Every Round 1 series is switching venues, beginning Thursday night, and only 1-seeds and 2-seeds in either conference protected home court and have a 2–0 series lead.
For Boston, it meant winning two games as just a small to moderate favorite. Boston covered both numbers but Milwaukee has opened as a bigger favorite in Game 3 on its home floor than Boston was in either of the first two games. The Bucks are giving away 6.5 points on a late-night Friday matchup.
The Celtics came into the series with a chip on their shoulder and played like it in the first two games. The defense was swarming; Al Horford and Aron Baynes controlled the paint; and Terry Rozier thoroughly dominated his matchup with Eric Bledsoe.
All of it had to happen for anybody to even remotely believe in Boston. And now with the Cavs struggling and the Heat making a run at Philly, folks in Boston aren’t just looking ahead in this series, but beyond at a path to the Conference Finals.
The Celtics have the momentum and Milwaukee has to realize that Boston needed the two games it just won. Had Milwaukee started the series at home, the narrative would very likely be far different.
This is Milwaukee’s chance to win two games and seize the momentum for the shorter, three-game series that will follow if the Bucks go back to Boston tied 2–2.
I realize all of this, which is why I feel like a bit of a sucker taking Boston in this game. The obvious play is Milwaukee but it’s as if the oddsmakers have anticipated that thinking and really stacked the deck against the public because 6.5 points is a lot.
The Bucks haven’t had an answer for Boston’s big lineup because they don’t have enough shooting. Boston can play big, dominate the paint and not pay for it on the defensive end. Unless the role players are going bonkers from outside, that won’t change with a move to Milwaukee.
The Celtics are also playing the smarter, more inspired basketball. The former isn’t likely to change in Game 3, though the latter may.
The biggest concern I have about backing Boston in Game 3 is Bledsoe. He has been feeling the heat in the press since Game 2 and called out Rozier in an interview earlier this week. I would be shocked if he gets beat for a third consecutive game. On the other hand, it doesn’t look like he’s going to outplay Rozier nearly as bad as Rozier outplayed him in either of the first two games.
I actually think Boston has some value here. As much as the Boston fan base may be looking forward, this team isn’t. It doesn’t have the expectations of a true title contender and is going to play balls to the wall until it’s gone. I don’t expect a letdown in Game 3 and I’m willing to take an extra point, point-and-a-half by fading the public here.
Free Pick: Boston +6.5