Caesars installed the Nets as -135 favorites to win the series, shortly after Brooklyn beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA play-in tournament. The Celtics opened at +115 underdogs but those prices wouldn't last long.
Oddsmakers at other sportsbooks were confused by Caesars' early numbers and instead made the Celtics the favorites. Boston opened as high as a -150 favorite at the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, with the Nets +130 underdogs. Savvy bettors smelled opportunity.
It's often a cliché in the betting community, but for roughly two hours Tuesday, from 9:45 p.m. ET until around midnight, there was indeed free money to be had. At Caesars, bets poured in on the Celtics at plus-money, while at the SuperBook and other shops that had opened with Boston as the favorite, bettors pounded the Nets at plus-money. If you bet $1,000 on the Celtics at +115 at Caesars and $1,000 on the Nets at +130 at the SuperBook, you locked in a minimum of $150 profit, for example. [Editor's note: ESPN has a partnership with Caesars Sportsbook.]
By midnight, the odds at Caesars had moved considerably toward Boston. On Wednesday morning, after the initial flurry of action on the Celtics had subsided, the sportsbook reported that 98% of the money that had been wagered on the series was on Boston. On the other hand, at the SuperBook, 95% of the money that had been wagered on the series was on the Nets.
The market has settled with the Celtics as consensus -145 favorites. Boston is a 4-point favorite over the Nets in Game 1 on Sunday.
According to Craig Mucklow, vice president of trading for Caesars Sportsbook, the decision to open the Nets as the favorite was caused by a disagreement among the odds-making team.
"We dipped our toe in the water with the belief that the Game 1 line would not be a representative line for the rest of the series and made the Brooklyn Nets a small favorite," Mucklow wrote in an email to ESPN. "The money naturally came in for Boston and moved our odds down accordingly."
Mucklow added the first bets on Boston were from "players we respect, nothing significant size-wise, just very shrewd judges that we moved for."
Jeff Sherman, a vice president of risk management who oversees NBA odds for the SuperBook, said he opened the Celtics as -150 favorites in the series based in part on the Game 1 point spread of Boston -4 and the implied probability that line represented. Sherman pointed to the series price and Game 1 point spread on the Toronto Raptors-Philadelphia 76ers as an example of how he calculated his opening numbers. The 76ers, who are 4.5-point favorites over Toronto in Game 1, opened as around -175 favorites to win the series.
"It's just been one-way traffic [on Brooklyn], because of the differences in the marketplace," Sherman said of the early action on the Nets-Celtics series.
NBA playoff series prices
[via Caesars Sportsbook; as of Thursday]
Brooklyn Nets (+125) vs. Boston Celtics (-145)
Minnesota Timberwolves (+310) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (-400)
Denver Nuggets (+200) vs. Golden State Warriors (-240)
Utah Jazz (-320) vs. Dallas Mavericks (+250)
Toronto Raptors(+160) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (-190)
Chicago Bulls (+700) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (-1,100)