Two games into their NBA Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Brooklyn Nets, the Milwaukee Bucks have their backs against the wall. They’re down 0-2, having been wiped out in a stunning 39-point defeat in Game 2. Yet, a look at the betting line sees the Bucks favored over the Nets for Game 3.
Many bettors can’t believe their eyes when they see this line. Two games in, two easy wins for the Nets. And they’ve done it without James Harden, possibly lost for the series with a hamstring injury.
Why should anything different be expected going forward? Is there any reason not to bet Nets in Game 3?
How the Nets have dominated the Bucks
In the first quarter of Game 1, things got off to a fantastic start for the Bucks. They jumped out to a 20-11 lead, and it didn’t look like a fluke. They converted multiple dunks and layups in the halfcourt as a Nets defense that ranked 19th in the league at 110.6 DefRtg looked the part.
Then, Brooklyn’s shot-making took over and the Bucks went cold. Everyone knows how strong the Nets offense was — it led the league at 116.3 OffRtg — but it’s been their defense strangling the Bucks.
Through two games, the Bucks have managed an abhorrent 97 points per 100 possessions. That’s a country mile behind the league-worst Thunder, who spent half of the season actively hunting losses.
While Giannis Antetokounmpo has had his moments, costars Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday have looked overmatched and out of rhythm. They’ve shot a combined 26-for-72 (36.1%), with a decent chunk of those makes coming after the team got down huge in Game 2.
Of course, some stellar shot-making by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving has helped on the other end. Durant has been absolutely on fire so far, shooting 50% from deep in the playoffs despite most of those being contested looks.
The Brooklyn role players have also vastly outplayed their Milwaukee counterparts. While guys like Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton don’t look like they belong anywhere near a playoff court, the likes of Mike James and Joe Harris have been key contributors. Seemingly every time a help defender strays into the path of Durant or Irving, someone hits a 3 in short order.
Add it all up and analytics site Cleaning the Glass has Brooklyn +44 in non-garbage minutes thus far.
Why are the Bucks Favored Over the Nets?
So, the Nets have trampled over the Bucks to an amazing degree through two games despite missing a key star to injury.
Despite that, the Bucks have been installed as favorites for Game 3. You can bet them while the Nets can be found at .
Before you rush off to put the mortgage on the Nets, keep a few things in mind.
- First, the betting market has historically priced in a “bounce back” factor into NBA playoff lines for teams coming off a loss. A phenomenon known as “zigzag theory” has likely become priced into most of the lines at this point, with a reduced price usually offered for the last game’s loser. Look no further than Game 2, with the Bucks actually closing as favorites after being around +3.5 in Game 1. Call it increased urgency for the trailing team or the human nature to let up even a small amount with a lead. Whatever causes it, it’s something to consider.
- Second, the Bucks looked quite strong against the Nets in the regular season. Funnily enough, each of those three games saw the Nets compete with two of their superstars in and one sitting out. The Bucks went 2-1, winning both home games, with a +7 overall scoring margin. Their loss came by a mere two points on the road.
- Finally, the Bucks have played far better in terms of process than results thus far. Proprietary data from ShotQuality actually had the Bucks outperforming the Nets in Game 1, with 127.49 expected points to 123.52. That might not shock those who watched the Nets role players sizzle from downtown while the Bucks stars fumbled their way to missed free throws and layups.
Far more shocking is what ShotQuality’s numbers say about Game 2. While the numbers still favored the Nets, the 107.08-99.64 “expected” score doesn’t look like anything like the whitewash that adorned your TV on Monday.
Nets remain huge series favorites
Making this series competitive still remains a tall task. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Nets a whopping -530 favorite to advance. History shows why — more than 93% of teams to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA playoffs have advanced.
Still, the market viewed this series as fairly closely matched before Game 1. Two poor games from the Bucks don’t necessarily mean that isn’t still the case.
Middleton and Holiday have multiple seasons of All-Star-caliber play under their belts. They shouldn’t keep bricking layups and open 3s. The Bucks ranked sixth in NBA in OffRtg with 114.7 points per 100 possessions. They shouldn’t keep scoring like a G League team thrown into the NBA playoffs.
The market expects the Bucks to play closer to their true talent level going forward. They have two days off to regroup and adjust before Game 3. It may look crazy that the Bucks are favored over the Nets. But they’re playing for their season at home, so they should produce a far better effort on Thursday.