The first two games of the NBA Finals are history, and to perhaps all but the most diehard of Cleveland Cavaliers fans the ultimate result appears to be a foregone conclusion – the Golden State Warriors are mere days away from claiming the NBA Championship.
Their Game 1, 22-point rout of the Cavs was followed by another impressive 19-point win that was only slightly more competitive. The Finals have given us a low scoring game to open the series (204 total points) and a very high scoring one (245).
Golden State closed as roughly a 5 to 2 favorite to win the Finals prior to the start of Game 1 and they have thus far justified that level of favoritism with their play to open the best of seven series.
The Warriors won the first two games last season, also at home, and also by lopsided scores of 104-89 and 110-77, only to get themselves routed in Cleveland 120-90 to, at the time, at least make the series interesting. After the Warriors bounced back with a win in Game 4 to head back home with a 3-1 lead over Cleveland, similar thoughts to those being expressed after Sunday’s Game 2 win were being shouted.
Of course we all know what happened next. Draymond Green’s antics had a clear impact on the Warriors who proceeded to lose Game 5 at home by 15 points, Game 6 in Cleveland by 14 and then lost their third straight game and a rare Game 7 loss by a home team, 93-89, allowing Cleveland to claim its first major professional sports championship in more than a half century.
After losing the first two games of last season’s NBA Finals the Cavs returned home and were 2-point home favorites for Game 3.
Prior to the start of the Finals several sportsbooks offered advance lines for the first game in Cleveland, Game 3. The initial line had the Cavs a 2-point favorite, reflecting a 9-point swing from the Game 1 line in which Golden State was a 7-point home favorite, and right in line with the number by which the Cavs were favored in Game 3 last season, even before knowing the results of this season’s first two games.
Following Golden State’s Game 2 win on Sunday the Warriors opened as 2-point road favorites, a 4-point adjustment from just a few days earlier and a line that was not a head scratcher to most people who saw the first two games of this series.
Many power ratings and other more sophisticated analytical models will suggest the line is out of line and the initial pre-series line of Cleveland -2 was still valid. Those who support that line of thinking will point back to what happened in last season’s Finals in Game 3 following those big Golden State home wins to open the series.
Certainly there are solid arguments to be made for taking the Cavs in Game 3, not just plus the bucket but on the money-line as well.
All Golden State has done has been to hold serve, as they did last season when they won the first two games at home by a combined margin of 48 points. This season’s first two wins were by a slightly smaller combined margin of 41 points and have been equally impressive.
But this Warriors team is different.
Of all the comings and goings during last off-season by far the most impactful personnel move was Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City in free agency and signing with the Warriors. He made a great team stronger and his impact was felt throughout this past season both by his presence and by his extended absence due to injury.
Golden State is now 14-0 in Playoffs, going 10-4 ATS, including covers, in winning their first two games of the NBA Finals against Cleveland. Twelve of the 14 wins have been by double digit margins. Five of the wins have been by more than 20 points.
Dating back to the regular season, the Warriors have lost just once since they suffered a three-game losing streak in early March. Since March 14, beginning with a 2-point home win over lowly Philadelphia, Golden has gone 28-1 SU and 21-7-2 ATS. Ignoring the pushes, that’s 75% ATS over nearly the final third of a season that, to date, contains 96 games, of which the Warriors have won 81.
Truly remarkable, and if you have been riding the Golden State gravy train over the final month of the regular season or just in the playoffs there is absolutely no reason to disembark that train right now.
If you’ve been picking and choosing your spots you might want to take a pass on Game 3 and use that game’s results for a potential play in Game 4, and possibly beyond.
The Warriors seem deeply intent on fashioning the first ever perfect 16-0 run through the Playoffs. With Sunday’s Game 2 win they are two wins away from accomplishing that goal and winning their second NBA Title in three seasons, while at the same time denying defending champion Cleveland back-to-back titles.
Should the Warriors win Game 3 Wednesday night and be within a game of accomplishing their 16-0 mission it would be reasonable to back them to do so in Game 4 on Friday.
But should the Cavs pull to within a game of tying the series with a Game 3 win, the play in Game 4 would be to back Cleveland to tie it up and make the Finals a best-of-three. Psychological factors could be at work once (or if) the Warriors fall short of their goal to go through the Playoffs undefeated and have a carryover effect to their next game that would also be on the road.
Should this scenario unfold and the series is tied at two games apiece following Cleveland wins in both Games 3 and 4, the momentum will have shifted from the Warriors to the Cavs. But the Warriors remain the better team and, barring significant injuries (or suspensions), would be expected to win the next two games and wrap up the Finals with a win in Game 6 in Cleveland.
Such a result would mark the third straight season in which the NBA Finals were clinched on the road with all three being between these two outstanding basketball teams.
Andy Iskoe and his Logical Approach provide popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long-time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]