Starting the week the Eastern Conference Championship matchup was down to a Game 7. The home team had won all 10 prior meetings this season between the Celtics and Wizards – four in the regular season and all six in the Playoffs.
Monday’s winner gets the challenge of dethroning two time defending Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs will be huge favorites over either the Celtics or Wizards to make it to a third straight NBA Finals.
Cleveland took three of four games against Boston in the regular season but was just 1-2-1 ATS in those games. The Cavs won both home games by identical 6 point margins. Those games were played in November and December. Boston’s lone win came at home on March 1 by 4 points.
But in what was considered a showdown for the top seed in the East, one week before the end of the regular season, Cleveland went into Boston and, as 4 point road underdogs, routed the Celtics, 114-91, to temporarily claim the top seed in the East.
Cleveland’s lack of interest in their remaining regular season games allowed the Celtics to earn the top seed in the East but in the Playoffs thus far the Cavs have shown they are clearly the best team in the conference, sweeping all eight games from Indiana and Toronto in their first two Playoff rounds.
Cleveland took two of three regular season meetings with Washington. What is odd about the results is the road team won all three contests. Cleveland won the first two games in Washington, by 11 and 5 points. Washington’s win came in late March, in Cleveland by 12 points. The pointspread did not come into play in any of the three games.
Whether Cleveland plays Boston or Washington we should be treated to an entertaining series that could be high scoring. Of their eight Playoff games to date, six of Cleveland’s games have gone OVER the Total with five of the six doing so by 9 or more points. None of the games went into overtime.
After four of Boston’s six games against Chicago stayed UNDER the Total, four of the first six games with Washington went OVER. Washington’s opening series against Atlanta produced 3 OVERs and 3 UNDERs.
Barring any key injuries – more on that topic in a moment – Cleveland should need no more than six games to get past either the Celtics or Wizards, and a five game triumph would not surprise. The Cavs might be vulnerable in Game 1, scheduled to start on Wednesday, after being idle since their Game 4 clinching of the series against Toronto on May 6. Ten full days of rest, or at least non-competitive basketball, could result in a sloppy early performance and might make the case for taking the road underdog plus the points in the first half of the opening game.
The Warriors, seeking to make the NBA Finals for a third straight season, had been idle for nearly a week. Following their series-clinching win in Game 4 against Utah last Monday, the Warriors had to wait until Sunday for their series against the Spurs to begin as San Antonio’s series against Houston went six games.
Golden State came out rusty and fell behind by 25 points at home in a game in which they were favored by 10 points. Although they never threatened to come close to covering that huge impost the Warriors, down by 20 points at halftime, they rallied to defeat the Spurs, 113-111, to take a one-game-to-none lead in the best of seven series.
Of course, the game seemed to turn when the Spurs’ best player, Kawhi Leonard, re-aggravated the ankle injury that caused him to miss the Game 6 39-point win that clinched the series against the Rockets. When Leonard left in the third quarter and the Spurs were up by 23 points it led to an 18-0 Warriors run that made it a ball game.
Leonard’s status for Tuesday’s Game 2 was uncertain and he was expected to undergo an MRI later on Monday.
The Game 2 line opened within an hour of the conclusion of Game 1 with the Warriors favored by 12.5, and shortly thereafter they were bet up to 13. That opener and upward action suggests the linesmakers and bettors expect Leonard likely would not play on Tuesday or, if he does, he would be limited in his effectiveness.
It’s possible San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich would hold him out to give him extra rest and have him healthier for Games 3 and 4 in San Antonio. There will be added rest between Games 2 and 3 with the teams having three days of rest before the series resumes in San Antonio on Saturday.
The Warriors are not the Rockets but it is worth noting that when it was announced Leonard would miss Game 6 in Houston the line shot up by 3 points and closed with the Rockets as 8.5 or 9 point home chalk. All the Spurs did was run the Rockets off the court to win, 114-75, and advance to face the Warriors.
As is usually the case in Playoffs basketball, betting the games often rests on finding favorable situations that develop as a series unfolds. Certainly this is an approach to take when considering Side plays. Totals are not as reliant on specific situations and may be approached by looking at the preferred tempos of the teams involved.
Teams returning home down 0-2 in a series have often made for profitable wagers and this season that theory has extended to betting the home team in such situations in the first quarter and the first half. The linesmakers have noticed this tendency and have priced those home teams with a first half line that is a greater percentage of the full game line than had been true in the past. It’s not unusual to see a home team down 0-2 favored by 5 points to win the game be favored by 3.5 points in the first half.
San Antonio is still a quality team and won the first two regular season meetings with Golden State by 29 points on the road to open the season on October 25 and at home on March 11 by 22. Golden State won the final regular season meeting by 12 at San Antonio on March 29.
The status of Leonard is a concern but the Spurs would be in a favorable situation at home on Saturday in Game 3 if they lose, as they are expected to do, on Tuesday night. The Spurs are good enough to avoid a sweep, and a win in Game 3 or Game 4 would present a good money line opportunity.
But ultimately expect the Warriors to advance in no more than six games to the NBA Finals and, barring a return home tied at two games apiece, the most likely scenario would be for the Warriors to win in five games to set up the eagerly anticipated and much hyped third straight NBA Finals between Cleveland and Golden State.
By next week we’ll know just how close we are to the rubber match between these two entertaining teams.