After two NBA playoff games helped kick off the new week on Monday, we get a nice three-pack of games set for Tuesday. The action heats up for some intense game two situations, as the Bucks, Bulls and Jazz could all potentially have a chance at taking shocking 2-0 leads in their respective series.
Vegas doesn’t really envision that happening at first glance, as none of the teams that stole game one on this slate are currently favored to win game two. All three teams are largely favored to lose their first round series and will be playing their second straight game on the road, as well.
Suffice to say, the knee-jerk reaction to Tuesday’s NBA Playoff slate should be a 3-0 sweep across the board for the Raptors, Celtics and Clippers. All three should be able to bounce back at home and tie these series, 1-1. That being said, it’s important to dive into these matchups and see if these bets are as safe as they appear, or if it’s possible that one (or more) of these series could take a shocking 2-0 turn.
Milwaukee Bucks (+7.5)
Toronto Raptors (-7.5)
The Bucks will aim for a surprise 2-0 start in Toronto on Tuesday, but it’s not something we can really wrap our head around. Toronto bagged the season series (3-1) and has normally been very stout at home, but collapsed in game one, losing by 14 on their home floor.
Looking back at that game, the Raptors had zero answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who got to the basket at will and connected on 13 of 18 shots. The Greek Freak was pesky on the other side, too, as Milwaukee’s length and athleticism gave the Raptors fits. Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan both struggled to consistently put the ball in the hoop, combing to go just 9 for 31 from the floor. Toronto followed suit as a whole, shooting 21% from long range and just 36%, overall.
Milwaukee really stepped up defensively in game one, while Toronto’s defense will need to be tighter on the outside (allowed Bucks to hi 39% of threes in game one). Bench help was also key in game one, as the Raptors were sporadic in their starting five, but also got just 19 points from their second unit, compared to a staggering 28 for the Bucks.
Lowry and DMR absolutely need to (and will) take charge in a crucial game two, but the key for the Raps to get back on track may be a bigger scoring impact from P.J. Tucker and Cory Joseph, if not also handing a little more run to Norman Powell.
Ultimately, step one for the Raptors will be tightening up their defense on the perimeter for Milwaukee’s outside threats and forcing Antetokounmpo to burn them as a jump shooter. If the Bucks are less effective with their outside shot and the Raptors get better production from their two star scorers, we should see a much different result in game two.
Toronto remains the better team and can win this matchup. However, they need Lowry to pick his spots better due to Milwaukee’s length. DeRozan will need to be more effective with his midrange game, as well, while Toronto’s bench needs to snap into playoff mode. We think that all happens and we get almost a complete reverse of what we saw in game one. That should have Toronto winning and covering, but we should get enough offense out of this game to hit the Over.
Chicago Bulls (+6)
Boston Celtics (-6)
Chicago’s win over Boston in game one was about as shocking as any NBA playoff game to get the ball rolling this year, but there was actually evidence to support it. The Bulls have an uncanny knack for raising their level of play against superior opponents, while Celtics star point guard Isaiah Thomas – despite playing well – probably operated with a heavy heart due to the passing of his sister.
The Celtics failed to rally behind their sullen star and there remains a slight possibility we have to factor in a grieving Isaiah Thomas even more if he ends up sitting out games in this series. Thomas is officially questionable for game two, but after suiting up in game one, it’s fair to assume he will end up hitting the floor for a game his team needs to win:
#Celtics coach Brad Stevens: Isaiah Thomas plan is to play tomorrow night and go to Tacoma on Wednesday. Expects to play Game 3.
We can’t know for sure if Thomas will play yet, or what the potential impact will be if he does indeed sit a game out.
Regardless of what happens with Isaiah Thomas, we find it hard to believe the Bulls take a 2-0 lead. The Celtics remain one of the softest #1 seeds the league has ever seen, but they also have the defensive ability to shut down a Bulls team that struggles to shoot consistently.
For one, the Bulls aren’t usually at their sharpest on the road. Chicago specifically lost both games at TD Garden during the regular season, and before winning on Saturday, had gone 0-4 in their last four games against the Celtics on the road. For a team that went just 16-25 away from the United Center on the year, that should be fairly telling.
On top of that, the Bulls simply don’t shoot the ball very well. We can probably bank on Jimmy Butler showing up again (30 points in game one) and perhaps Dwyane Wade will provide nice production, as well. But where is the rest of the offense coming from? Bobby Portis chipped in a random gem in game one but certainly can’t be trusted in game two, Nikola Mirotic is never reliable and Rajon Rondo has had a broken jumper for his entire career.
