The NBA conference semifinals resume Tuesday night with a pair of games in which the road teams won Game 1 and claimed the home-court edge in the series. Winning road games is challenging enough in the NBA, and now it becomes even more difficult the deeper we get into the playoffs. Away teams have been a profitable 29-26 ATS thus far, but that three-game margin can be attributed to the top two seeds of each conference facing a much lower level of competition than they are seeing this round. Phoenix, Memphis, Miami and Boston were 7-3 ATS on the road against in their opening postseason matchups. How the home teams respond will go a long way in determining the outcome of each series and will give us a good indication of how to wager on each team going forward. Here is why I bet both underdogs — who both opened as underdogs in the series — for Tuesday night even though they are facing vastly different circumstances after Game 1.
The defending champions made a massive statement in Game 1 by silencing the Celtics’ home crowd in a decisive 101-89 win. Bucks big men Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis and Giannis Antetokounmpo combined for 34 rebounds, fueling a 19-14 edge in second-chance points. It was an abrupt wakeup call for Boston, which was coming off a series where they bullied Brooklyn for four straight games.
I rarely recommend taking the points when I don’t think the underdog is live, but that’s exactly how I am betting this game. I would be shocked if Boston didn’t punch back and do a much better job on the glass, but it will not be an easy battle to beat the Bucks inside. Despite not showing much down the stretch, Milwaukee is allowing only 93.5 points per 100 possessions in the postseason (ranked first) and held Boston to 10 points in the paint. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were bottled up and shot a combined 10-of-31 from the floor in Game 1. With Marcus Smart battling multiple injuries, I have a real tough time convincing myself that they can win this game with a margin. This is the series where coach Ime Udoka’s season-long emphasis on ball movement can be a deciding factor for the Celtics, but those benefits will show more as the series heads back to Milwaukee.
But we are only betting Game 2 here, which likely comes down to the final possession. The points are too valuable to pass up with the defending champs.
The Grizzlies let a golden opportunity get away in Game 1, making this the most pivotal game of the season. The Warriors’ seized their chance to showcase their big three shooters with Draymond Green ejected. Jordan Poole’s 31 points came primarily from distance, where he shot 5-of-10 from three and continually punished Memphis on the perimeter. Klay Thompson drilled the go-ahead bucket from deep with only 36.6 seconds in the game. The final few possessions highlighted how the Warriors can put Memphis in conflict. The Grizzlies will have to make some defensive adjustments, but Dillon Brooks’ ability to make Steph Curry work is a big positive moving forward in the series.
As a man with my money on Memphis, I saw everything I wanted to see out of the Grizzlies outside of Ja Morant’s miss in the final seconds. Jaren Jackson Jr. may have played his best game of the postseason, and Memphis was able to get 3-point production on a night where Desmond Bane shot 30% from the floor. Morant’s shot didn’t drop, but the moment wasn’t too big for Memphis. The Grizzlies want all the smoke, and I think they deliver with their backs against the wall at home. Golden State was able to win some hustle plays and keep pace on the offensive glass due to the spacing its lineup created, but I would be surprised if that continued in Game 2. Only six teams had a worse ATS record on the road than the Warriors, who split both games at Denver in Round 1. I am not betting them to cover in consecutive road games against a Memphis team that delivered for bettors more than anybody the entire year.
Stats provided by NBA.com and teamrankings.com.