The NBA season begins as an expansive landscape. Possibilities are endless, the world you’ll adventure through could hold anything. Rivers of success, cliffs of injury, peaks of seeding, valleys of blowouts.
All season it feels like there’s so much ahead, even in the playoffs. Whether a team is down 0-1, or tied 2-2, there’s always time.
And then comes Game 7. And suddenly the world is very, very small.
It’s 48 minutes to decide a series that’s been fought over the span of two weeks. Just four quarters of basketball and if you’re down at the end of it, that’s it. You’re going home for the summer.
What’s amazing is how small these games often feel. If the Super Bowl feels grand, NBA Game 7 feels like it has been compacted into a small space by the tension. The open looks feel tenuous, the layups feel like diving through wet cement.
It’s a battle over what feels like two square feet of space, and there’s no solace for whoever comes up short. You can’t say it wasn’t your year, because you were right there. It’s now …. or never.
Let’s bet Sunday’s Game 7s.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics
|Time||3:30 p.m. ET|
The Game 7 trends are widely publicized, but just for posterity, unders in Game 7 hit at a 61.7% rate since 2003.
Game 7 unders when the total is less than 210 are 27-17-0, 61.4% since 2003, per Bet Labs.
It gets more interesting when you look at the trends for team totals.
Since 2006, only 15 of the past 60 Game 7 matchups have seen a differential in team totals for both sides. That means the home team total and road team total have either gone both over or both under in 45 of the last 60 Game 7 matchups.
Let’s start from the premise that the under is the way this goes, based on historical trends and the way this series has played out. These are the two best defenses in the league, and they have absolutely exhausted one another. It’s hard to see this turning into a shootout.
In Game 7s that have gone under, the road team has gone over its total five times out of sixty. The Bucks have seen their Expected Effective Field Goal Percentage drop as the series has gone on. Their expected eFG% was at its lowest in the past two games. Including their Game 5 win, and the Bucks shot at least seven percentage points worse than expected in three of the past four games of the series.
In short, the Celtics’ defense is working. They’ve managed to drag down the Bucks’ efficiency to 100 points per 100 possessions or worse in four of the six games.
So why not just play the under? Because Boston’s offense has quietly gotten a little bit better. The Celtics have a 113 or better Offensive Rating in five of the past six games. They’ve started to figure some things out against the Bucks, and that makes me nervous, even if teams usually don’t go over their team total if the combined or opponent goes under.
So let’s just play the team total under and bank on the Celtics making life difficult for a Bucks offense that has oftentimes had rough shooting performances in the playoffs. Let’s trust the Celtics offense at home against the Bucks without Middleton.
For props, look for Brook Lopez overs. Robert Williams was upgraded from out to questionable for the Celtics. Williams on the floor makes Lopez more playable. Lopez played 28, 25, and 29 minutes in the three games that Williams played, and when he was out with knee soreness, Lopez played just 20 and 19 minutes.
If they’re available, I like the over for points and rebounds for Lopez.
Bet: Bucks Under 101.5
Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns
|Time||8 p.m. ET|
This one has turned me around in circles.
The Mavericks have hit their team total in four of the six games. They’ve consistently scored. The Suns have struggled to score in three of the last four, but three of the last four were also on the road. The home team, of course, has not lost in this series.
Is the Suns’ offensive dip a result of the Mavs discovering how to combat them, or because of simple home-road splits? If it’s the former, the Mavericks have incredible value as a six-point underdog. If it’s the latter, then the Suns are a home team laying only six.
You’ve heard the trends about teams winning at home, but it cuts even deeper. Home favorites of six or more in a Game 7 are 9-1 since 2003, per Bet Labs.
The Suns have a spacing problem. The Mavericks are spacing Deandre Ayton out with Davis Bertans and Maxi Kleber like they did with Rudy Gobert and then having Luka Doncic attack over and over. The result is a Suns defense that wants to collapse, giving up 3s.
On the other end, Ayton is getting a steady diet of shots and looks but not enough to break the Mavericks’ approach. In the last four games of the series, the Mavericks have hit 57 3s to the Suns’ 40. That is a significant gap that creates a math problem. But then, of course, in Game 5 in Phoenix, the Suns made 12 to the Mavericks’ eight.
So we return to the home-away splits. Here are the bets I think you have to avoid in this game:
- Mavericks moneyline: Home teams win these games too often, especially as a favorite.
- Suns spread: Home favorites of six or more are 13-9 (59%), which is great, but the context of this series is bothersome. I actually anticipated wanting to bet Phoenix because of the perception of Doncic in a Game 7, which is somehow a thing despite him, you know, never having won one. But the opener for this series was Suns -6, and this line opened Suns -6 and moved to -6.5. So there’s no discernible public move on Doncic.
- Game Total: The under has been a solid play in these games. But there are very divergent paths here where the Suns win (the most likely outcome) by getting their offense back on track and putting up a big number, busting the under. There’s a scenario where the Mavericks win (based on the matchup and series momentum) with defense as the Suns simply can’t hit enough mid-range shots.
But I think there’s value on game scripting. Remember from above that only 15 out of the last 60 Game 7s have had divergent team totals. If one goes under, both go under, if one goes over, both go over.
With the Mavericks’ 3-point advantage it seems like they can win a shootout, but that’s not really what they’re doing. The Mavericks in their wins have a 120, 116, and 114 Offensive Ratings. Good, but not exceptional, and this is the slowest series in the semifinals in terms of Pace.
If the Mavericks win, it’s because their defense once again neutralizes Chris Paul and they hit enough 3s in an ugly game. If the Suns win, they either outpace the Mavericks with a hot shooting performance, or blow them out and put up a big number in the process.
Suns moneyline with the Suns over 105.5 and the Mavs over 99.5 is +278 on FanDuel. Mavericks moneyline with the Suns under is +275. I’ve bet both in this instance.
I also think there’s value on Mavs ML with Mavs under 99.5 and Suns under 105.5 at +1459. In the absence of a simpler bet, I think you have to get creative with this game.