This series has been gross and difficult, filled with blowouts until Game 6. But somehow, against the odds, the Heat have forced a Game 7 at home.
Now we have the very rare circumstance of a home dog in a Game 7. A No. 1 seed has only been a home dog once since 2003, in 2018 when Chris Paul was out for the Rockets.
Can Miami pull off what most would feel was an incredible comeback? Will Boston lose its fourth conference finals in the last six seasons?
Here are five things to know about how to bet Celtics-Heat Game 7.
1. Historical Trends All Favor Miami
Let’s run those Game 7 home trends:
- Home teams in Game 7s all-time: 110-34 all-time (76.4%)
- Home teams since the advent of the 3-point shot (shot variance): 75-26 (74%)
- Home teams since 2000: 47-21 (69%)
- Home teams in the conference finals: 17-8 (68%)
- Home teams in the conference finals since 2000: 5-4 (55%)
On top of that …
- Teams that won Game 1 at home are 102-28 in the series in the conference finals. (Miami won Game 1.)
- Teams that were up 2-1 with home court advantage are 53-11 in the series in the CF. (Miami was up 2-1.)
- Since 2003, home teams in Game 7 that won Game 6 are 11-3, and 5-1 after the first round.
So all the historical trends favor Miami here.
What does that have to do with these two specific teams? Nothing. These two teams are not those teams, this series is unique unto itself.
The reason these trends matter is the very nature of Game 7s. Teams shoot better at home, and often times a Game 7 is where adjustments and counter-adjustments balance each other out by the time you get to a Game 7. Both teams are gassed, so it becomes just about who makes shots that night.
Teams at home in Game 7 wins are +5.65% in Net eFG% (so their eFG% minus the opponent’s). In losses, they are -5.6% in Net eFG%. No surprise, the team that shoots slightly better on average than the opponent wins the game.
Since 1984, road teams that shoot worse than their opponent in Game 7 in Net eFG% are 7-53 in Game 7s. Home teams that shoot worse in Net eFG% are 19-16. Home teams are 23-18 straight up when they have fewer free throws, and 32-13 when they finish with more turnovers.
Even more striking, home teams that had a negative Net eFG% (shot worse) and had fewer free throws than their opponent are still 4-4. Think about that: road teams that got to the line more often and outshot their opponent are still just 4-4 in Game 7s.
Road teams that shoot worse with fewer free throws are 2-32.
My big takeaway here is that home teams are winning something that crosses beyond shooting, turnovers, free throws, the four factors. (Home teams that were out-offensive-rebounded are 29-13, road teams are 8-38.
This is central to the Heat’s chances. If you believe the Celtics are the better offensive team (they are) who will shoot better, that hasn’t translated to wins for the road team in Game 7. If you believe the Celtics just have to not turn the ball over (which has been a significant factor in this series) to win, road teams haven’t won with fewer turnovers.
The identity and play of the two teams matters more than historical trends. But the played-up importance of a Game 7 at home is very real.
2. The Celtics Have Been the Better Team. But How Much Better?
That’s why all those trends matter because if we’re taking the aggregate of the series, Boston’s been better. It’s a 3-3 series. There have been injury absences on both sides: Marcus Smart and Al Horford in Game 1, Kyle Lowry in Games 1 and 2, Tyler Herro in Games 5 and 6.
All of Boston’s rotation players have a positive Net rating over the course of all the possessions they’ve played in this series.
Boston has a better offensive rating, assist percentage, rebound percentage, eFG%, more fastbreak points, more free throw attempts, and more made 3’s (by 5).
The Celtics have been better, on aggregate. If that’s as simple as it is for you, the Celtics are the bet, no question.
However, the gap is more narrow than it would seem. Miami has the advantage in points off turnovers, second-chance points, and points in the paint. They only trail the Celtics by five in the 3-point category.
Based on these trends the takeaway should likely be that Boston is a slightly better team between two pretty evenly matched squads.
Instead, the Celtics are favorites on the road in a Game 7.
That separation is effectively where you will find value on either side of this line.
If you think these two teams are even with a slight edge to the Celtics that is negated by home court (especially in a Game 7), then Miami is the play.
If you think Miami and Boston are even on a neutral court, then factoring in Miami’s home court, Miami is the play.
To bet Boston, you have to believe they are a magnitude better than the Heat. Boston is 5-4 at home in the playoffs, 6-2 on the road. If you believe that’s correlated to something inherent about the team, you can negate Miami’s home court advantage, but you still have to believe the Celtics are 2.5-points better than that.
