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NBA Game 7 expert picks, odds for Bucks at Celtics, Mavericks at Suns

Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic have been stellar in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. All three enter Game 7s on Sunday. Oh, and the team with the best record in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns, is also fighting for its playoff life. There’s a lot to like about Sunday’s NBA doubleheader.

The BostonMilwaukee series has been back and forth and unpredictable at every step. Boston hasn’t led in the series yet, but that won’t matter if the Celtics win at home. Home teams are just 2-4 in this series though.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix-Dallas series has featured six wins for the home teams. Will Phoenix keep the trend going and make a second straight conference final or will Dallas pull off the upset?

Sunday’s NBA Playoffs schedule:

  • Game 7: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks — 3:30 p.m. ET — ABC
  • Game 7: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns  — 8 p.m. ET — TNT

Every day during the NBA Playoffs, The Athletic’s writers will make their picks, straight up. We put our picks and all series coverage, plus the latest odds, all in one place for fans to easily digest and follow. Game recaps and previews written by Zach Harper and Law Murray. Our in-depth NBA coverage is linked below the picks. For live NBA odds from BetMGM, click here.

Bucks at Celtics

Game 6: Celtics 108, Bucks 95 | Series tied 3-3

Who was the guy? Jayson Tatum. This was a backpack game for Tatum, as he carried his team to a critical win on the road while facing elimination by outdueling reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Tatum took twice as many shots as any of his teammates, and he delivered with a game-high 46 points on a night Antetokounmpo had 44 points and 20 rebounds. For Antetokounmpo, it was the first time a player had at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in a postseason game since Shaquille O’Neal did it in the 2001 Finals. Tatum upstaged all of that, and he got better as the game went on. In the first quarter, Tatum hit three 3s but missed all of his shots inside the arc. Tatum scored nine more points in the second quarter as he began to hit the paint. In the third quarter, Tatum scored 12 points, including a couple of second-chance scoring opportunities as Boston built its largest lead. And Tatum finished it off with 16 fourth-quarter points, scoring at all three levels and the free-throw line to hold off Milwaukee’s comeback attempt.

Key stat: 17-7. That’s the number of 3-pointers both teams made in Game 6, and it’s the second time this series the Celtics made at least 10 more 3s than the Bucks. Tatum made as many 3s by himself on 15 attempts as the Bucks made as a team on 29. This followed a statistically bizarre fourth quarter of Game 5 that saw the Bucks make all six of their 3s as part of a comeback from down 14 in the final period. That same fourth quarter saw the Celtics attempt zero 3s, which was the only fourth quarter by any team all year (regular or postseason) where a team attempted zero 3s. The Celtics amended that shortcoming right away, as the first eight shot attempts of Game 6 were 3s, five of which were made.

What can the Celtics do to win Game 7? The Celtics have lost home-court advantage twice in this series, losing Game 1 because they helped off Antetokounmpo’s shooters too freely while losing Game 5 because they didn’t rebound well as part of Antetokounmpo’s onslaught. The Celtics have been the better team in this series, and while both teams have to deal with a relatively short turnaround for a Sunday afternoon Game 7, Boston will be in front of its crowd. Smart will be the player to watch. The mark of a champion is consistency, and Boston will be trying to end the season of the defending champion, something it did two years ago in the Orlando bubble against the Toronto Raptors in a Game 7. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown combined for seven steals in that game. With how much Game 7s tend to be defensive exhibitions, this should be a spot in which Smart shines. He bounced back in Game 6 on the road, but now he has to go back home and lead by the example that his Defensive Player of the Year award suggests he should.

What can the Bucks do to win Game 7? The Bucks have been here before: On the road for a Game 7 in the semifinals. But unlike last year, the Bucks had momentum from a Game 6 win as well as a healthy Khris Middleton to join Antetokounmpo for an overtime win in Brooklyn to mark the midpoint of Milwaukee’s championship run. Now, Antetokounmpo will likely be without Middleton, and Budenholzer has some lineup questions to consider. At the top of the list is what to do with shooting guard Grayson Allen, who has been utterly ineffective as a starter. Since Game 3, the Bucks have been outscored by 42 points in Allen’s minutes, the worst on the team. Allen is supposed to help most as a shooter, but he has missed 11 of his last 13 3s. I’d suggest Milwaukee start Pat Connaughton, and if Allen doesn’t have it for what will be his first career Game 7, then re-insert Jevon Carter into the rotation.

WriterStraight up pick

Andrew Schlecht

Richard Deitsch

Or Moyal

Sam Vecenie

Dave DuFour

James Edwards III

Cole Huff


Mavericks at Suns

TeamSpreadTotalMoneyline

+200

-6.5

206.5

-250

Game 6: Mavericks 113, Suns 86 | Series tied 3-3

Who was the guy? Luka Dončić. The Dallas Mavericks star was mad after Game 5. He could be seen walking back through the tunnel saying, “Everybody act tough when they up.” He took all of the trash talking and physical stuff from the Phoenix Suns’ side personally. All of that pressure was on him to deliver in Game 6 and force a Game 7 to extend the Mavs’ season. He did just that. He was a menace out there. He was a bully. He was better than everybody on the floor. He challenged every single defender. He finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and four steals with just one turnover.

What was the key here? Dončić and Jalen Brunson showed up as a duo. Devin Booker and Chris Paul didn’t. Booker tried to get going, but CP3 was passive. They got a good game out of Deandre Ayton, but the Suns need their two main stars to set the tone in these games. Dončić and Brunson had no trouble doing so. Dončić continued to dominate his matchups. Brunson continued to look like Kevin McHale whenever he got a guard into the paint. Your main guys have to step up and allow the complementary players to round things out. Dallas got that; Phoenix didn’t.

What can the Suns do to win Game 7? Turn up the defense to keep the rest of the Mavs from hurting them. Find Paul and ask if he’d like to rejoin the team. Ask if the role players would like to knock down some outside shots. Dominate the boards against a team that doesn’t have nearly the size you do. And, overall, protect the ball while protecting home court and the season you had to end up with the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs.

What can the Mavs do to win Game 7? The defense and outside shooting have to travel to Phoenix. If they can keep up with the Suns in that respect and make it competitive throughout, then they put the ball in Luka’s hands at the end of the game to give them a chance to return to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011 when they won the title. Keep the turnovers low, keep the 3-pointers wet and give Luka a chance to do something special. A Luka Special, if you will.

WriterStraight up pick

Andrew Schlecht

Richard Deitsch

Or Moyal

Sam Vecenie

Dave DuFour

James Edwards III

Cole Huff


More NBA Playoffs coverage: News | Podcasts | Odds

(Photo of Luka Doncic and Chris Paul: Ron Jenkins / Getty Images)

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