After three of the most desultory losses ever seen in a Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics have put together two dominant performances to stave off back-to-back close-out attempts by the Miami Heat.
The proverbial pressure now resides squarely in South Beach, for while Game 6 is technically the Heat’s penultimate chance to end the series and book their trip to the NBA Finals, the prospect of a road Game 7 having lost three in a row would prove immensely daunting to just about any NBA player not named Jimmy Butler.
The last two games have seen a recognizable shift in series tactics and execution by the Celtics, and it’s to them we turn for our three favorite NBA player prop picks for Game 6 on Saturday, May 27.
Also, be sure to check out our Heat vs. Celtics Game 6 picks for full analysis and more best bets!
Celtics vs Heat Game 6 player prop picks
Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.
Celtics vs Heat Game 6 props
Suddenly, the Heat zone that threatened to end the Celtics series looks vulnerable. The old adage goes that you have to shoot your way out of a zone, but the Celtics have shown it’s even better to pass your way out of it.
Boston is playing with much more patience on offense than they were through the first three games, and that’s in large part because they’ve put the ball in Jayson Tatum’s hands as a primary initiator and he’s worked to get off the ball early and often. Tatum is trusting the pass more right now than just about any point in his postseason career, and the Celtics are reaping the benefits. Tatum has largely gone away from isolation basketball and mismatch hunting in favor of the drive-and-kick offense that has always been the Celtics’ greatest strength.
Tatum’s assist totals in the Philadelphia 76ers series were steady, he averaged five per game and only had one game with fewer than five total. The Heat series has proven to be much more of a rollercoaster, however. While Tatum is up to 5.8 assists through five games, he had three collectively in Games 1 and 3 and has had 27 in total across Games 2, 4, and 5. But that’s why this prop is available at just 5.5.
The two most recent games, where Tatum had 11 and 7 assists respectively, have not coincidentally been when the Boston Celtics have looked better than at any other point in the Miami series.
This formula is working for the Celtics, and in addition to some lineup adjustments, it’s put them in position to do the impossible and rally back from down 3-0. I’m expecting Tatum to continue his passing clinic on Saturday.
PICK: Jayson Tatum Over 5.5 assists (-125)
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Tatum’s shift in mindset has had another obvious knock-on effect: He’s turning the ball over a lot more. The fun fact about isolation offense is that one of the reasons it’s more efficient than straight-up eFG% makes it appear, is that isolation scoring leads to turnovers much less frequently than possessions that mirror the 2014 San Antonio Spurs’ “beautiful game” style of play.
Passing the ball multiple times in a possession by nature creates opportunities for another team to steal the ball, or for the passing team to simply throw it away. Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry are two of the best in the business at reading a play then jumping the passing lane to force a steal. So, while Tatum’s passing has had an inarguably net positive for the Celtics, it hasn’t been without blemish.
Tatum’s averaging 4.2 turnovers in the series against the Heat and would have hit this prop in every game but Game 3 (when he had three turnovers), which is notable for being the game that the blowout was so bad that the Celtics starters sat for the duration of the fourth quarter. I’m expecting this to be one of the most competitive games of the series, and so Tatum should have opportunity aplenty to pass and (cough up) the ball.
PICK: Jayson Tatum Over 3.5 turnovers (-137)
Perhaps the only shift greater than the Celtics’ recommitment to ball movement has been the steady growth in Derrick White’s role throughout the series. White played just 21 minutes in Game 1 and finished Game 5 with 37 minutes because he’s simply playing too well to take off the floor now.
It’s a testament to White’s development, both in his shooting technique as well as overall confidence, that I think his 3-point shooting prop is one of the best bets available for Game 6. Last season it was in part White’s crumbling shooting in the playoffs that opened the door for the Golden State Warriors' victory. This series, even when the Celtics are getting killed, White has been knocking down his shots. White is shooting 58.1% from three in the series on 6.2 attempts per game. The worst he’s shot is 3-7 in Game 4, otherwise he’s been at 50% or above in every single game.
A big part of White’s growing role and confidence is his ability to stay on the floor defensively. Early on in the series, Butler was hunting White mercilessly. That’s no reflection on White, an All-Defensive Second Teamer, but he’s just the only guy that Butler feels comfortable attacking, due to the strength disparity.
But White has gotten better at defending Butler straight up, without help, and so Joe Mazzulla has been able to leave White in for long stretches. Malcolm Brogdon’s murky status for Game 6 (he has a partially torn tendon in his elbow) also augers a large role, and thus opportunity for White on Saturday.
PICK: Derrick White Over 2.5 3-pointers made (-118)
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