Bucks-Pacers’ NBA In-Season Tournament semifinal opens at 254.5 points — here’s why we’re betting the over

As soon as NBA fans and bettors knew the Bucks had punched their ticket to face the Pacers in the NBA In-Season Tournament’s semifinals round in Las Vegas, everyone knew the projected total from oddsmakers would be high. Nobody — and we mean nobody — could have anticipated it opening at 254.5 points. And yet, now that the smoke has cleared, we not only understand the sportsbooks’ rationale for this massive over/under projection — we see value in betting the over.

When we talked to John Ewing at BetMGM, he told us that their 254.5-point opening for this game ranks as the highest total for any non-exhibition NBA game in the past 30 years (a fact supported up by Action Network). It’s a number typically only seen in All-Star Games, NBA2K contests in rookie mode, and maybe special events organized by the Harlem Globetrotters. 

So, how did we get here? Beyond that, why in the world are sharps hammering the over on this gargantuan number? Is defense — at least as hoops fans in the demographic from 35-85 years old knows it — going extinct? We’ll answer all those questions and more as we dive into this unprecedented over/under, offering you some betting advice along the way.

Bucks-Pacers’ historic over/under: How we got here

This modern-record of a total always seemed like a distinct possibility — we just failed to think about it much along the way as we adjusted to the format of the inaugural In-Season Tourney. We knew the Pacers were scoring exorbitant amounts of points game in and game out since the season began, led by hyper-efficient superstar point guard Tyrese Haliburton, but we expected Indy to lose to Boston on Monday. We also knew Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, and the Bucks, favored last night to beat the Knicks, were starting to hit a real groove. 

But, again, nobody could have anticipated what happened on Monday and Tuesday in the East. Indiana stunned the Celtics with 74 second-half points en route to a 122-112 upset, the first time a team has reached 120 against Boston’s usually-stout defense this season. Indy shot 19-of-40 from three-point land (47.5%), a hair better than the Celtics shot from the floor, and tallied 28 assists with just six turnovers (Boston had 27 dimes but a whopping 17 turnovers). 

One night later, the Bucks didn’t shock us by beating New York — they shocked us with the manner in which they won. The final score: 146-122. Milwaukee’s scoring by quarter: 37-38-37-34. The Bucks’ shooting efficiency: 55-of-91 from the floor (60.4%) and 23-of-38 from three-point land (60.5%). It marked just the fourth time in the history of the Association that a team made 23 treys while shooting 60 percent or better. The craziest part: Adrian Griffin’s squad only shot 13-of-19 from the free-throw line (68.4%). 

“I thought this was probably our best offensive game,” Lillard said after the game. “What did we score? 146 or something like that? And we left a lot of points on the board too. We missed free throws, we missed some shots in the paint. This could have easily been a 165-point game.”

Dame’s right — it could have been an even wilder ride than it was. New York, a top-10 defense this season, scored pretty damn well itself. All said, the Knicks shot 49.4 percent from the field and racked up 60 points in the paint. Julius Randle, who has struggled mightily against Giannis since 2020-21, erupted for 41 points and seemed like he couldn’t miss in the first half. Jalen Brunson and R.J. Barrett combined for 47 points. However, Tom Thibodeau’s squad just couldn’t keep up with Milwaukee’s blistering pace for four straight quarters.

The only team that could possibly keep up with that kind of a scoring bonanza right now, it seems, is set to face the Bucks on Thursday night. Are you not entertained!? Let’s talk about why the Bucks and Pacers could make history in the penultimate round of the first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament.

Bucks-Pacers’ historic over/under: Why it yields value

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Coming off Indiana’s massive knockout round upset over the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics, the Pacers rank first in the NBA in points per game (128.4) and pace (104.1). Rick Carlisle’s squad leads the NBA in average field goals attempted (94.3), field goals made (47.9), and field-goal percentage (50.9%). They have averaged the fourth-most three-pointers (15.2 per game) and the second-most two-pointers (32.7, on 59.4% shooting). They also average an NBA-best 30.2 assists, while turning the ball over just 12.7 times per game (third-fewest). 

