Thursday, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
Free NBA Pick: Celtics ATS
Best Line Offered: BetOnline
The first game of the TNT doubleheader Thursday is a “what could have been’ matchup between the Celtics and Rockets from Houston. This nearly was the pairing for the 2018 NBA Finals.
This writer believes Houston does knock off the Warriors in last season’s Western Conference Finals if Chris Paul doesn’t go down with a hamstring injury late in the Rockets’ Game 5 victory, which gave them a 3-2 series lead. Even without Paul, Houston led Game 7 at home by as much as 15 in the first half before collapsing in a heap of missed 3-pointers.
Boston, meanwhile, had a 2-0 and 3-2 series lead in the East Finals over LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Game 7 was in Beantown and James was largely unstoppable as the Cavs knocked off the Celtics 87-79 – in what would turn out to be LeBron’s last East Finals game. Boston entered that one on 10-game home playoff winning streak.
It’s the first meeting this season between the Celtics and Rockets, with Houston going to Boston on March 3. The teams have split the past three seasons, and the Rockets are on a two-game home winning streak. Last year, both were decided by three of fewer points. James Harden averaged 30 points, 10 assists and 6.5 rebounds but shot just 28.9 percent in the two. Kyrie Irving averaged 22.0 ppg for the Celtics.
Merry Christmas For Both
We will be deprived of a matchup of All-Star point guards between Irving and Paul as the latter is out with yet another hamstring injury. Both teams come off tight Christmas wins over rivals.
Boston was a 121-114 OT home winner over Philadelphia, covering a 5-point NBA spread. Irving tied it late in regulation, and he added six more points in OT to finish with 40. He became the 4th active player with a 40-point game on Christmas Day, joining Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and Harden. Irving also had 10 rebounds for the first 40-10 game of his career. Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris scored 23 apiece for Boston.
Houston won for the seventh time in eight games to get a season-high three over .500 with a 113-109 home win over Oklahoma City, covering as a 1-point dog. Harden had 41 points, seven assists and six rebounds. It was Harden’s seventh straight game with at least 30 points, longest in the NBA this season and second-longest in Rockets history behind Hall of Famer Moses Malone’s 13 in 1981-82. Harden did appear to tweak an ankle in the first quarter but obviously played through it. However, he’s listed as questionable.
Clint Capela was a beast with 16 points and 23 rebounds, while Austin Rivers made his Houston debut and had 10 points off the bench. He’ll get some decent run with Paul out and Eric Gordon now in the starting lineup.
- Celtics are 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games following a straight up win.
- Rockets are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 vs. Eastern Conference.
- Celtics are 4-0 ATS in the last 4 meetings.
Harden will be the best player on the floor Thursday, but the Rockets are SO dependent on him with Paul out. Boston has good defenders in Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown to throw at Harden. The Celtics are vastly deeper. That’s why we like Boston to cover the NBA spread Thursday.