The competitiveness of the Nets’ first-round playoff series with the Boston Celtics was illustrated pretty nicely by the lack of massive line movement after Boston secured Game 1.
The Nets were +110 underdogs (at DraftKings) going into the series. After Jayson Tatum made a layup at the buzzer to beat them 115-114 at TD Garden Sunday afternoon, their odds nudged up to +180. For reference, consider that the shortest underdog left in the playoffs is the Timberwolves, who are +105 despite winning the first game of their series with the Memphis Grizzlies. The shortest odds on a team that lost, aside from the Nets, belongs to the Raptors at +330. (Note that all odds, unless otherwise noted, are via DraftKings.)
Remember, sportsbooks originally installed Brooklyn as the favorite in the series, despite its No. 7 seed, before early money flowed in on the Celtics to make them slight favorites before Sunday’s tipoff.
Homecourt numbers are misleading
While bookmakers don’t seem overly swayed by one game in a seven-game series, the Nets can’t rely on gaining a great edge at home, where they were 20-21 during the regular season — largely because Kyrie Irving was unvaccinated and missed all but seven of those games due to city policies. That makes Wednesday’s Game 2, where the Nets are 3.5-point underdogs (and +145 moneyline underdogs), meaningful, if not crucial.
Irving appears to be the least of the Nets’ worries in this series, as he is playing some of his best basketball, perhaps fueled by the hostility coming from Celtics fans. Irving, a former Celtic, scored a game-high 39 points on 60% shooting from 3-point range, and added five rebounds and six assists.
Kyrie Irving flipped Celtics fans' the middle finger during yesterday's playoff game in Boston. https://t.co/9Q9EP9ec7p
— TMZ (@TMZ) April 18, 2022
The Celtics took great pains to double-team Kevin Durant as often as possible and to make sure he was well-covered when they switched defenders. Durant scored 23 points, below his season average of 29.9 ppg, on 9-of-24 shooting. Will Irving continue to benefit statistically from a similar arrangement, with the Nets preoccupied with KD?
Irving’s scoring raises prop possibilities
That could raise an interesting prop-bet possibility. Durant remains the favorite to score the most points in the series at +135, followed by Tatum at +175, Irving at +225, and Jaylen Brown at +3000. No one else is even on the board.
If you’re intrigued but worried about Irving not playing as well away from the hater-ade offered by Celtics fans, you probably needn’t be. In those final seven games in Brooklyn (after Mayor Eric Adams lifted New York City’s workplace vaccine mandate), Irving averaged 27.7 points per game and the Nets went 5-2.
Also worth looking at are the odds on who will have the most assists in the series, where Irving is the second choice (at +280) to Boston’s Marcus Smart (+115). Smart and Irving both had six assists Sunday, with Tatum (third choice at +425), a marvelous playmaker, leading everybody on the floor with eight.
Over-under totals and title odds
Another trend to note: Nets games have covered the over five straight times, including blowing past the 224.5-point total set Sunday. This series was billed in some quarters as being about Boston’s defense vs. the Nets’ offense, but Tatum and Brown also give the Celtics more of a 1-2 scoring punch than some people gave them credit for. Until proven wrong, why not lean toward the over, which has nudged up to 227.5 for Wednesday night’s game?
If you’re still feeling good about the Nets’ chances in this series, consider backing them to win the whole thing. Why? For one thing, the Nets are finally offered at a somewhat tempting price to win the title, +1000 at DraftKings. If they are able to get past Boston, they may have pulled off the hard part.
The Nets’ next opponent likely would be the No. 1 seed Miami Heat. While the Heat won three of the four games the teams played, they lost the last meeting by 15 points and Durant only played in three of those four games, while Irving only played in two. Some NBA analysts wonder whether Miami has the size to contain Durant.
This Boston series has the making of a classic — certainly not the usual first-round fare — and the Nets will have to play their best to survive. Counting Sunday, the Celtics have won eight of their last 11 games, so the Nets have to find a way to get them out of their comfort zone or they could wind up watching their season end way before any of them thought it would.
Photo: David Butler II/USA TODAY