NBA Playoffs Betting Guide: When Defense Matters Most
Updated: May 30
The Boston Celtics' Derrick White was a top-20 defender in the NBA for the 2022-23 season, and is the best stopper on the team, per ESPN's Real Plus-Minus statistic (not to be confused with the Plus-Minus stat commonly reported in box scores). But Saturday night, it was his offensive prowess that saved the season. Thanks to White's reflexive put-back of a missed three-point attempt by Marcus Smart in the waning moments of game 6, the 2022-23 Celtics have battled back to tie their NBA Eastern Conference Finals series with the Miami Heat. Boston is now expected to become the first team EVER to overcome a 0-3 deficit in a seven-game postseason matchup (as of the time of this writing, bookmakers are pegging the Celtics' moneyline at around -310 for game 7, implying a 76% chance of a series-deciding win Monday).
Systems on our BetLabs dashboard that have generated statistically significant long-term profits not only corroborate the notion that Boston will take game 7 straight up, but also forecast the Celtics to cover the spread as 7.5 point home favorites (see here and here for examples of support for Boston ATS...we note though that while the former angle is an uninspiring 17-21-1 ATS in the Conference Finals, the latter has delivered increasing levels of profitability as the postseason progressed, and is 26-13 versus the number in this penultimate round of play).
Despite these precedents, though, we are reticent to bet against the 100% track record amassed by teams that have taken the first three games of best-of-seven series. Instead, we are backing the UNDER, as we have observed a reliable historical indication, with no conflicting signals, in support of the notion that teams focus on defense in the most clutch of situations.
The angle cited in the graphic above has generated a 40% long-term return on investment, statistically significant at the 95% confidence level, and has submitted cover rates below 50% in only three seasons over the examination period. Moreover, the profitability of this system has improved as the postseason progressed. The 6-1 record in the Conference Finals translates to a 61% return.
We are undeterred by the reduced O/U number, which, at 203, is, by far, the lowest total of the series, and is well below the average line of 213.5 for the first six Heat/Celtics games, as this angle is 15-6 (for an almost unchanged 38% return) versus lines of 205 or lower.
[This set of criteria is a more focused, and more profitable, derivative of our more generalized angle that endorses UNDERs in all postseason games 6's and 7's.]