The Boston Celtics were firmly in control late in the fourth quarter of Game 5 when Jayson Tatum posterized Pat Connaughton with a thunderous dunk to go up by 13 points with nine minutes left in the game.
TD Garden erupted, the Celtics were as high as -5000 on the live moneyline and it seemed like a virtual certainty that the Celtics were set to take their first lead in the series.
Then the unthinkable happened for all Celtics fans and bettors. The Milwaukee Bucks went on a 28-12 run in the final nine minutes, erasing a 13-point deficit.
With two minutes left in the game, the Celtics had a 6- point lead after an Al Horford putback dunk. Then the Bucks went on an 8-0 run to end the game — every basket coming off a mistake by Boston.
Giannis Antetokounmpo hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 3 points — a shot that came off an offensive rebound. Jrue Holiday hit a 3 to tie the game — a basket that came off a Marcus Smart turnover. Bobby Portis had a putback to take the lead — an offensive rebound off an Antetokounmpo missed free throw.
The Bucks didn’t win the game due to excellent offensive half-court execution, it was the Celtics who totally tripped all over themselves in one of the worst fourth-quarter collapses in NBA playoff history.
What Does this Mean for Game 6?
If you are a “zig-zag” bettor, a tried and true NBA playoffs betting strategy where you wager on the team that lost outright in the game before to cover the spread in the game directly after, then this has been the series for you.
If you adhered to this strategy then you are 5-0 against the spread — neither the Bucks nor the Celtics have been able to string together consecutive wins (or covers) through the first five games of the series and I don’t see that changing tonight.
I suggested betting on the Celtics after their loss in Game 3, noting that the Celtics have been excellent at bouncing back from a loss all season. They are 22-12 straight up off a loss, including 2-0 in the playoffs.
Even more impressive, since January (when the Celtics started playing their best ball of the season) — they are 9-1 SU off a loss. This is a team that hasn’t lost very often and has bounced back VERY well off a poor showing and I expect more of the same tonight.
The only main difference in this otherwise extremely tight series has been the Bucks second chance points.
In the Celtics’ three losses in this series, the Bucks have had 50 second-chance points. The Bucks had 7 second-chance points in the final two minutes alone in their furious Game 5 comeback.
In the Celtics’ two wins, they’ve allowed only 21 second-chance points. That has really been the only advantage the Bucks have had in this otherwise razor-thin margin series.
The Celtics lead the series in field-goal percentage, holding Milwaukee to 42% shooting for the series. Boston has been better from beyond the arc, having more made 3-pointers and a higher 3-point shooting percentage than the Bucks.
The Celtics have the advantage in free throw points, blocked shots and assists — they’ve had better ball movement than Milwaukee.
Early in the series the Bucks were winning the battle in the paint and in transition, but they have fixed both of these issues as well, having a +2 edge in the paint and +11 in fast break points over the last two games.
Can the Celtics Bounce Back?
With Robert Williams set to come back tonight, I do not see the Bucks being able to dominate the offensive glass as they did in Game 5. If they can’t, the Celtics have all of the other advantages.
Besides Game 1, all the Celtics’ losses were games that they could have easily won. In the games they won, they dominated.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it’s surely worth noting that head referee tonight, Scott Foster, has produced a 21-6 record in potential close-out games in favor of the team looking to extend the series.
The Celtics let Game 5 slip away, but I’m expecting a STRONG bounce-back performance here in Game 6 — similar to what we have seen from them coming off their other two losses this series.
Antetokounmpo has been the best player in the series so far, but I look for Jayson Tatum to go toe-to-toe with him tonight and edge him out in another fourth-quarter thriller.