Most people weren’t expecting much more from this series than a tune up for the Brooklyn Nets, who are the favorites to win the Eastern Conference and the NBA title this season. That’s pretty much what they got, except for a surprising win for their first round opponent, the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics, in Game 3. The Nets came back with two more wins to take this series 4-1 and secure their spot in the second round of the playoffs, the second team to do so in the 2021 postseason.
Free Picks: Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics, 2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs Round 1
Series Results: Nets wins series, 4-1
Nets Wins Series 4-1
This was probably one of the least anticipated series of the first round, and for good reason. The Boston Celtics would not have been able to hold a candle to the Brooklyn Nets even if they were at full strength, which they were very far from during this series. There was never any doubt about who would win this matchup, with the Nets taking all four of their games by double-digits.
The Celtics did, at least, avoid the embarrassment of the four-game sweep, with future MVP candidate Jayson Tatum putting up a 50-piece to lead his team to a Game 3 triumph. He would put up another 40 in Game 4, but that performance was in vain, unfortunately. If Boston can get out of the Kemba Walker contract and find a scoring big man, they could be serious contenders moving forward.
Meanwhile, the Nets did exactly what we expected them to: lean on the big three. The trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving sure enough averaged 85.2 points per game in the series. Other guys like Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown, and especially Joe Harris also chipped in, but when your three superstars are 51.2 shots per game and making them at a 53 percent clip, you don’t need much else.
Not to mention Beardo’s also averaging 10.6 dimes a contest. Don’t be surprised if you see that level of production and efficiency continue for those three either. They all make it easier on one another, so it’s hard to see them getting cold. We love the Nets as the NBA title favorites, so we definitely like them to beat Milwaukee in the second round as a solid NBA pick. Bring on the Bucks!
May 22, 08:00 p.m., Barclays Center
The Boston Celtics put up a valiant effort in their play-in matchup with the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, but beating up on a Wizards team led by a gimpy Bradley Beal and a frustrated Russell Westbrook is quite another story from what they’re about to experience dealing with this star-studded Nets lineup. Head coach Brad Stevens’ less-than-confident postgame comments about the Nets clash made that all too clear.
Jayson Tatum also put up 50 in that play-in game, aided by a 17-for-17 night at the charity stripe. Considering the star power across from him, we doubt that he’ll be the one getting the lion’s share of the official’s whistles during this best-of-seven series. He will need to shoot the ball with efficiency and really carry this team, which is a lot to ask of a 23-year-old.
This Nets team is just a different animal, they’ve got Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving firing on all cylinders, and now the best table-setter in the league, James Harden, is back to join his mates in the mix. The Nets definitely struggled in Beardo’s absence, to be sure, but considering what the stated injury was and how good he looked in his return, it seems as though his extended stay on the pine may have lasted as long as it did for precautionary reasons rather than necessity.
That play-making of Harden will be the key for Brooklyn’s playoff run, and it’s a big reason we like a Nets NBA point spread here as our NBA pick for Game 1 of this series. Boston fans might be quick to jump out and say that Marcus Smart has the tools to shut Beardo down, but they would be wrong.
While a great defender—even a top 10 guy, possibly, when healthy—Smart has historically not done too well against Harden. In 13 career matchups, Beardo has come away victorious in 10 while averaging 29.8 points and 7.1 dimes. The most recent of these was in March, when Harden put in 22 points and eight helpers in a Nets win.
In the matchup before that, Smart actually outscored Harden, 26-21, but in each of the three meetings between these two top-level competitors preceding that, Harden dropped a 40-burger on Smart and his Boston teammates. Smart may be an elite defender, but he’s not scaring any of Brooklyn’s big three.
And speaking of which, what in the heck are the Celtics supposed to do with the likes of Kevin Durant? That’s a question you can pretty much ask any team to make them look bad, and rightfully so: the guy is the closest thing to unguardable this league has ever seen. The Celtics just happen to be the next suckers to take him on. So what will they do?
While the logical matchup would be Tatum based on size, skill, and athleticism, Stevens will likely want to keep his star fresh for the offensive end. So, in all likelihood, Durant will be matched up with a very undersized wing player against whom he can drive and shoot over. Barbecue chicken, as Shaq likes to say.
The absence of Jaylen Brown for the Celtics really cannot be overstated either, and the fact that he will not take part really makes this one of the easier first-round series to call, so we’re going with the Nets to cover a -8.5 NBA point spread at beautiful +100 NBA odds as our best bet for today. That’s big value right there.
Game 2 (Nets leads series 1-0)
May 25, 07:30 p.m., Barclays Center
The Brooklyn Nets had a very rough start to their 2021 playoff run, scrounging together just 16 points in the first quarter as the Boston Celtics built a six-point lead going into halftime. Hall of Fame point guard and Nets head coach Steve Nash must have said all the right things during the break, because his star-studded squad came out on fire in the third quarter.