This is all worth noting even before the Celtics hit the floor knowing they can’t possibly afford a loss. Boston has also been an extremely tough out at home all year (30-11 at TD Garden) and has the defensive tools in Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart to put Butler and Wade under serious wraps.
Everything probably still circles back to Isaiah Thomas, though. He scored 32 points in game one and the Celtics still lost, which likely means he’ll need to be on the court of they want to tie this series up, 1-1. Should he suit up and produce as well as he did in game one, it stands to reason that his teammates will rally behind him, tighten up defensively and defend their home court. For such a huge game, this feel like an ambitious spread for the Bulls. Instead of a similarly competitive game, we like Boston to strike early, buckle down defensively and leave little doubt in this one. We’ll take Boston to cover and we like the chances of this one hitting the Over, as well.
Utah Jazz (+8)
Los Angeles Clippers (-8)
The last game of Tuesday night feels a little less predictable. Unlike the Raptors and Celtics – who were sharp favorites going into their respective series – the Clippers shared the same exact record as the Jazz and were probably part of the most likely series to last an entire 7-game run.
That logic could take a hit if the Jazz put a stranglehold on this series with a huge game two win, of course. While that could certainly happen, there may not be enough logic to support it. The Clippers got tripped up in game one (lost by two points), but are usually at their best at home (29-12 during the regular season) and had control of this series (3-1) this year, as well.
Utah gave the Clippers the exact trouble everyone feared in game one, of course. Even with star center Rudy Gobert going down early with a knee bruise, Utah’s methodical offense controlled the pace and their defense kept the Clippers from ever getting into a desired groove. In the end, the Clippers connected on 33% of their outside shots, but hit just 44% from the field and turned the ball over 15 times.
And that was with Gobert playing exactly 17 seconds.
Gobert isn’t a lock to remain out of game two, either. Utah’s defensive anchor seems to be well on his way to returning to action, although he has yet to be officially cleared to play:
Quin Snyder wouldn't officially rule Gobert out for Game 2, did say "it didn't look good when he was laying on the court last night"
Utah rallied without Gobert to take a 1-0 lead, as Gobert’s absence opened the door for veterans like Derrick Favors (who didn’t start) and Joe Johnson to loge heavy run. Both players responded with stellar play, as Utah’s bench produced a ridiculous 47 points. Los Angeles mustered just 20 on their side, which simply wasn’t enough with Blake Griffin shooting under 50% from the field and J.J. Redick borderline useless in 27 minutes of action.
Even with the poor shooting and turnovers, though, this was a game the Clippers can win and probably should have. L.A. still was able to make life difficult on Gordon Hayward, while Rodney Hood also wasn’t a key factor offensively for the Jazz. The key difference was oddly the Gobert injury, which could have thrown a serious wrench in Utah’s plans, but ultimately allowed them to be more versatile on offense than they normally off. Using the likes of Favors, Hood and Johnson off the bench also provided a necessary spark that Utah needed and ultimately thrived with.
While everything clicked for the Jazz in game two and Gobert could be back, there are two huge issues with backing the Jazz for a 2-0 start; L.A. is going to come in extremely focused at home and expecting that type of high level production from one’s bench in two straight games is simply a lot to ask.
Utah won’t just go away here and the Clippers will need to really be on top of their game, but L.A. is a playoff veteran that exercises high level discipline at home. Chris Paul, more specifically, won’t be denied at home this early in what very well could be a full 7-game series. That should equate to George Hill being bottled up a little more than he was in game one, while the Clippers tightening up on defense across the board should limit Utah’s outside shooting (42% in game one), as well as their bench scoring impact.
There is actual statistical evidence to support this, of course, as the Jazz are not traditionally a great offensive team, let alone one that thrives beyond the arc or offers loads of bench scoring. The Clippers were 6th on the year at home defensively, while L.A.’s perimeter defense held that same mark (6th) against the three ball at home.
The point? The Clippers are better defensively that what they showed in game one and it looks like a better than advertised Utah offense snuck up on them after losing their top defensive player. No Gobert probably makes game two an easier win for the Clippers, but even with him back, L.A. has shown they can roll with the Jazz (won the season series, 3-1) and their defensive potential should be able to give Utah problems. More importantly, CP3 and co. know that going down 2-0 means an early playoff exit for a team that is built to win now. We just don’t see that happening just yet. In addition, this game should still be fairly slow, close and methodical at both ends, so betting on Utah beating the spread and the Under is probably wise.
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