After a delay of several days the Eastern Conference Finals got underway Sunday as Boston humiliated Cleveland, 108-83, to take a 1-0 lead over the Cavaliers in their best of seven series.
Game 1 opened as a Pick ‘em but the public bet visiting Cleveland up to as high as a 2-point road favorite before late Celtics money came in; the closing line had the Cavs as pretty much a 1-point favorite. As of mid-morning Monday, the line for Tuesday’s Game 2 was pretty much still at the Opening Line of Pick ‘em.
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was played Monday night but unlike in the Celtics/Cavs series the home team Houston Rockets were a slight 1 to 1.5-point favorite over defending champion Golden State. That line had opened with Houston favored by 2.
It would appear from the lines and the early betting action both series will be battles of the “Pros versus Joes” with the public backing the more pedigreed Cleveland and Golden State and the professionals preferring the underdogs, Boston and Houston.
As expressed last week, the higher seeded teams Boston and Houston were installed as series underdogs despite each having the home court edge for a potential Game 7. Golden State opened a modest -170 favorite over Houston but by mid-Monday morning had been bet up to over -200.
Cleveland had opened -270 over Boston and was bet up to close to -300 prior to Sunday’s Game 1. The adjusted price on Monday had the Cavs still favored, despite their 0-1 deficit, but only as -125 chalk.
Here are some thoughts on how both series may unfold over the next several games.
Boston vs. Cleveland: Boston had little difficulty with Cleveland in Game 1, jumping out to a 36-18 lead after one quarter and the Cavs never got under double digits the rest of the game. The Celtics were able to frustrate LeBron James and rest of the Cavs with James having one of the worst Playoff games of his career. The Celtics displayed an unselfish brand of basketball with virtually everyone on the court getting involved.
It is hard to envision Boston playing any better than they did Sunday or the Cavs playing any worse, but Game 1 showed Boston is a much better team now than the one that lost to Cleveland in five games in last season’s Eastern Finals.
A loss in Tuesday’s Game 2 will make it very tough for Cleveland to make it to a fourth straight NBA Finals as the Cavs would then have to win four of the next five games whereas the Celtics would be halfway there.
It will be tempting for many to bet Cleveland in Game 2 to even the series but the Celtics deserve the respect they were not shown in their previous series in which they were home underdogs to Philadelphia in Games 1 and 2, both of which they won.
Of course Cleveland is a much more experienced team than was Philly, but the point here is the Celtics continue to get a lack of respect rarely given to home teams in Playoff settings when the teams have proven to be fairly comparable.
Rather than take a Side position on Tuesday the preferred play will be on the UNDER (currently 203) with Boston’s defensive advantage likely to control pace to avoid any large scoring spurts by Cleveland. Boston should look to play a patient game, something that often frustrates the Cavs.
Game 3 will not be played until Saturday and should Boston head to Cleveland with a 2-0 lead the Cavs will be overpriced in Game 3, perhaps as high as a 7 point favorite. Rather than backing the Cavs at such a price the preference would be to look OVER the Total as the Cavs will be aggressive in forcing the pace in front of their rabid, but now concerned, home crowd.
It would also likely now have Boston as the favorite to win the series and those bettors who backed the Celts as a high-priced series underdog prior to Game 1 could consider getting a free ride for a guaranteed modest profit by playing the Cavs as underdogs to rally from that 0-2 deficit.
If the series is tied 1-1, the pressure clearly shifts to Boston to get at least a split of the two games in Cleveland against a Cavs team that will have regained its swagger following a Game 2 win. Boston would be the team likely to make the adjustments and that has been a strength of Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Should Boston get at least +6 in a series tied at 1-1 the Celts would be worth a play. If not getting at least +6 then look UNDER the Total as Boston will rely on its defense to keep this game close heading into the final quarter as they’d be seeking to regain the home court advantage with a 2-1 series lead.
Game 4 will be played next Monday and the preferred play will be to back the team that is down 2-1 should that very likely scenario develop. In the highly unlikely case Boston wins the first three games and has a chance to sweep the Cavs, the play would be on Cleveland to avoid the sweep with the better play being to back the Cavs in the first half rather than for the full game.
It’s tough to call for a Boston win in six games as it would mean the Celts would be winning the series on the road. Should there be a Game 7 the Cavs’ experience might be enough to offset the Celtics’ strong home court and the strong history of home teams in Game 7s.
But should Boston return home for Game 5 with a 3-1 lead it would be no surprise if Boston, given that chance, advances to the NBA Finals with a Game 5 win.
Houston vs. Golden State: By the time you are reading this column Monday night’s opening game of the Western Conference Finals will have been played.
As noted earlier, Houston was pretty much a 1 to 1.5-point home favorite against the defending champion Warriors who are now completely healthy with star Steph Curry showing little lingering effects from the injury that had him sidelined for the first round of the Playoffs after missing considerable time at the end of the regular season.
The Rockets defeated the Warriors in two of three regular season meetings, winning at Golden State by a point to open the season and then by eight at home in January, two weeks after the Warriors avenged that Opening Night win with a 10-point home win.
Thus this Playoff series will be the first meeting of the teams in almost four full months. Houston has had the NBA’s best record since virtually that opening win over Golden State. The Rockets have been out to prove their worth all season whereas the Warriors knew they were the team to beat and all but coasted into the Playoffs, secure in their confidence despite finishing second to the Rockets for the top Western seed.
This series has all the makings of the well-known “zig zag” theory, which has the loser of the previous game the wagering play in the next game. This also has the makings of a full seven game series and in such instances I like to back the road team to earn at least a split over the first four games of the series.
Although this series will be revisited in next week’s column the call is for the Rockets to pull the upset and advance to the NBA Finals in six games, which would mean clinching the series on the road.
Good things don’t last forever and the Cavs and Warriors have enjoyed a remarkable stretch of NBA history making it to three straight NBA Finals. In my opinion that streak is predicted to end for one of those teams with a distinct possibility both could fail to advance to a fourth straight Finals.
Should either or both the Cavs and/or Warriors advance it would be a remarkable achievement that, according to the series odds, is still expected to occur.