Ben Simmons is not coming to the rescue tonight for the Brooklyn Nets. He awoke with an aching back Sunday, and the team has already ruled him out of Game 4 of their NBA playoff series against Boston tonight.
So who, if anyone, will rescue them?
Will it be Kyrie Irving, who is hungry as you are reading this Monday because it is the month of Ramadan? Irving fasts until sundown, which does not come tonight until 7:46 p.m., which is about six minutes after Game 4 of the series the Nets trail 0-3 tips off. Coach Steve Nash noted Sunday that just playing a friendly game of tennis on an empty stomach can leave him completely drained, and tennis is nothing compared to an NBA playoff game.
Will it be Kevin Durant, who is a shell of the player who dominated the Olympics last season and was instrumental in Brooklyn going seven games against the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals?
Durant scored only 16 points in Game 3, his third-lowest scoring output of the regular season and the postseason combined as he attempted only 11 shots in 46 minutes. Irving was held to 16 points as he missed all seven of his 3-point attempts and went 6-for-17 from the field in a 109-103 loss.
Nobody’s plight is more dire than that of the Nets, yet they are still 1-point favorites tonight against a Celtics team that has dominated them defensively and could quite possibly have put the jobs of Nash and general manager Steve Nash in jeopardy after what will do down as an abject failure of a season if a sweep is completed tonight. No other team has a goose egg in the victory column after eight days of playoff basketball, and the buzz around America today has been about rookie Jose Alvarado of the New Orleans Pelicans and the job he and his teammates did last night in evening their series against the Phoenix Suns at two games apiece.
At least the Nets’ stars have company in the doldrums category. Trae Young is back in action Tuesday night and will be fighting for his playoff life, too, after scoring just 9 points Sunday in a lopsided loss to the Miami Heat that left the Atlanta Hawks in a 3-1 hole. The Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets are one loss from elimination, too, as the playoffs are looking a heck of a lot more compelling in the West over the rest of this week than they will be in the East.
Unless, of course, the Nets win tonight and the Bulls and Hawks win tomorrow. Brooklyn needs to try to become the first team in NBA history in 144 tries to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series, and the Bulls and Hawks will try to become the 14th team in league history to come back from being down 3-1. The Denver Nuggets did it twice two seasons ago, so it is not impossible. But anyone who has watched the way the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Celtics have dominated their series would say with quite a bit of certainty that only a fool would wager on those possibilities.
Well, gambling is a fool’s game unless you are the house, or unless you are one of the folks who can see clearly into the future and make a living off your quick wit. It is not necessary to find longshots that will hit in order to make a profit in the gambling game, but those types of bets can wipe away a whole bunch of bad days if the timing is absolutely perfect.
The trick tonight will be figuring out whether anyone can play with the drive and determination that the Pelicans displayed last night in New Orleans in tying their series against the top-seeded Suns. For a team that began the season 1-12 and entered the play-in tournament as the 10th seed, they are showing a level of talent combined with moxie that is refreshing. Can it last? Well, their title odds are now 120-1, which are shorter than the Raptors (400-1), Nuggets (500-1), Bulls and Hawks (600-1), while Golden State has emerged at the +280 favorite.
So let’s run down tonight’s tripleheader and look at a few of the wagering opportunities that are presenting themselves. The only teams playing tonight that are guaranteed to be playing Thursday night are the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz as that series is tied at two games apiece.
Boston at Brooklyn, 7 p.m. EDT: The Nets are favored by a single point against a team that they have lost to by 1, 7 and 6 points thus far. There is an old NBA truism that every season there is one playoff series that is decided in Game 1. And when Jayson Tatum won Game 1 with a layup at the buzzer as the Nets blew the defensive coverage, maybe we all should have decided that Celtics in 4 was the best bet out there. Still, the Nuggets were able to fight off elimination and survive Sunday despite a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Warriors, and perhaps the Nets were watching and will use it for inspiration. Then again, they were only 20-21 at home this season, which in hindsight should have been a strong tell that they just are not all that good following a season that included a knee injury to Durant, a vaccination ban for Irving and a trade that sent James Harden to Philly for damaged goods along with two players, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, that Nash has failed to get the most out of with his curious coaching rotations. Drummond played only 16 minutes in Game 3, 24 in Game 2 and 17 in Game 1 as Nash allowed counterpart Ime Udoka to dictate the matchups, and the lesser Curry has logged heavy minutes while averaging only 11.7 points as the starting 2-guard.
