Heat vs. Celtics Game 3 Preview: Bet Boston to Grab Series Lead at Home

NBA analyst Austin Wang breaks down Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, including why there's value on the Celtics at home.

Heat vs. Celtics Odds

Heat Odds -6.5
Celtics Odds -6.5
Over/Under 207.5
Time 8:30 p.m. ET
Odds via Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics goes back to Boston with the series tied 1-1.

Game 1 went about as we expected. The Heat took advantage of a fatigued, short-handed Celtics team and outscored them 39-14 in the third quarter. The Celtics were fresh off the win of a grueling, seven-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks while the Miami Heat had been resting for a few days. In addition, the Celtics were also down two starters, DPOY Marcus Smart (injured foot) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols).

Game 2 was a pleasant surprise for the Celtics, as Horford was able get cleared to play earlier than anticipated and Smart returned to the lineup to give the Celtics the defensive boost they needed. They made 20 3-pointers and used a strong second quarter to extend the lead and never looked back.

The Celtics look downright scary as they return home as 6.5-point favorites over the Heat. This is a 7.5-point move from the closing line after Game 2. Is this move justified? Or is this an over-reaction that presents some value on the Heat? Let’s break down this Game 3.

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Miami’s Offense Is Lacking Without Key Contributions

Jimmy Butler continued his strong postseason campaign. Butler was able to score at ease in Game 1, often times hunting out Payton Pritchard. The Heat’s overall aggressiveness against Tatum in the third quarter run caused him to turn the ball over six times in that quarter alone. This led to multiple easy baskets for the Heat as they continued to run up the score.

He followed up a 41-point performance in their Game 1 win with another 29 points in their Game 2 loss. Unfortunately, Butler didn’t get much support from his teammates.

Kyle Lowry missed his fourth consecutive game with an injured hamstring. He is traveling with the team to Boston, but he is still listed as questionable. They were able to survive without his presence in the first two rounds, but the Celtics pose a tougher task.

The Heat need his toughness and playmaking ability, but Lowry was a liability on the floor in Round 2 against the Philadelphia. He shot 3-of-14 and only put up six points over two games.

Bam Adebayo hasn’t done much this series either. The Heat will really need their big man to step up if they want to have a chance in this series.

Bottom line, I’m not sure the Heat have a potent enough offense to keep up with the Celtics. They have a tendency to go on long scoring droughts. The Heat did not lose much this season, but when they did, it was to the league’s best defensive teams.

They were 9-13 (40.9%) straight up in road games where they faced a team with a better Defensive Efficiency than the season average, per the SDQL at Gimme the Dog.

Celtics Are Dangerous at Full Strength

Huge shocker: Having Defensive Player of the Year back in the rotation makes a big difference. The Celtics got two of their best defenders back on the floor in Horford and Smart and showed why they are the No. 1 ranked defense in the league.

The initial injury reports were rough. Horford was out for Game 1 due to health and safety protocols and was listed as doubtful through Game 2. On the morning of Game 2, the injury report listed Smart as probable and later upgraded Horford to questionable. Market sentiment drove the spread from +4 all the way down to Celtics +1 at close.

Individually, neither guy moves the needle that much, but with the Celtics’ short seven-man rotation and their defensive philosophy, these guys are so valuable to their entire ecosystem. In addition to the defensive boost, having Smart back provided them with another playmaker. Tatum had to be primary ball handler in Game 1, and while that worked fine in the first half, the Heat made some adjustments at halftime and made his life miserable in the second.

The Celtics’ hot shooting has continued into this series. They shot 20-of-40 from behind the arc in Game 2. More importantly, against a stellar defensive team, they took care of the ball and distributed the ball well, posting a 3.1 Assist-to-Turnover Ratio (28 assists and nine turnovers). Home favorites off a series game where they had an Assist-to-Turnover Ratio of 2.5 or greater have gone 75-45-1 (62.5%) ATS dating back to the 2002-2003 season, per the SDQL at Gimme The Dog.

This is active on the Celtics and shows their stellar efficiency in the previous game. This, coupled with their strong shooting numbers, gives me confidence they can continue this efficiency at home.

Heat-Celtics Pick

I think the Celtics continue their stellar play in Game 3 back in Boston.

In certain situational spots, betting the zig-zag theory is not always profitable.  For instance, in Games 2-4, underdogs of four or more points off a series loss are 71-114-2 (38.4%) ATS since the 2012-2013 season, per the SDQL at Gimme The Dog. This is active to fade the Heat.

The spread may seem large, but I like that is right under the key number of seven, the most common margin of victory in the last decade of the NBA. My bet is on the Celtics, and I would bet this up to -7.

Pick: Celtics -6.5 (up to -7)