Indiana Pacers Over Cleveland Cavaliers and Thursday’s NBA Playoff Picks
The 2017 NBA Playoffs take an interesting turn on Thursday evening, as the betting world seems a bit perplexed as to how to proceed. Three series will shift locations, as the Cavaliers, Raptors and Spurs all take it to the road as they enter game three of their respective series.
Even the Spurs are mild favorites at Memphis, while they and the Cavs will both look to stay perfect (3-0) in the early going in these playoffs. The Raptors, on the other hand, will hope a 1-1 tie doesn’t turn into a dangerous 2-1 hole at the Bradley Center.
Will Toronto fall into that 2-1 hole? Will the Pacers or Grizzlies get a win at home in game three? Let’s find out as we break down all three NBA playoff games scheduled for Thursday night:
This could be a very interesting third game in this series, as Indy could have very easily stolen game one on a last second shot and rallied late to make game two interesting in the final moments.
It’s been a tough series for the Pacers, as they could easily have a 1-1 split series had things bounced a little differently. Either way, the Pacers have not defended well enough to take out the defending champs, allowing 109 and 117 points through their first two games.
Indiana’s play to this point has actually been admirable, as they’re facing what really is the best team in the Eastern Conference and they battled back in two straight road games, despite owning a very weak 13-28 road record during the regular season.
With the competitiveness we’ve seen through the first two games and Indy’s offensive potential, it’s fair to wonder if PG-13 and co. can regroup with game three landing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana has produced at an elite level there, going 29-12 on their home court and got their only win this year against Cleveland there back in November.
It’s still tough to completely buy the Pacers, but if they’re going to make this a series or even avoid a sweep, game three is where they strike. They almost left their mark in game one and a similar game flow can be expected. This time Paul George will have to find a way to get it done in the final minutes.
The Pacers aren’t coming back and winning this series, but they can build positive momentum toward next year and at least make the Cavs really work for it. Indy’s been at their best at home all year and expecting anything less in their biggest game of the season feels a little silly.
Vegas clearly agrees, as they’re giving the Cavs just a 2.5-point spread. Cleveland hasn’t been much better defensively than the Pacers in this series and on the year they sport the league’s 22nd most efficient defensive unit. That’s not good enough for the long haul and it’s so far bled into postseason play.
Eventually the Cavs will figure it out, move on to round two and get better from there. But they may end up taking a lump or two in this series first. I think it starts in game three, as we saw yet again in game two that Indy can connect from deep (40% on three’s) and the resistance overall (53% from the field) simply hasn’t been there for Cleveland. The Cavs can’t continue to get away with that without getting burned – especially on the road.
Expect a huge game out of PG-13 and it wouldn’t be shocking to see guys like Monta Ellis and Myles Turner (who haven’t done much to this point) rise up with solid contributions at home. This is still going to be a game with plenty of points, so we can freely bet on the Over. We’ll just favor Indy for the home upset.
The Raptors avoided an 0-2 hole by the skin of their teeth on Tuesday night, as they fended off a Milwaukee rally late and lucked out with the Bucks missing some wide open shots in crunch time.
Toronto seemed to have control of their fate defensively for the most part, however, as they figured out how to contain Giannis Antetokounmpo when it mattered most. That made Milwaukee’s offense rather jagged and without an organic flow, the Bucks visibly suffered.
Keep The Greek Freak from having a clear path to the paint could prove to be the answer moving forward, as Antetokounmpo was not on top of his game (shot just 9 of 24) with the extra defense in his face. That was obviously a massive difference from game one (Giannis shot 13 of 18), while two more huge factors led to a Toronto win in game two: Kyle Lowry coming to life and the Raptors’ bench stepping up.
Lowry said before game two he needed to be more aggressive for his teammates and he acted on those words, getting to the foul line nine times and hitting a clutch step-back jumper late to take a 104-100 lead. Lowry’s clutch bucket was the dagger the Raptors needed and that could be the sign of life Toronto needed to rally behind.