They outscored the C’s by 11 in that frame, and would nurture that lead for the remainder of the game, allowing Boston just 20 points in both the third and fourth quarters. That last bit was arguably the most encouraging part of that Nets performance, because defense has not exactly been their strong suit since James Harden arrived in a blockbuster trade back in January.
With the firepower the Nets have on offense and the lack of scoring options for the Celtics, a more stingy defense for Brooklyn could mean a short and less-than-exciting rest of this series. Both Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum were on their game in their play-in win against the Washington Wizards last week, but they combined to go just 11-for-36 on Saturday.
The fact that they only lost by 11 points with that being the case is kind of extraordinary before you look at how Brooklyn’s stars were playing in Game 1. While Kyring Irving ended up having a solid night after a rough start, the rest of the starters weren’t nearly as efficient on offense. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Joe Harris combined to shoot 38 percent from the floor, and starting center Blake Griffin didn’t even attempt a shot.
You can bet that the latter will certainly not happen again, and the former is also quite irregular for that trio. We’d expect the rest of the starters to play up to Uncle Drew’s level in Game 2, though even he wasn’t having much success from deep: the starters shot a combined 23 percent from downtown, and the bench went 1-for-4 as well.
A shooting performance that poor from the land beyond is usually enough to sink a team that relies so heavily on the long ball. Take exhibit A, the Utah Jazz in Game 1 on Sunday night: they shot and made the most triples per game while shooting it at the fourth-best percentage in the regular season, but they could not hit a shot against the Memphis Grizzlies. A 26 percent clip from beyond the arc essentially sunk the Jazz in a loss against the eighth seed.
The Nets don’t have many similarities with the Jazz, but one thing they do have in common is a love for and skill for hitting the long ball. Brooklyn hit 14.2 triples per game in the regular season, seventh-most in the association, and they hit those deep shots at a 39.2 clip as well, second-best in the NBA.
Brooklyn actually shot the three worse than Utah in their respective Game 1s, going 8-for-34 for a 23.5 percent mark. But instead of letting the long ball tear them down, they shifted gears and figured out another way to beat the Celtics, outscoring their opponents 38-34 in the paint.
Durant and Irving are two of the most efficient high-volume scorers in basketball, so we’d expect them to get back to their normal ways with an assist from Beardo in Game 2, which is a big reason why we like the Nets to cover a big ol’ 9.5 NBA point spread at decent -114 NBA odds as our best bet for today.
The betting trends are not doing Boston any favors here in Game 2 either, which adds to the notion that Brooklyn is the top pick on Tuesday. Boston has been dominated by the Nets lately, dropping their last five straight against the spread in Brooklyn. They’ve also dropped eight of the past 10 meetings ATS, including the last four straight and six of the past seven.
The Nets also know how to get on a role, going 28-20 ATS after a win during the regular season, fifth-best in the NBA. They’ve also gone 5-0 ATS in their last five as a favorite, and they’ve been even hotter as a favorite at Barclays Center, taking the last six straight ATS at their home court.
Game 3 (Nets leads series 2-0)
May 28, 08:30 p.m., TD Garden
They got absolutely steamrolled in that second game in Brooklyn, falling behind 40-26 after one quarter and 71-47 by the time the halftime whistle mercifully sounded. But the embarrassing overall team performance was nothing compared to the possible loss of their best player, Jayson Tatum, who left the game after getting poked in the right eye by Kevin Durant.
The incident occurred early in the third quarter with the Celtics still down by 25 points. Tatum actually stole the ball from the Durantula on the play, but the eye poke was significant enough for him to drop the ball out of bounds and go down to the floor, which resulted in a turnover. He came out of the game and would not return.
We’ve seen guys get poked in the eye pretty good before in the playoffs, with LeBron James serving as a very recent example. The King’s eye had the standard red blotching, reminiscent of when James Harden sustained a similar issue from the same guy that poked James in the goggles: Draymond Green. I’m not saying anything Dray, those are just the facts.
Those guys didn’t miss time with their injuries, but Tatum’s feels a bit different. Does he want to push himself in a series where he’s taking on the most talented team in the NBA without his most talented teammate? Head coach Brad Stevens seemed very uncertain when speaking on the subject during his postgame presser.
“He went back out on the court [and] tried to readjust to the light out there, and he was really struggling,” Stevens said, according to ESPN. “He got scratched pretty good. It looks pretty red, it looks pretty swollen to me. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what the exact diagnosis is. But he’s uncomfortable right now.”
But, it turns out, Tatum will be fine and good to go for Friday night’s tilt, no doubt taking full advantage of the extra day off between Games 2 and 3. Tatum is their best player, but his presence on the floor also makes this a much easier NBA pick for me.
