NBA weekend best bets: Booker, Suns to bounce back in Game 7 vs. Mavs
Neither of our NBA picks against the spread cashed Thursday, as the 76ers and Suns both folded in crucial Game 6 spots. Can we do better with a pair of Game 6s on Friday and the postseason's first Game 7 on Sunday?
Here are our best bets heading into the weekend:
Celtics @ Bucks (-1.5, 212.5)
May 13, 7:30 p.m. ET
This series has been arguably the most compelling of the second round and perhaps the entire postseason, as the team with its back against the wall emerged victorious in each of the first five contests. Can the Celtics keep that streak alive in a must-win Game 6?
Wednesday's 110-107 loss to the Bucks was a back-breaker for Boston's chances to win the series, but its 14-point lead in the fourth quarter shouldn't be overlooked. Yes, the Celtics let that slip, but they controlled the game for three-and-a-half quarters after recording two convincing wins and a two-point loss.
There were other encouraging signs in that Game 5 loss. The C's shot better from the field, had fewer turnovers, and outscored Milwaukee in the paint, but the Bucks got hot from deep - especially in the final few minutes - and finally saw an efficient game from Giannis Antetokounmpo (40 points), whose 59.3% shooting mark Wednesday was his highest of the entire series.
Defensive anchor Robert Williams (knee) is still uncertain for Friday's tilt; his return would be crucial toward limiting the two-time MVP in a do-or-die spot. So would another strong showing from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who combined for 54 points in Game 5 - their most in a loss this postseason. Boston is 7-1 ATS in its last eight underdog spots and in prime position to force a Game 7 on home court.
Pick: Celtics +1
Grizzlies @ Warriors (-8, 219)
May 13, 10 p.m.
Who in the world saw that coming? After falling behind 3-1 and losing Ja Morant for likely the entire postseason, the Grizzlies rallied in Game 5 with a truly shocking 39-point win over the Warriors - leading by as many as 55 points before easing up in the fourth quarter.
There have only been eight instances of a playoff team winning by 39 or more points in a non-closeout spot - four of them won the next game outright, and just one lost the following game by more than three points. Only the 2008-09 Nuggets led by 55 or more points, and they won the encore by 21 points.
That's the backdrop for Friday's Game 6 in San Francisco, where the Grizzlies lost both of their previous games - one by 30 points, the next by just three. It's hard to draw too much from the final box score of Wednesday's rout, but Memphis' defense - which forced 22 turnovers and held Golden State to just five second-chance points - tracks with how this group looked in the regular season sans Morant.
This team isn't better without Morant, per se, but it's certainly better defensively, and that may prove to be the difference in the rest of this series. If Golden State's shooters go off, it almost doesn't matter what the point spread is. But if they don't? I'd expect the Grizzlies to keep this one close until the final horn behind tenacious perimeter defense and a massive size advantage.
Pick: Grizzlies +8
Mavericks @ Suns (-6, 208)
May 15, TBD
The home team won each of the first six games in this series, often convincingly, so that alone hints at what's to come for the Suns in a crucial Game 7. But it's fair to ask: What the heck happened in Game 6?
Phoenix's defense wasn't all that bad, holding Luka Doncic (33 points) and Jalen Brunson (18) below 50% from the field and a combined 2-of-11 from deep. Instead, the Mavericks' supporting cast got hot from deep - as role players are wont to do at home - and got to the line an eye-popping 36 times, further limiting the effectiveness of stout defenders Chris Paul (5 fouls) and Jae Crowder (5).
The Suns also couldn't get anything going offensively. Paul had just 13 points and four assists in one of his worst showings of the postseason, Devin Booker (19 points) finished with zero made 3-pointers for just the fifth time all year and fifth time in his postseason career, and the Suns finished with a season-low six made triples and a season-high 22 turnovers.
While Paul's recent struggles are a concern, there's little reason to think Phoenix's offense will fall apart so dramatically for a second straight game, especially in front of its home crowd. The same goes for Booker, who scored a combined 63 points on 50% shooting in his previous two games. And while it was overlooked in a blowout loss, Deandre Ayton (21 points, 11 rebounds) continues to pose a serious problem for Dallas inside.
Each of the first six games in this series were decided by seven or more points, and the Suns have covered all three of their home games - including a 30-point win the last time these two faced off in the desert. I don't expect this one to be so lopsided, but Phoenix should still take care of business.
Pick: Suns -6