Toronto getting Lowry to play like the star he is was obviously huge, but their bench also chimed in after not showing up in game one. Cory Joseph scored 11 points and Patrick Patterson made his presence felt with three steals and two three-pointers, as well.
The Raptors’ bench isn’t amazing, but even the 26 points they got in game two would be a very welcomed addition moving forward.
Things do remain in Milwaukee’s favor at first glance, as the Bucks obviously completely dictated the tempo in game one and very nearly stormed to a 2-0 series lead on Tuesday. Now they’re back home at the Bradley Center, where they’ve been at their best all season.
The Bucks are certainly to be feared in this spot and the sportsbooks seem to like them in what amounts to a pick’em, but momentum should be very key in this spot. Toronto is the more seasoned and experienced team and if their defense (allowed just 41% from the floor in game two) shows up a little more, they could control a game that many are handing to Milwaukee.
By the numbers, Toronto sports the far more efficient offense and defense. Going on the road and stealing a win from the Bucks won’t be easy in a series that is starting to look like it could go the distance, but Toronto knows they can’t again fall into a hole. Look for the Raptors to lean on a similar game plan that we saw them execute in game two, but Milwaukee’s blazing outside shooting (47% from long range in game two) to cool down a bit.
Defense is the key here. Toronto’s perimeter defense can be more more productive and as good as the Bucks have been, it doesn’t make sense for them to keep hanging in games with insane outside shooting percentages. The second their three ball doesn’t drop, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble with how Toronto is packing the lane when Antetokounmpo goes to work. I think that happens in game three to give the Raptors the edge they need.
Toronto is a solid straight up upset pick, while we can probably shoot for the Over.
The final game of the night might be the scariest one to bet on, seeing as Vegas has trimmed this spread considerably to give Memphis a fighting chance at home.
The spread makes some sense, as the Grizzlies tightened up their defense in game two and gave the Spurs a much better fight. Now they’ll be heading home, where they went 24-17 during the regular season and also stole both of their regular season wins against these very Spurs.
Looking back to the regular season, Memphis was not an easy out at all for San Antonio, as they split the season series (2-2) right down the middle and even in their losses they remained extremely competitive (lost by a combined 13 points – one of which went down in overtime.
That competitiveness really hasn’t leaked into the playoffs, unfortunately, as the Grizz have sorely missed Tony Allen’s edge on the perimeter. The absence of Allen has opened the door for Kawhi Leonard to operate as he pleases, while Memphis is not producing at a consistent rate offensively, either.
Marc Gasol scored 32 points in a game one blowout, but was not on point in game two (12 points on 4 of 15 shooting). Mike Conley was absent in game one, but turned around and redeemed himself in game two (24 points). Getting both of those guys on the same page at the same time is vital for Memphis, as they simply don’t have a third reliable scorer.
Zach Randolph has also run hot and cold through two games and it’s tough to try to ask too much out of a 40-year old Vince Carter. To put it simply, a lethargic Memphis offense that ranked 18th in offensive efficiency during the regular season has not exceeded expectations and it’s hard to imagine them doing so against the NBA’s #1 team in defensive efficiency.
Gasol really has his work cut out for him down low against LaMarcus Aldridge and a collection of capable San Antonio bigs, while Conley has to deal with Leonard or Danny Green on a regular basis. This makes it extremely unlikely that we get both of the Grizzlies’ top offensive performers on the same page at any point in this series.
All things considered, this is still the best shot Memphis has at making this series – let alone winning a single game during the playoffs. The Spurs have not eased up at all defensively and after sweeping Memphis the last two times they saw them in the playoffs, it’s hard to buy San Antonio pausing for a breather on the road in game three.
Vegas draws us in with this spread, but the reality is there is no real reason to shy away from the Spurs – nor much reason to back the Grizzlies. We might get a tighter game, but rolling with a Memphis upset feels like a reach.
San Antonio has more weapons offensively and the better defense. If they don’t get tripped up here, they’re probably sweeping this thing. Look for the Spurs to get it done tonight, while the Under seems like a solid bet if Memphis can keep things tight defensively.