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2021 NBA Playoff Action: Milwaukee Bucks @ Miami Heat, Game 3

Miami due for (first half) cover after consecutive losses: Heat -1 1H

The Bucks successfully defended home court in games 1 and 2 of their first round playoff matchup with the Heat in early NBA 2020-21 Playoff action. Milwaukee just eked out the win Saturday, compliments of a game winner from Khris Middleton with the clock expiring in OT.

In contrast, the Bucks were utterly dominant Monday, posting a playoff-leading 145+ points per 100 possessions, per CleaningTheGlass.com.

The offensive brilliance on display in game 2 owes largely to the Bucks hoisting more than half of their total shot attempts from deep, and hitting the three at a 47% clip--a marked improvement versus the 40% connection rate Milwaukee averaged at Fiserv Forum during the regular season (which, by the way, was still the second highest connection rate for three-pointers in the NBA for teams playing at home).

Against this backdrop, we think the basketball gods appear poised to grant the Heat the cover Thursday...at least for the first half. We expect the Bucks' sharpshooting to regress naturally following the barnburner that was game 2, but we also think the Heat defense will contribute to the normalization, following the embarrassment suffered a few days ago.

Miami's defense ranked 8th in the NBA during the regular season. The Heat's strengths when the opposing team had the ball included limiting the effectiveness of the mid-range jumper, which happens to be Khris Middleton's specialty.

Middleton was a fire-breathing dragon for the Bucks in game 2, delivering a stunning 2.42 points per shot attempt, including the game winner. For context, 1.68 is the highest points per attempt figure registered in the regular season. This hints that Middleton is unlikely to continue to generate offense at game 2's pace. To offer some idea of what a cooled-down Khris Middleton might produce, the 9th year forward was good for about 1.19 points per shot taken over the whole of the season--still good, but certainly not otherworldly.

Separately, as it has proven historically impossible to advance in the NBA post-season after dropping the first three games of a series of seven (three teams have forced a game seven from this spot, but 'making it a series' has been the pinnacle from down 0-3), teams that lose the first two games of a post-season series tend to empty the reserve in an effort to avert this death knell circumstance.

Oftentimes though, the difference in ability levels between opposing post-season contenders is more than maximum effort over a 48-minute span can overcome.

Teams that lost games 1 and 2 of a post-season series are 71-68-3 ATS in game 3.

However, the sense of desperation that commonly attends teams down 0-2 in post-season action is typically sufficient to secure the first half cover.

Squads entering game 3 of a playoff matchup after dropping the first two meetings covered the first half spread 65% of the time.

(h/t to The Action Network's Raheem Palmer.)

This simple system has delivered a 24% return on investment since 2004, with cover rates south of 50% in only three seasons.

Through a fundamental lens, in addition to the shooting exhibited Monday being generally unsustainable, differences in the Bucks' play on the road versus at home imply bettors should expect Milwaukee to move a step slower in Thursday's away action. Per CleaningTheGlass.com, the Bucks averaged 118.6 and allowed 111 points per 100 possessions from the comfort of home during the regular season. This differential slipped to 3.3 in away games.

The Heat differential was more-or-less constant across location last year.

These observations imply home court could be worth more than four points for this series, so the requisite relocation for game 3 conveys a meaningful uptick in the chance of the Heat cover Thursday.

Fitting with this perspective, ESPN's NBA Basketball Power Index makes this game practically even-Steven on a neutral court. Similarly, FiveThirtyEight gives Milwaukee a razor thin one-point margin Thursday per it's RAPTOR framework, while their Elo approach makes the Heat half-point favorites.

Happy betting!!