Things are about to get very interesting in the 2016 NBA playoffs. Injuries to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry in the past few days made sure of that, but specifically on Tuesday night, we’ll take a step closer to finding out how two of the tightest first round playoff series may unfold.
The Spurs, Cavs and Thunder have all moved on and the Warriors are likely to shortly follow. Left over, however, is a tight Blazers/Clippers series, as well as a tied up clash between the Heat and the Hornets. Tonight we get the other two series that are very much still undecided, as the Pacers and Celtics both head back out on the road to take on the Raptors and Hawks, respectively.
Indiana stole game one in Toronto and then defender its turf in game four to keep what should have been a mis-match series very much alive, while Boston rallied and won in overtime to hold serve with a 2-0 stand on their home floor. Can Boston finally grab a road win? Can the Pacers get their second road win of this series? These are the questions we must ask ourselves as we take a close look at both games and see which way we should be leaning tonight:
Pacers (7) @ Raptors (2)
Line: Raptors -7 Total: 193
A few things we’ve learned in this series: Indiana is a threat, they can win at Air Canada Centre and we can’t fully trust the Raptors simply because they’re supposed to be the better team. Toronto failed us by not coming to play on their home floor in game one and with the ability to take full control in game four, they wasted another golden opportunity.
They have another one on Tuesday night, of course, as Indiana is merely an average road team and they themselves also couldn’t take advantage in game two or three. The Pacers had the Raptors almost reeling after game one and after allowing the Raptors back in, they gave up their leverage by losing at home in game three. That has everything to do with their overall inconsistency and their wavering defensive intensity, but the life they showed in a game four home win is enough to scare any NBA bettor.
The simple reality is this is the NBA playoffs, and while entire series are usually fairly easy to predict, the game to game flow absolutely is not. The Raptors could still win this series, but Indiana could first steal game five and put Toronto on edge. It could also go the other way, where the Raptors look like the aggressor and win tonight, and then choke in the final two games.
Vegas doesn’t think Toronto will blink in the face of the pressure tonight, though, and we tend to agree. The big reason is they’re at home and they know going down 3-2 to a dangerous Pacers team just isn’t an option. That leaves the door open to unfathomable horrors in Indiana in game six. The other factor has been that each win has been rather wide, with no game coming within 10 points. I think with so much on the line, that trend finally stops tonight. A big reason why is Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can’t possibly both be stopped forever. The Pacers have done an awesome job on the scoring duo, giving Lowry just two solid outings all series, while DeRozan (averages 23 points per game) has topped even 14 points just once. At home, the duo need to figure Indy’s defense out and finally come through together to push Toronto with a win of advancing to round two for the first time since the days of Vince Carter.
Indiana gives the Raptors a fight, but Toronto’s stout home record shines through and the better team prevails for a 3-2 series advantage.
Pick: Raptors 102, Pacers 98
Celtics (5) @ Hawks (4)
Line: Hawks -7 Total: 198
The tricky thing about this series is it is exactly as intense as we predicted it to be, but every single game individually has gone the opposite way we expected it to. On the surface we probably should have expected Atlanta to get the job done at home (and they did), and the same goes for the Celtics (and they did). Boston was our pick to take this series in seven games, but with Avery Bradley going down, their plight got a lot more difficult. It’s tough not to cite their momentum after winning two straight, however, while it’s tough to imagine this series wrapping up without either team stealing a game on the road.
Last time we had a Game 5 in our building… pic.twitter.com/nmOM2mA93t
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) April 26, 2016
So far, however, there is little evidence to suggest the Celtics will get the win tonight. Boston was very average on the road during the regular season (20-21), the Hawks defend their home court well (27-14 this year) and it took the Celtics a late rally and OT win to make this series interesting again. That certainly works in their favor to a certain degree, but the Hawks get to go back home and stop the bleeding. Atlanta also dominated the regular season series (3-1) and it’s tough to see them drop three straight. Much like the first game of the night, I think we’re going to see the spread beaten and enjoy a tight game. Atlanta is at home and was in full control of this series, though. They’re the healthy and more balanced team. I think they get it back together and take a 3-2 series lead in a well fought game five.
Pick: Hawks 101, Celtics 97