Tips

First Round Predictions | First Round Odds | Playoff Trends

Eastern Conference First Round – Game 1
No. 5 Indiana at No. 4 Boston (TNT, 1:00 p.m. ET)

2018-19 Regular Season (Celtics 3-1, Over 3-1)
Nov. 3 - Pacers (+3.5) 102 vs. Celtics 101 (Under 205.5)
Jan. 9 – Celtics (-7) 135 vs. Pacers 108 (Over 216)
Mar. 29 – Celtics (-7) 114 vs. Pacers 112 (Over 213)
Apr. 5 – Celtics (-1) 117 at Pacers 97 (Over 213.5)

The one Eastern Conference series that has been pretty much set for several weeks tips off Sunday’s playoff action at TD Garden. The Celtics and Pacers were going to finish as the fourth and fifth seeds in the East, but the only question was which team would own home-court advantage in the opening round.

Boston (49-33 SU, 39-42-1 ATS) jumped into the fourth position by winning six of its final eight games of the regular season, compared to a 3-6 record down the stretch for Indiana (48-34 SU, 41-41 ATS). One of the victories in this stretch for the Celtics came at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 5 as short favorites, 117-97 to finish off the season series victory over the Pacers.

Two games were decided by 20 points or more, both Boston victories, while the other two matchups between these teams were decided by a combined three points. The only win for Indiana in the series came back in early November as the Pacers overcame a 13-point deficit to edge the Celtics, 102-101 on a Victor Oladipo three-pointer in the final seconds. In the other close shave matchup between these squads, Kyrie Irving’s layup to beat the buzzer lifted Boston past Indiana, 114-112 in late March, but the Pacers cashed as seven-point road underdogs.

Boston was on the doorstep of the NBA Finals last season before falling short to Cleveland in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics managed to shoot 34% from the floor, including 7-of-39 from three-point range in an 87-79 defeat. Boston went through that postseason run without Irving and Gordon Hayward, while eliminating Milwaukee and Philadelphia in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Oladipo led the Pacers in scoring this season by averaging 18.8 points per game, but suffered a season-ending knee injury against Toronto on January 23. Indiana owned a 32-15 record after beating Toronto by four points that night, but the Pacers stumbled to a 16-19 mark the final 25 games, which included a 10-game road losing streak.

Indiana has failed to advance past the first round in each of the last three postseasons as the Pacers have been bounced by the Raptors in 2016 and the Cavaliers in 2017 and 2018. In last season’s opening round series defeat to Cleveland in seven games, Indiana managed to cover the spread six times, while cashing in nine of the past 10 opportunities as a road team in the playoffs.

The Celtics finished with a better home record this season (28-13) than last season (27-14), but Brad Stevens’ team closed the season at 0-8 ATS in its final eight games at TD Garden. Boston won and covered in all three series openers in 2018, while the two wins over Milwaukee in the conference semifinals and Cleveland in the conference finals came by double-digits.

After winning at Washington on February 23, the Pacers lost nine straight road games and covered only once, coming at Denver in a two-point setback in mid-March. Although Indiana lost to Boston in the final seconds, the Pacers grabbed the cover as they are currently on a 3-0 ATS run away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The last time the Celtics and Pacers hooked up in the playoffs came in 2005 when Indiana eliminated Boston in seven games. That ended a three-year stretch in which Indiana and Boston met in the first round, as the Celtics won in six games in 2003 before the Pacers captured series victories in 2004 and 2005.

Western Conference First Round – Game 1
No. 6 Oklahoma City at No. 3 Portland (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)

2018-19 Regular Season (Thunder 4-0, Split 2-2)
Jan. 9 - Thunder (+1) 111 at Blazers 109 (Under 223.5)
Jan. 22 – Thunder (-4.5) 123 vs. Blazers 114 (Over 225)
Feb. 11 – Thunder (-4.5) 120 vs. Blazers 111 (Under 232)
Mar. 7 – Thunder (+3.5) 129 at Blazers 121 OT (Over 233)

There are plenty of people that believe although the Thunder (49-33 SU, 42-40 ATS) enter this series without home-court advantage, Oklahoma City will knock out Portland and advance past the first round for the first time since Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State after the 2016-17 season.

The Trail Blazers (53-29 SU, 45-36-1 ATS) finished one game behind Denver for the top spot in the Northwest division, but Portland didn’t have much luck against Oklahoma City. Rewinding to 2017-18, the Blazers swept the Thunder in the four-game season series, but OKC flipped the script on Portland this season by capturing all four contests.

Oklahoma City slipped past Portland in the two matchups at Moda Center, including a 111-109 victory in early January as short underdogs. Paul George led the Thunder with 37 points, while Russell Westbrook scored 31 points to help the Thunder snap a six-game skid to the Blazers dating back to 2017. Westbrook drilled a big three-pointer in overtime of their most recent matchup in early March to lift OKC to a 129-121 triumph as 3 ½-point underdogs. In the loss, Blazers’ guard Damian Lillard dropped 51 points, but Portland converted only 9-of-41 attempts from three-point range.

Since that overtime defeat to Oklahoma City on March 7, Portland finished the season on fire by winning 14 of 17 games to vault to the third seed in the Western Conference. During that hot streak, the Blazers ran off eight straight wins at Moda Center, which included victories over Denver, Brooklyn, and Indiana. Terry Stotts’ team put together a 32-9 home mark, tied for the second-best home record in the Western Conference.

The Thunder finished March with a shocking three-point setback to the Mavericks as 12 ½-point favorites, but Oklahoma City dug themselves out of the dreaded eighth seed in the West to win its final five games. Billy Donovan’s squad went from potentially facing Durant and the two-time defending champion Warriors in the opening round to now maybe seeing them in the Western Conference Finals.

However, OKC needs to get past Portland in the first round and the winner of Denver and San Antonio in the conference semifinals to draw Golden State. In the last two seasons, the Thunder has failed to escape the opening round after losing to the Rockets in five games in 2017 and falling to the Jazz in six games last season. In the last two years, Oklahoma City has compiled an 0-6 SU and 1-5 ATS mark on the road in the postseason, which doesn’t bode well for a team playing the first two games on the road.

Portland doesn’t have much playoff success on its side as the Blazers have been swept out of the first round the last two years. To no one’s surprise, the Blazers lost all four games to the Warriors in 2017, but Portland was shocked by New Orleans last season, in spite of owning home-court advantage. Portland covered as 15-point underdogs in the series opener to Golden State in 2017, but the Blazers are riding an 0-7 ATS run in the playoffs, while losing six straight Game 1’s since 2014.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at [email protected]

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.

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