Haliburton has arguably enjoyed the best quarter-season stretch of any point guard in NBA history. Never mind that he’s averaging 27 points, 12 assists, and four rebounds — while just 1.9 free-throw percentage points shy of 50/40/90 shooting splits — he has his Pacers scoring the most points, maintaining the highest efficiency, and racking up the fourth-most wins in the East despite his team playing historically-bad defense. 

You read that right — Indiana has been utterly abysmal on the defensive end of the floor, another fact that favors a high total on Thursday. The Pacers surrender a league-worst 125.2 points per game on 50.2 percent shooting. No squad has allowed more two-point field goals (35.8 per game) or free throws (23.3). They literally have to pace every game in scoring in order to win, because the only elite stopper on this team is overworked center Myles Turner. 

Turner won’t be able to stop the Bucks’ front court trio of Giannis, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis all at the same time, never mind help contain Lillard. And if Khris Middleton and Malik Beasley stay hot, Milwaukee might as well crank up the Macklemore because the ceiling of the Gainbridge Fieldhouse won’t be able to hold ’em. 

Milwaukee has won eight of its past 10 games, likely thanks to a multitude of reasons:

  1. Dame and Giannis have finally adapted to Adrian Griffin’s offensive scheme.
  2. Middleton has finally kicked the rust off after fully recovering from his offseason surgery.
  3. Beasley has developed confidence within this star-studded starting lineup, and he clearly understands his role as the new Grayson Allen of the franchise.
  4. Glue guys Lopez and Portis do whatever is needed whenever it’s needed.

During Milwaukee’s 8-2 stretch, each half of the lethal Dame-Giannis duo has ranked in the top-15 in the NBA in scoring. They have combined for 57.7 points, 16.4 rebounds, and 14.9 assists per game in that 10-game span, during which Giannis has shot 63.9 percent from the floor and Lillard has maintained shootings splits of 47.7/41.5/90.4. 

Tuesday night was a prime example of how potent this superstar duo can be, likening them to Shaq and Kobe comparisons across the Twittersphere. Antetokounmpo went for 35 points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists, while Lillard added 28 points and seven assists with five triples. Milwaukee’s unstoppable offensive force had rendered New York’s immovable defensive object, well, quite movable. 

No hyperbole, people — on Thursday night, we could very well be seeing two of the 10 most lethal offenses of the 21st century matching up to decide who represents the Eastern Conference in the inaugural NBA Cup. It’s a picture-perfect narrative: the best dynamic duo in years — on a quest to restore greatness for their franchise — against an emergent MVP candidate who’s putting up numbers that would make Steve Nash blush. Adam Silver, you magnificent bastard.

We won’t be surprised in the least if the number for this game creeps up closer to 260 than 250 by the end of Wednesday night. We’re getting our bets in now before that happens, but we think you should find comfort in backing the OVER on any number up to 257.5. Once it gets to that level, you’re entering too volatile a zone and should resort to player prop over/unders (we’ll have those for you, as well as our semifinals best bets, on Thursday). 

Long story short, it’s going to be a hell of a show — and more than likely a historic one, at that. It’s up to you if you want to buy a ticket to get on this rollercoaster — just know that it could travel very fast and go really, really high. 

Betting advice: Bet the OVER (254.5) now if you can get to BetMGM before it rises. This total will yield value up to 258, at which point we would fade (translation: do not bet the UNDER). If you can’t get to the books in time to bet OVER the 254-257 range, bet Giannis up to 32.5 points, Dame up to 28.5 points, or Haliburton up to 12.5 assists. Indy can’t stop Giannis and Dame — and Milwaukee might be able to slow down Hali’s scoring with double-teams, but they won’t be able to halt his elite vision and passing ability.

Source : ESPN.com

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