A lot of times during the 2021 regular season we saw teams forced to trot out 9-man rotations, or play without their best player or two or three best players. It happened a lot, and for some reason, the team with a full squad would often sit back and take it easy thinking that the game was already won. This phenomenon occurred for the Nets as well as against them, so I know they’re capable of putting it on cruise control when they really shouldn’t.
I believe that the disconnect is sometimes because guys get too caught up in names and past stats and successes and forget that every man down to the end of the bench is an NBA pro, capable of playing the game at a high level and hitting shots at a high rate. With Tatum in there, there’s no need to worry about any of that foolishness, so I’m sure you can guess our top pick.
There’s really not much to say about this series at this point. Even if Jaylen Brown were healthy and playing, this series would have been a big mismatch. Without him, it’s just plain unfair. I searched for maybe a little something to tell me that they might perform better at home, but their 18-18-1 record against the spread at TD Garden in the regular season didn’t really inspire confidence.
Not only that, but the Nets are actually on quite a little run right now. They have won seven straight games stretching back into the final week of the regular season, but the cherry on top is the fact that they have also covered the spread in each and every one of those seven games. What do you say about them making it eight? We say that looks like a best bet for today.
I don’t expect to see many first round sweeps in this year’s NBA postseason, but if anyone’s going to do it, it’s this star-studded Nets team, which seems to be coming together at just the right time. Just like in Game 2, we’re going to take Brooklyn at a -7.5 NBA point spread but this time with much more attractive -102 NBA odds as one of our top picks for Thursday night’s slate.
Game 4 (Nets leads series 2-1)
May 30, 07:00 p.m., TD Garden
(Playoff Betting Record: 14-8, +5.45 Units)
The Boston Celtics seemed like they were dead in the water after getting thumped by the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of this series, but to their credit, they did not fold, and they came out and returned fire in the face of the high-powered Nets on Friday night. Whether they have any more to hit them with seems doubtful, so we’re going to take Brooklyn again with our NBA pick here.
Nonetheless, it was an impressive showing from the C’s in front of their home crowd with their backs against the wall. Jayson Tatum seemed in rough shape after getting a bad eye poke during Game 2, but he came back in Game 3 looking no worse for wear as he dropped his second 50-piece in his last four games.
He did it against the Washington Wizards in the play-in game that earned Boston the seventh seed and the right to take on the Nets in round one, and what do you know, he did it again against Brooklyn, this time on much better efficiency as well.
Tatum barely left the floor, playing 41 minutes on the night and going 16-for-30 from the field and 5-for-11 from beyond the arc while also contributing seven dimes and six rebounds. Tatum also continues to be aggressive, getting to the basket, playing through contact, and hitting his foul shots at a high clip, going 13-for-15 from the charity stripe on Friday night.
Apart from Kemba Walker, who was awful in this one, going 3-for-14 from the field and 0-for-7 from deep, Boston’s starting lineup played very well—and they all played a lot.
Tristan Thompson had nine, count em, nine offensive rebounds and 13 rebounds overall to go with an efficient 19 points in 30 minutes. Marcus Smart played 39 big minutes and went 8-for-11 from the field for 23 points, and Evan Fournier contributed 17 points on 4-for-7 shooting from downtown in 37 minutes of action.
Boston head coach Brad Stevens really slimmed the rotation down on Friday, with only one player apart from the starting five seeing more than 12 minutes of playing time. Now, the question is, can Tatum put up 50 and outplay Brooklyn’s big three again? Tatum is a wonderful player who seems like he could become an NBA MVP talent before it’s all said and done, but he’s not on the level of a Kevin Durant or James Harden. Not just yet.
As with any wager on these Nets, our top pick for Game 4 of this series is predicated on those last two guys, as well as Kyrie Irving. Brooklyn lost Jeff Green for a significant period of time with a foot injury, and he is actually a big loss for them, so the rest of the supporting cast will have to come together and find a way to replace his size and rebounding on the defensive end and his efficiency on offense.
Irving had a very rough night, going just 6-for-17 from the floor, but unfortunately for Brooklyn, he was not alone. Joe Harris was ineffective, Landry Shamet missed his only field goal attempt, Blake Griffin was 1-for-5 from the floor, and Nicolas Claxton wasn’t bringing much to the table but turnovers.
It was the Beardo and the Durantula show for Brooklyn on Friday, as the pair combined to go 24-for-42 from the field for 80 points on the night. That means they took half of the teams shots and were very efficient with their opportunities, while the rest of the Nets shot just 33 percent from the floor.
It’s all well and good for your top dogs to take the reins when they need to, but they can’t do it literally all alone, some role players will have to take and make shots. I’d expect Shamet, Harris, and Tyler Johnsons to get more shots up next game and get back to hitting them at the 40 or so clip that they were during the regular season and in the first two games of this series.
