Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:58 AM

Friday's Playoff Essentials

Predictions | Second-Round Odds | Playoff Trends

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Eastern Conference Semifinals – Game 3 -- Series tied 1-1
No. 1 Milwaukee at No. 4 Boston (-2/220), ESPN, 8:05 p.m. ET
April 30 – Bucks (-7.5) 123 vs. Celtics 102 (Over 219.5)
April 28 – Celtics (+8) 112 at Bucks 90 (Under 223.5)

Feb. 21 - Bucks (-6) 98 vs. Celtics 97 (Under 227)
Dec. 21 – Bucks (-1.5) 120 at Celtics 107 (Over 223.5)
Nov. 1 - Celtics (-2) 117 vs. Bucks 113 (Over 220.5)

The Bucks rebounded nicely from a dreadful Game 1 by posting a 22-point rout of the Celtics in Game 2, scoring 33 more points than they produced in the series opener.

They’ll now take the floor at TD Garden hoping the adjustment period that lies ahead doesn’t trip them as drastically as it did to open the series. Because Blake Griffin was missing in the first two games of the first round, Milwaukee didn’t really get much of a challenge against Detroit. I believe that did it a disservice in Game 1 and may make it more difficult to get settled in a hostile arena against a team that can really feed off their crowd in a way the Pistons couldn’t.

Celtics-Bucks definitely has the punch-counterpunch feel of a series that’s destined to go the distance.

Although Giannis Antetokounmpo took the brunt of the criticism for the Game 1 loss since he shot 7-for-21, Eric Bledsoe deserved the most blame because he shrunk and did so early. He was the first Bucks player subbed out and could never get comfortable against Kyrie Irving, ultimately finishing 1-for-5 from the field in a dreadful effort in which he gave his team nothing. If Bledsoe isn’t out there pushing pace so Antetokounmpo can run the floor, the Bucks are ordinary. A Celtics team with a defensive anchor like Al Horford can make life difficult.

Bledsoe was much better in Game 2, finishing a plus-23 by scoring 21 points and adding five assists. It might surprise you to find out that Milwaukee’s plus-minus leader in their series-tying victory was George Hill, who came off the bench and defended as the glue guy in a unit that helped pull away from the Celtics in the third quarter. Brook Lopez hasn’t had the impact that he enjoyed during the regular season so far in the series, so we’ll see if he’s able to have more of an impact on the road.

Irving was outplayed on Tuesday night, shooting 4-for-18, while Jayson Tatum played poorly in finishing 2-for-10. He’s missed 13 of 17 shots in this series. Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier shot 9-for-16 from the field off the bench in the win, combining for 24 points, but shot 3-for-15 in Game 2. Getting back home should help all those guys bounce back. Boston has won four of its last five home games but hasn’t played on its floor since a 99-91 Game 2 win over the Pacers in first-round action.

Milwaukee has more road wins than anyone except Golden State since the Warriors had to put in extra work at Staples Center to get past the Clippers. It won its last trip into Boston on Dec. 21, winning 120-107 by capitalizing on Horford’s absence. Horford and Morris have been Boston’s most consistent performers thus far in this series, which is key since they’re the duo being tasked with helping to slow down Antetokounmpo.

“Greek Freak” averaged 31 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 59 percent in leading the Bucks to a 2-1 regular-season mark against Boston. He led the way with 29 points on Tuesday in addition to nine boards and four assists and must produce even more if Milwaukee is going to steal back homecourt advantage over the next few days. The 22 points he scored in Game 1 won’t cut it..

Khris Middleton shot just 36.5 percent but averaged 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists against Boston this season. He finished 7-for-10 from 3-point range in Game 2 to deliver 28 points after being Milwaukee’s top performer amid the series-opening disappointment by finishing with 16 points, 10 boards and six assists. Middleton was drastically less efficient on the road during the regular-season than he was at home, shooting just 40 percent from the field. He did shoot 36 percent from 3-point range and averaged 17.3 points, so the Bucks will be counting on him to continue his steady play to give them a boost.

