NBA picks: Celtics vs. Raptors, Jazz vs. Nuggets
Expect plenty of drama from Orlando on Tuesday as the Toronto Raptors try to even their second round series against the Boston Celtics, and the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets clash in a win-or-go-home Game 7. We have odds and picks for both games below.
Tue, September 1 2020, 9:30 PM
Game 2 of arguably the best Eastern Conference second round matchup we’ve seen in over a decade is set for Tuesday afternoon, with the Toronto Raptors inserted as 1.5 point favorites over the Boston Celtics. The Raptors got off to a poor start in Game 1, falling behind 39-24 by the end of the first quarter and never really challenging the outcome.
Much of the Raptors’ problems in Game 1 came down to shooting, as they managed only 36% from the field and 25% from three. The backcourt combination of Fred VanFleet and Kyle Lowry was just 3-16 from deep, a number that gives them very little chance against a team as talented and deep as the Celtics.
Marcus Smart is one of the best defenders in the entire league, and if he can continue to consistently challenge and harass the Raptors’ three-point shooters it may be a short series. Smart led all players with a +27 plus/minus rating, and his presence will have to be accounted for by Raptors’ head coach, Nick Nurse. Even hard ball screens that result in switches off Smart often lead them to face lengthy young wings like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
For the Celtics, Tatum continues to play at a high level. While he has cooled off a bit from his first couple of games against the 76ers, his five-game playoff PER is still at 24.8. He put up 21 points and nine rebounds in Game 1 and has the look of a perennial All-Star.
The Raptors will almost certainly provide a tougher fight than in Game 1, and NBA playoff zig-zag theory makes me hesitant to support the short underdog in Game 2, but there is inevitably a time in every young teams’ trajectory where emerging players are consistently undervalued and exceed the spread, and I think that moment is now for Brown, Tatum, and Co.
NBA pick: Celtics +1.5
Wed, September 2 2020, 12:30 AM
The Western Conference’s weirdest first-round series concludes with an eagerly anticipated Game 7 between the Jazz and Nuggets. This game opened with the Jazz as 1.5 point favorites, and has moved with the money to Denver -1. The Nuggets won an exciting overtime Game 1, then proceeded to dump the next three in rather embarrassing fashion. After looking hopelessly lost on offense, the Nuggets found something in Games 5 and 6 and have battled back to force a win-or-go-home contest.
Both teams feature a young scoring guard that has a chance to join elite company. Only two players in NBA history have three 50-point games in a single series in NBA history: Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson. Both Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell have two such games thus far, with Murray the hotter hand after scoring 50 in Game 6 en route to an emotional victory.
While the Nuggets enter with arguably more momentum and are fortunate to have Gary Harris back on the court, the Jazz have been the better overall team in this series. The Jazz pick and roll offense with Mitchell and Gobert opens up more looks than the isolation tactics of both Harris and Denver center Nikola Jokic, and the Jazz franchise has never blown a series after leading 3-1. Don’t count on Harris to go 9-12 from three in Game 7, and look for the gritty Jazz to grind out the victory in what should be a fantastic back-and-forth affair.