3. Boston’s Getting Away With Drop
The problem with dropping your big in pick and roll coverage is that if you peel the guard/wing defending the ball handler, the ball handler has an open jumper. The Celtics manage this by just absolutely demolishing attempts to peel off the defender.
Watch Jason Tatum just navigate this play perfectly to stay with Oladipo and prevent a pull-up at the elbow.
On this play, Derrick White denies Lowry the space and when he tries to move into step back range, the help comes from the backside to disrupt Lowry.
Robert Williams is the pivotal part of this. If the Celtics are going to drop, it means they’re letting Williams protect the rim. Miami has had zero luck attacking him at the rim. Miami is shooting 46% in the paint with Jimmy Butler on the floor vs. Williams.
The Celtics are dropping vs. Bam Adebayo and PJ Tucker screens, taking away the roll with little concern for the Heat popping with those players. With shooters like Butler or Strus screening, the Celtics switch it.
Miami struggles with not just shotmaking, but shot creation. This is why Tyler Herro’s availability is huge. He was a late scratch for Game 6.
Since his good start in the first half of Game 1, Boston has mainly switched against him. But having another creator to get Boston out of that drop is important for Miami’s chances.
4. The Max Strus Conundrum
Should you target a team’s weak link defensively? Or just run your stuff?
This is a constant battle and whatever results in a loss, you should do the other thing, or so goes the social media conversation.
This brings us to Max Strus. In the Heat’s three losses in this series, the Heat have a -46.6 Net rating with Strus on the floor. Most of that is their 78 offensive rating and much of that is simply injuries plus shooting variance.
But the other issue is that defensively, Boston has a 123.3 Offensive Rating with Strus on the floor.
In Game 4, Boston targeted Strus for 12 points on nine possessions with Strus switching in pick and roll. In Game 6, the game plan was pretty obvious to go at him constantly. Boston ran 16 pick-and-rolls with Strus guarding the screener to force the switch.
But they scored just 13 points. Marcus Smart trying to go hero ball vs. Strus is probably not the move.
The Heat also brought help after the first few possessions, especially vs. Jaylen Brown, and it was a battle for the Heat to make the right rotations.
Can Boston just target Strus? Should they just run their offense? When it works, it was the right move, when it fails, they should have just ran their offense. This will be a big part of Game 7 as well.
5. How I’m Betting Game 7
I bet the Heat in Game 5 as a home dog, believing they should not be home dogs in this series, and they got blown out. So I’m ready to get hurt again.
I simply cannot get myself to a place where on neutral court, Boston is 5-6 points better than the No. 1 seed Heat. I cannot get myself to a place where the Heat, with how tough they have been all year, should be home dogs in a Game 7 given all the trends I wrote about above.
It’s not like road teams winning Game 7s is unprecedented; the Mavericks just did it two weeks ago.
It’s not like Boston winning on the road is rare; again they are 6-2 on the road and just won in Miami in Game 5. They have two wins vs. the Heat in Miami in this series alone. Miami’s homecourt advantage is not the strongest, either.
However, I do think that the perception of Miami is skewed by the popularity of Boston and the way the Heat play. Miami was never going to play a dominant game; that’s not their identity. They were always going to have horrible offensive games.
If Miami was going to win this series it was going to look like this. They win two quarters out of the first 12 and wind up with a 2-1 lead, they somehow find a way to win a tough game on the road, and in a Game 7, the home team wins.
The issue is that I still have a hard time with the question “Do you think Miami wins?”
I should feel convinced of that at this point. They’re at home. I think they’re better than they’re given credit for. It’s a 2.5 point spread. What are the odds that Miami covers and doesn’t win?
This is why I like betting. The value is on Miami, and it’s enough on Miami that I think they are worth betting, even if you ask me who has been better and I’ll say Boston.
If this was a pick ‘em, where I think it should be, I’d be staying away. If Miami was favored, even at home in a Game 7, I’d be on Boston. With Miami as a dog I’ll take the points and the plus money on the ML.
As for the under, this is not rocket science.
The under in Game 7s since 2003 . This has been a popular trend, so the books adjust for it. However, even with a total below 200, after the first round (when the poor defenses are often filtered out), the under is 11-5 (69%) in Game 7.
The total has moved 2.5 points down as of this writing. When the total has moved down by at least a point in Game 7, the closing total under is 13-5 after the first round in a Game 7.
These are two ugly, switching, zone-heavy teams that are exhausted and banged up.
We’ve had some random offensive performances, but this one feels very much like a game in the 90’s for both squads, which we just saw.
One win for the Finals. For Boston, the pressure is immense. For Miami, the challenge is nearly insurmountable. Who ya got?
The Bets: Heat +2.5 | Heat ML | Under 195