The most compelling second-round NBA playoff series is between Boston and Milwaukee. The Bucks are the defending champions yet enter this series without Khris Middleton, who is still recovering from an MCL sprain and is projected to miss the entire series. Milwaukee will feel Middleton’s absence in every offensive area. He ranked second on the Bucks in scoring (20.0 PPG), third in assists (5.4 APG) while shooting 37.3% from 3P range, and ranking among the league leaders in free throw efficiency (89%).
After a dominant sweep of the Nets, the Celtics enter this series playing their best basketball of the season. The No. 2 seeded Celtics bring the NBA’s best overall defense and are now at full strength with the return of center Robert Williams. Boston enjoyed a dominant series from star forward Jayson Tatum, who helped us cash our +160 bet to lead the first-round series in scoring.
Can the Bucks find a way to beat a talented Boston team without their second-leading scorer, or will the Celtics advance to the Eastern Conference Finals on the back of the league’s best defense? Here are my best bets for this classic second-round matchup.
Best Bets for Celtics vs. Bucks
Marcus Smart Series Assists Leader (+275 DraftKings)
Jayson Tatum (+500) is double the odds of Marcus Smart, despite tallying one more assist in the opening round sweep of Brooklyn. Yet against Milwaukee in the regular season, the assist numbers strongly favor Smart.
In three games against the Bucks, Tatum tallied just nine total assists in three games. In the four games Smart played against Milwaukee, he totaled 31 assists for an average of 7.8 per game for the most assists in Round 1. Milwaukee guard Jrue Holiday is the betting favorite at +130, as he averaged 32 assists in the four games against the Celtics. However, the Bucks played three of those games with Middleton, limiting Holiday’s opportunities. Holiday averaged 6.8 assists on the season, the exact number he averaged in the five games against Boston. Smart averaged 5.9 assists during the regular season, which has ballooned to 7.0 assists in the postseason.
Smart’s odds are behind Giannis Antetokounmpo (+250), who only averaged 4.3 assists per game in his three contests against Boston. The winner of this prop will likely come from the winning team, which is favored to be Boston. I’m grabbing Smart at an excellent price for a player who should be, at worst, the second betting favorite.
Jayson Tatum Series Leaders [Total Points] (+165 DraftKings)
This play is the same rationale as the last series when Tatum was behind Brooklyn forward Kevin Durant for this same series prop. The betting favorite is Antetokounmpo, who averaged 29.9 PPG in the regular season. However, Tatum was close behind at 26.9 PPG, which has increased to 29.5 PPG in the playoffs. Tatum has also found success against Milwaukee, who has no defensive answer for the 24-year-old Boston star. In three games against the Bucks, Tatum scorched the nets for 31.3 PPG, including 42 points in a 117-103 win in December.
Antetokounmpo’s average is just 28.3 PPG against the Celtics this year, three full points below Tatum. After a superior four games against Brooklyn, I love these odds for Tatum to again lead the series in scoring.
Celtics -1.5 games (-105) To Win Series
The juice is high on the Celtics to win this series straight up, making me pivot to Boston -1.5 games. Milwaukee needs a healthy Khris Middleton to match up with Boston and still struggled to limit Tatum. Boston’s defense is at a different level, and the return of Robert Williams will clog the interior for Antetokounmpo’s scoring. I expect Milwaukee to play a ton of Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen, which are great matchups for the Celtics’ perimeter players. Jaylen Brown struggled against the Nets but should find a plethora of open 3P attempts against a Bucks defense that was among the worst in defending beyond the arc this season.
This is a bet worth taking without Middleton even at -1.5 games. I would also consider Boston -2.5 games at +210.
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