Both teams will press forward without key guards for at least another game with Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart remaining sidelined. Brogdon is out with a foot injury that has kept him out the past few weeks, which means Bledsoe and Hill can expect their normal allotment of minutes. Brogdon, who led the league in free-throw shooting this season while shooting nearly 43 percent and playing fantastic perimeter defense, is nearing a return and is likely to play late in the series. Smart, a tremendous perimeter defender and a competitor whose intensity is infectious, tore his oblique just before the playoffs began. He’s been seen running and is far ahead of schedule but there’s no timetable for a return, which means Milwaukee may miss him altogether.

The Bucks have averaged 122 points in their wins while being suffocated and held to 90 in their lone loss, so their team total being set at 109 seems fitting. Boston’s number has been placed at 111.

Oddsmakers sent out an opening total of 224.5 for Game 1 and saw it close at 223.5 at most books. The number dipped to 219.5 for Tuesday’s game and crept over late. During the season, the pair watched the ‘over’ go 2-1 in their three games and the totals ranged from 220.5 to 227.5. The ’under’ went 5-1 in that 2016 series between Stevens’ Celtics and Budenholzer’s Hawks despite no total closing higher than 206 and the last two winding up sub-200.

It was rare to see the Bucks listed as underdogs this season as they’ll be in that role for the first time since April 10 loss to Oklahoma City. They’ve performed well in the role, going 6-3 straight up and 7-2 against the spread while the ‘over’ went 7-2 in those games. You can also toss out one of the losses as the Bucks rested Antetokounmpo near the end of their schedule.

Despite the solid numbers when catching points, Chris David of believes Boston’s recent playoff pedigree at home justifies them being a favorite in Game 3.

“Going back to last year’s improbable playoff run with an undermanned roster, Boston went an eye-opening 12-1 both straight up and against the spread at TD Garden. To be fair, they did get a lucky cover in Game 2 of the first round against Indiana but a win is a win and we can’t dismiss this run. In case you forgot, the lone loss in 2018 came against LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals when the young Celtics couldn’t buy shot from the outside,” said David. “Since Brad Stevens took over as head coach with Boston, the club has gone 19-9 SU and 21-7 ATS in 28 playoff games at home.

“Since I mentioned the loss to Cleveland last season, it’s important to know that six of the nine losses came against LeBron and his Cleveland-led teams. In other matchups, Boston went 16-3 both SU and ATS at home under Stevens in the postseason,” added David. “Four of those victories came in the first round of the playoffs last season against the Bucks with the outcomes decided by an average of 10.3 points per game.”

Officials for this game, Ken Mauer, Tony Brown and Kane Fitzgerald, aren't shy about blowing their whistle and becoming part of the show. All have seen the 'over' prevail in the majority of their contests. Game 4 will be played Monday night in Boston, so a miserable, angst-filled weekend awaits the loser.

Western Conference Semifinals – Game 3 -- Series tied 1-1
No. 2 Denver at No. 3 Portland (-4, 215.5), ESPN, 10:35 p.m. ET
May 1 – Blazers (+4) 97 at Nuggets 90 (Under 219.5)
April 29 – Nuggets (-4) 121 vs. Blazers 113 (Over 215.5)

April 7 – Blazers (-8.5) 115 vs. Nuggets 108 (Under 219.5)
April 5 – Nuggets (-6) 119 vs. Blazers 110 (Over 216)
Jan. 13 – Nuggets (-4.5) 116 vs. Blazers 113 (Over 217)
Nov. 30 – Nuggets (+1.5) 113 at Blazers 112 (Over 214)

The Trail Blazers put their fresher legs to good use in clamping down against the Nuggets in Game 2, avoiding an 0-2 series deficit and a must-win tonight. We’ll now get to see if they can put their foot on Denver’s throat at home the way they did the Thunder the last time they took the floor at Moda Center.