The Nets will no doubt have been shocked back into coherence after Tatum put them to sleep with that 50-burger, so they’ll be awake and angry now, and you can expect them to retake control of this series. We’re going with another Brooklyn spread, this time a -6.5 NBA point spread offering solid -110 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
Game 5 (Nets leads series, 3-1)
June 1, 07:30 p.m., Barclays Center
(Playoff Betting Record: 18-12, +5.16 Units)
There may not be a soul outside of Boston—and maybe not even there—that believes the Boston Celtics will be able to keep Game 5 close with the Brooklyn Nets smelling that blood in the water. The Nets are, unfortunately, boasting the first double-digit spread we’ve seen so far in this postseason, which does force us to give this NBA pick a little more thought.
After Jayson Tatum dropped a 50-piece on the Nets to steal Game 3 and avoid the dreaded sweep, Nets star James Harden said that it was almost a good thing that they lost a game, because now they know that they’re not invincible and that they need to be locked in for every game no matter the opponent or situation. If they want to win the title, they can’t have those kinds of hiccups against the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks or Philadelphia 76ers.
The Nets really dominated the Celtics in Game 4, and that probably had a lot to do with the fact that they knew they needed to bounce back in a big way—and right away. All three of Brooklyn’s superstars responded in kind, combining for 104 of their team’s franchise playoff-record 141 points on Sunday night. The trio shot the ball at a 59 percent clip, not to mention Beardo’s playoff career-high 18 assists on the night as well.
The team as a whole shot 58 percent from the field, 59 percent from the three-point line, and 97 percent from the charity stripe. It’s tough to compete with that, and not even a 38-for-42 mark from the free throw line could keep the Celtics in this one. They had the lead at the end of the first quarter, but it was quickly relinquished during a 40-26 second quarter.
Brooklyn kept the pedal to the medal in the third quarter, dropping 39 points in the frame to put this one out of reach and set everyone’s sights on the Game 5 clash a little early. Evan Fournier and Marcus Smart stepped up big to supplement Tatum’s 50 in Game 3, but they just aren’t shooters of the same caliber as those that Brooklyn has, so they crashed back down to Earth in Game 4, going a combined 4-for-18 from deep.
As Irving was leaving the court following his 39-point effort, the angry Celtics fans showed their disgusting, true colors, as one of them nearly nailed Irving with a water bottle. Irving reiterated how he felt about the city of Boston and its fans after the game, and Kevin Durant backed him up, intimating that they certainly did not intend to return to Beantown for a Game 6 tilt against the C’s. Brooklyn will win on Tuesday night, but that’s an easy NBA prediction.
The real question is, by how much? Sportsbooks are expecting an absolute beatdown, with most listing the Nets as 12.5-point favorites for Game 5 at Barclays Center. Double-digit NBA point spreads are usually a big no-no for me, but with all of these outside circumstances with Irving and Boston, it would be very hard to bet on the Celtics keeping it close.
With the Bucks having finished their series off on Saturday, doubtless the Nets will want to avoid playing any extra and unnecessary games. A Game 6 back in Boston would certainly fall into that category, so we’d expect the Nets to come out firing and try to make the C’s start thinking about walking the 2021 NBA postseason plank by halftime.
Brooklyn has won it’s three games against the Celtics by 11 points, 22 points, and 15 points, covering the spread comfortably in each instance. We’d expect more of the same on Tuesday night, as head coach Steve Nash ensures
that his team doesn’t have to travel all the way back to Boston for an extra game that they certainly do not need, especially considering the health issues Beardo and the Durantula have dealt with during this campaign.
With Beardo setting the table with the gusto and efficiency he’s shown and the Durantula and Uncle Drew shooting the lights out next to him, this team will be very scary for any opponent. We simply cannot fathom betting on any Celtics spread under 30 points for Game 5, so we’re taking Brooklyn’s -12.5 NBA point spread at standard -110 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.
More NBA Free Pickssee more
The Golden State Warriors will host the Memphis Grizzlies in the final play-in game, which will determine the Western Conference’s eighth seed.
The Washington Wizards will host the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night with the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference on the line.
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will host Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in a play-in clash on Wednesday night at Staples.
The Memphis Grizzlies will host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday in the No. 9 vs. No. 10 contest as part of the West’s play-in tournament.
Alex is an alumnus of Ryerson University's RTA Sport Media program, a contributing NHL, NBA, and MLB writer in the BetPicks.ca team. He has been writing on sports, betting, and fantasy contests for several years, including pitstops as an NFL Editor for theScore and as one of the lead NBA news writers for fantasy sports site FantasyPros. As a lifelong athlete, bettor, and sports fan, Alex is uniquely qualified to help you reach the sports betting success that you've always dreamed of and your wife never believed you could achieve.