On the Boston side, Jayson Tatum has been the best player in the series and is coming off a 39-point outing in Game 3, and his point total over/under of 31 ½ tonight is three points higher than Durant’s and five points higher than Irving’s. Jaylen Brown has been the second-best player in the series with an average of 22.7 points and has a point total over/under of 24 ½ tonight. Tatum is coming off a game in which he had six steals yet he has a steals over/under of 1 ½ that you may want to play if you believe Boston’s league-leading defense will confound the Nets to such an extent that Celtics fans who are making the trip to Brooklyn will be celebrating even harder at the end of tonight’s game as they were Saturday night.
Toronto at Philadelphia, 8 p.m. EDT: Can Nick Nurse coax another back-from-the-dead victory out of the Raptors, who were outclassed in the first three games but stayed alive Saturday with a 110-102 victory while losing Fred Van Vleet to a hip flexor. Van Vleet is questionable tonight, which is one of the reasons why Toronto is the night’s biggest underdog and has a +270 moneyline that is going to be very tempting to all of the gamblers in Ontario who have been wagering away over the past three weeks since sports gambling became legal in that Canadian province. This should be a close-out game for the Sixers, who also held a 3-0 lead a year ago over Washington and lost Game 4 on the road before winning by 17 in Game 5 and moving on to the second round, where they were eliminated by Atlanta.
Joel Embiid is coming off his worst game of the series with 19 points on 5-for-15 shooting, and his point total over/under of 28 ½ is 2 ½ points higher than his average for the series. He has torn ligaments in his right (shooting) thumb that will eventually require surgery, and tonight will be the second time we will see how it impacts his offensive game. “It’s going to be something he’s going to have to deal with throughout the playoffs from this point on,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s not going to go away. He’ll get better and better at figuring out how to use it.” The over/under in this one is the lowest of the night at 209 ½, and BetMGM reported this morning that 83 percent of the action and an incredible 90 percent of the handle has been coming in on the over, and that is a percentage that you almost never see. The player on the spot for Philly if Embiid is hampered by his injury is James Harden, who has been relatively quiet in this series by his standards and has been averaging just 19.3 points, down 10.3 points per game from what he was producing for the Houston Rockets two seasons ago. His 9.8 assists in these playoffs mark a career-high, but his shooting percentage of 37.5 is a career low over 13 postseasons. His point total over/under is 21 ½, which he would figure to blow past if Embiid is struggling with his injury and the Sixers need a second scorer not named Tyrese Maxey. No prop bets were posted this morning for Van Vleet or for Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, who could very well return to the starting five.
Utah at Dallas, 9:30 p.m. EDT: The under hit by 15 ½ points after it was bumped up from 207 ½ to 214 ½ between Games 3 and 4, and the Jazz’s 100-99 victory in Rudy Gobert’s first solid game of the series gave us a 2-2 tie and spoiled Luka Doncic’s return for the Mavs. This will be Luka’s first home playoff game of the postseason, and it is worth noting that he has never won a playoff game in Dallas, going 0-3 at home a year ago against the Clippers and failing to make the postseason in his rookie year. (He had a 2-4 record against the Clippers in the bubble two seasons ago). So, yeah, he’s due for something to make the folks in Dallas go home happy. In his three playoff home games last season he scored 29, 19 and 44, and the losses were all decisive (by at least seven points). He is still getting his wind back after missing three games with a strained left calf. The Jazz double-teamed him on the final possession of Game 4, forcing him to pass to Spencer Dinwiddie for a 3-pointer that was off-target. It should also be noted that if Dwight Powell had not missed a pair of free throws with 19.8 seconds left, the Mavs would not have been in that situation.
The line for tonight is Dallas minus 3, and Doncic’s rebounds and assists totals have been set relatively low: 8 ½ (boards) and 7 1/2 (dimes). It has now been 27 days since Doncic had a triple-double, and prior to that he did not have one since Feb. 6. Doncic was tied for fourth in the NBA with 10 triple-doubles this season, and his TD prop bet odds of +525 are especially enticing if you believe he will get off the zero-win schneid tonight in a pivotal Game 5. Doncic produced stat lines of 35-16-7 and 32-10-5 in a pair of regular season home wins against the Jazz.
For Utah, nobody has been a consistent offensive producer aside from Donovan Mitchell, whose points dropoff from Game 3 to Game 4 (32 to 23) was offset by Gobert removing himself from the milk carton material list. The 17-point, 15-rebound double-double was his first of the series, and the line on him doing it again is -320 yes and +220 no, which is quizzical because ‘no’ has hit three out of four times. Also interesting: Jordan Clarkson’s over/under assist total is 1 ½ after he goose egged last game while also scoring a team-high 25 points in 36 minutes. Clarkson has been under 2 assists 11 other times since the All-Star break. Starting point guard Mike Conley has an assists over/under of 4 ½ after producing just six points and four assists in Game 4. Dallas, which is favored by 3, has gone 17-11-2 against the spread as a home favorite.