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NBA Eastern Conference Finals Betting Preview: Celtics Favored Over Top-Seeded Heat

Betting analysis for the Eastern Conference finals between No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Boston. The Celtics are favored at SI Sportsbook to win the series.

These teams have done this dance on this stage before.

The Heat and Celtics most met in the postseason in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals—the bubble season—and they famously in the East Finals back in 2012, when each team was led by a Big 3.

Now, they stand in each other’s way with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. Miami is the No. 1 seed and holds home-court advantage, but Boston is the betting favorite to win the series.

How should you bet on this series? Here’s what you need to know about each team, their recent matchup history and what the odds are telling us.

Check NBA Odds and Lines at SI Sportsbook

Oct 15, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) dribbles the ball around Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) during the second half at FTX Arena.

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 1 Miami Heat

Series winner: Celtics (-175) | Heat (+145)
Series handicap: Celtics -1.5 (+106) | Heat +1.5 (-130)

Game 1: Tuesday, May 17 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 2: Thursday, May 19 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: Saturday, May 21 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 4: Monday, May 23 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 5: Wednesday, May 25 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)*
Game 6: Friday, May 27 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)*
Game 7: Sunday, May 29 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)*
*If necessary


The core of the teams that played in 2020 remain. For Boston, that’s Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are the holdovers from the Miami team that went to the Finals two season ago.

Boston won the regular season series, 2-1, though Miami won the most recent meeting. The Celtics won 95-78 back in November and 122-92 in late January. The Heat won, 106-98, on Mar. 31, the last time these teams played.

The Heat are the highest remaining seed in the postseason, though the recent history of No. 1 seeds in the East winning—or even making the Finals—does not bode well for them. The last time the top team in the Eastern Conference even made the Finals was the 2015-16 Cavaliers, who won the title that season.

Despite Boston being favored in the series, Miami is a 1.5-point favorite in Game 1 at home.

Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler gestures as he runs down the court during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Philadelphia

Miami Heat

Miami is tied with Boston and Golden State for the best postseason record at 8-3. The Heat own the largest playoffs point differential (+9.6), the second-best offensive rating and best defensive rating of the four remaining teams and the No. 1 overall net rating.

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Saying Miami has the No. 1 defensive rating almost doesn’t do the team justice. It allows just 97.5 ppg and has held opponents below 100 points seven times. Coach Erik Spoelstra’s squad holds teams to one of the lowest three-point shooting percentages in the playoffs and ranks second in the postseason in steals per game and turnovers forced. Concerted efforts to make life difficult for Trae Young in the first round and James Harden and a hampered Joel Embiid in the semifinals showed what this unit can do to slow some of the game’s top scorers, but Miami might have less success against a Celtics team that’s much deeper than either of its first two opponents.

If the Heat can’t limit Boston in the same manner they did against Atlanta and Philadelphia, the onus is on their offense to match the C’s. Nothing they’ve shown so far should inspire confidence in a potential shootout scenario. Only one Miami player averages better than 15 ppg. That would be Butler (28.7 ppg), one of the MVPs of the entire playoffs so far who’s led the team in scoring in six of the 10 games he’s played.

Adebayo’s scoring is down, Herro has fallen well short of the play that earned him Sixth Man of the Year and Kyle Lowry, who’s unlikely to play in Game 1, has been limited by a hamstring injury that’s caused him to miss more than half of his team’s games. The Heat were also the No. 1 three-point shooting team in the regular season at 37.9%. That number has dipped to 32.1% in the postseason as Herro, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent have all been cold. When the Heat looked most vulnerable against the 76ers was when they were outshot from beyond the arc in Games 3 and 4. It’s imperative for Miami to improve its three-point shooting against Boston.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) celebrates with forward Grant Williams (12) as the Celtics lead the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half of Game 7 of an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series, Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Boston.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics have arguably the most impressive resume in the playoffs to this point—all due respect to the Mavericks. Boston swept Brooklyn, which opened up the series as the favorite, and then turned around and defeated the defending champion Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Computer odds have been high on this team since before the playoffs began. FiveThirtyEight gives the Celtics a 70% chance of making the Finals and a 47% chance of winning it all. A big part of that bullish projection was Boston’s league-best regular-season defense, anchored by big man Robert Williams III. The fourth-year pro has appeared in just five games in the playoffs, hasn’t played more than 25 minutes and the Celtics still have the No. 3 defensive rating in the postseason, despite going up against Kevin Durant and Antetokounmpo in consecutive rounds. Boston also has the second-best point differential in the playoffs (+6.6) only behind Miami.

Coach Ime Udoka has been able to rely on the resurgent Al Horford and the sharpshooting Grant Williams to defend opposing teams’ bigs. And on the wings, opponents must contend with Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, pesky Derrick White and the rangy Tatum. The Celtics allow the lowest opposing three-point percentage in the playoffs (32.9%).

Boston has proven to be a much better three-point shooting team in the playoffs than Miami and has more than one scoring threat to worry about. Tatum is averaging 28.3 ppg to go with 6.1 assists. He has five 30-point games this postseason, including a 46-point eruption in Game 6 against the Bucks on the verge of elimination. His backcourt partner, Brown, adds 22.2 ppg to the equation and then Smart, Horford and Grant Williams fall in line behind those two, each adding double-digit points.

Rebounding could be the Celtics’ downfall. It nearly was against Milwaukee, where an offensive rebound and put back almost swung the series. Boston has a -2.2 rebounding differential in the playoffs where Miami is +3.7. For what it’s worth, the Celtics won the rebounding battle in each regular-season game against the Heat.

BET: Celtics Moneyline (-175)

The team Boston is trotting out against Miami this time around is much better than what it had in 2020. Tatum is fully capable of being the best player in this series, even given how well Butler is playing. I think the three-point shooting edge for the Celtics will be very important in this series along with their ability to defend Adebayo, who will be much easier to guard after battling Antetokounmpo for seven games.

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