Damian Lillard finished off a 50-point night with a series-clinching 3-pointer over Paul George’s outstretched arms to eliminate Oklahoma City on April 23. It’s going to be difficult to ever reproduce the magic of that evening, but the Blazers do have an 11-game home winning streak, last losing to OKC on March 7. Only the Bucks and Nuggets have had more success at home than the Trail Blazers.

Denver point guard Jamal Murray has been receiving treatment after injuring his right thigh in Game 2. His mobility was noticeably compromised on Wednesday night and factored into the Nuggets fading in the second half, so we’ll see if he’s able to make it through tonight’s game while supplying his normal production. That’s an immense variable since we’d see more of Monte Morris and Will Barton in a playmaker role if Murray isn’t right.

Denver opened the series as a slight favorite (-145) over the Trail Blazers (+125), who then became a great value bet prior to Game 2 since they went into that game at 14-to-1 to win the West and 40-to-1 to win the NBA title, making them the biggest longshot remaining in the field according to Westgate Superbook prior to getting even. As things stand now, if you think the Warriors are at all vulnerable, Lillard, an Oakland native, is currently more likely to get over against them than James Harden given his injured eyelid and rough form shooting the ball.

Portland had dropped seven of eight against Denver dating back to last season entering Game 2, but Enes Kanter continued playing through shoulder pain and was the x-factor the Blazers need him to be to at least provide some resistance against Nikola Jokic, who has long dominated them and continues to be a terror inside. Meyers Leonard and Zack Collins have also had roles in trying to make life as difficult as possible for Jokic, who doesn’t have to deal with former teammate and good friend Jusuf Nurkic, who was lost for the season on March 25 with a horrific ankle injury.

Despite CJ McCollum and Mo Harkless dealing with injuries and only getting healthy late in the season, the Blazers hit their stride with Evan Turner improving off the bench and newcomer Rodney Hood scoring efficiently the way he was rarely able to in a similar role with the LeBron James-led Cavs last season. NBA expert Kevin Rogers points out a few trends that favor the home team in Game 3.

“For the most part, the Blazers have actually performed well off a road win since the All-Star break. Portland has won nine of its last 13 games off a highway victory, including the Lillard-led clincher against Oklahoma City,” Rogers said. “The Blazers have compiled a solid 13-1 record in the past 14 games at the Moda Center since early February with the lone defeat coming to the Thunder in overtime on March 7. However, the Nuggets covered in both visits to Portland, including as 8.5-point underdogs late in the season in a 115-108 setback.”

Kanter has been wearing padding over his left shoulder, but has remained effective and is averaging 20.5 points and eight boards through the first two games, keeping pace with Jokic’s 26.5 points, 11. 5 rebounds and six assists. He’s making the big man work, and there was significant concern that he wouldn’t be able to defend effectively enough to help replace Nurkic when the postseason began, so his effort must be recognized as the x-factor for Portland.

Lillard played in all four regular-season meetings against Denver, averaging 21.3 points but shooting just 37 percent from the field and 28.6 from 3-point range. Although he scored 39 points in the Game 1 loss, Gary Harris helped limit him to just 14 points on 5-for-17 shots in Game 2. Over the first two games of this series, he’s shot 5-for-19 from 3-point range, which makes you wonder if an explosion is coming now that he’s back home. Will familiarity and home love lead to the return of “Logo” Lillard? If so, Denver will have a long night ahead. Lillard shot 40 percent from 3-point range at home as opposed to 34 percent on the road during the regular season and despite scoring roughly the same amount of points per game.

The team total for the Blazers has been set at 109.5, while Denver comes in at 105.5. The Nuggets have eclipsed that number only once in its last four games. Mike Callahan, Eric Lewis and Rodney Mott will be on the whistle. Portland will host Game 4 on Sunday evening.

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

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