NBA Odds, News & Notes: Big-Ticket Title Fight

The Mavericks have been overlooked every step of the way and many critics have lamented the Celtics having it "too easy" en route to the NBA Finals. Still, as Douglas Farmer posits, this has all the makings of a classic championship showdown.

Douglas Farmer - Betting Analyst at Covers
Douglas Farmer • Betting Analyst
Jun 2, 2024 • 15:49 ET • 4 min read
Jayson Tatum Boston Celtics Luka Doncic Dallas Mavericks NBA
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

The curmudgeons among us may look at this NBA Finals and dismiss its inevitability. The Boston Celtics put together one of the greatest all-time seasons and are heavy favorites against the Dallas Mavericks. When you see Mavericks vs. Celtics predictions, you will hear two takes more than any others:

"The Celtics have rolled all season and will roll now," or "The Celtics have not been tested in the NBA Playoffs and Luka Doncic may tilt this on his own."

Those cynics miss the beauty of this matchup. A team nearing the end of a seven-year title chase by capping it with an all-time great season should have to go through a monomaniacal singular force looking to cement his legacy in only his sixth season.

Let's get started by looking at the NBA odds for this series.

Mavs vs Celtics odds

Team To win series Win in 4 Win in 5 Win in 6 Win in 7
Mavericks Dallas Mavericks +188 +2,400 +1,300 +500 +750
Celtics Boston Celtics -225 +900 +320 +460 +330

Odds courtesy of FanDuel on 6-2-24.

Before the Conference Finals began, some reports suggested the Boston Celtics would be as high as -330 favorites if they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA Finals (remember, the Timberwolves were -170 favorites when the Western Conference Finals odds first opened).

There was always speculation that such a number would get bet down by Minnesota backers, so Boston sitting as -225 favorites against the Dallas Mavericks is not as shocking as the 31.8% shift in odds suggests on the surface. But then again, the Mavs were the lesser team in power ratings just five games ago.

Look back a round. Dallas was a +144 underdog when the Western Conference Finals odds first opened. Now, the Mavs are only +188 against the Celtics? Even removing what we saw last round, the Timberwolves have always been seen as significantly less than the Celtics, right?

These odds have flattened a bit too much in the last week after Dallas so resoundingly routed Minnesota in five games. Look past the series score and this realization gets underscored. The Mavs did not actually rout the Wolves aside from the Game 5 flop.

Dallas won the first three games by a total of 13 points. An argument can be easily made that a pair of atrocious calls in the final minutes of the fourth quarter of Game 2 cost Minnesota a win. If the Mavs had won that series 4-2 rather than 4-1 — even griping about those two calls does not overshadow the reality that the Wolves were not ready for that moment as a whole — would they be as short as +188 right now?

By the numbers, there is value to be had in Boston (-225 at FanDuel).

Mavs vs Celtics injury updates

Dallas' title hopes were bettered in Game 5 when Dereck Lively II played a genuine 25 minutes after missing Game 4 with a neck strain suffered on an accidental knee to the back of his head two days earlier. The initial injury looked like it could cost Lively the rest of the postseason, not just one game.

Going 3 of 3 for nine points with eight rebounds and three blocks may not sound overwhelming, but Lively now has a full week to recover further before the Finals begin.

Assume Lively is entirely good to go. And he needs to be for Dallas to present enough matchup problems to worry Boston.

The Celtics’ newest counter may be approaching health as well. Kristaps Porzingis has not been on the court since suffering a soleus strain in the first round. By now, any NBA fan knows exactly what the soleus is, given its outsized impact on this postseason with three separate costly moments.

That muscle atop the calf has benched Porzingis for five weeks, but Boston head coach Joe Mazzulla said Porzingis "did everything the team did" in Saturday’s practice. Perhaps it was not an intense practice, but with five more days between that and Game 1, it looks like Porzingis will be healthy for the Finals.

Porzingis’s return is another data point toward trusting Boston to win this series at -225. He creates an excess of offensive and defensive permutations for the Celtics to try to outpace Doncic.

NBA Finals best bet

Now here comes a twist. Anyone who was at Target Center for the first quarter of Game 5 will doff their cap to Luka Doncic’s dominance for the foreseeable future. The Slovenian superstar was playing a different game than the best defense in the NBA.

He hit his first five buckets within the first 4:32, scoring 22 points in the quarter on 9 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 6 from long range, while adding two assists, two rebounds, and a steal. Doncic started the series hampered by various leg injuries. They were clearly no longer slowing him, and now with a full week between games, he should genuinely be 100% for Game 1.

Basketball creates singular superstars in a way other sports do not because one player can singlehandedly win it all. While the namesake may not have actually found a title at Indiana State, yours truly usually calls this the "Larry Bird Effect."

What Doncic showed in that first quarter — on his way to 36 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists on 14 of 22 shooting — should be enough incentive to outright believe in Dallas to spring this upset. That said, the value is not readily apparent at the +188 discussed above.

Let’s instead take the more cautious route, one where the value comes in the safety, and bet on the Mavs to either win this series or push it to seven games via the series spread.

Best bet: Mavericks +1.5 in series (-120 at DraftKings)

Mavs vs Celtics Game 1

Lively’s return may knock down Daniel Gafford’s points prop more than it should. Gafford has unlocked attacks on the rim further than any single running partner in Doncic’s NBA career, including Porzingis.

Boston has not seen anything like it this postseason.

Gafford scored at least 10 points in four of the five games against the Timberwolves, who have better interior defense than the Celtics do, and he has topped this 8.5 points prop in nine of 11 games in the last two rounds.

Porzingis may be healthy, but Doncic will draw him into plenty of pick-and-roll coverages, leaving Gafford available for lobs or offensive rebounds. This points prop should be at least a bucket higher.

Best bet: Daniel Gafford Over 8.5 points (+104 at FanDuel)

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Raising the ceiling: Celtics in elite company

Let’s quickly emphasize a stat brought up last week. Even if the Mavs take the Celtics to seven games, Boston could become just the third team since the NBA went to four rounds of best-of-seven series to win 64 regular-season games and then lose no more than five in the postseason on their way to a title.

Only the 2015 and 2017 Warriors have done such.

At 12-2, Boston could establish itself as one of the greatest modern-era NBA champions if it holds off Luka.

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