LeBron James’ historic back-to-back NBA Finals games

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This may not have started out as the best played, most artistic NBA Finals of all time but it certainly has started out as one of the most dramatic.

In fact, this NBA Finals between Golden State and Cleveland has been the first in history in which the first two games have gone to overtime.

As such, either team could just as easily be up 2-0 as down 0-2. Of course, the teams split the two games at Golden State and head to Cleveland for Tuesday’s Game 3 tied at one game apiece.

In watching how both games unfolded, it can be argued that Cleveland could, or perhaps should, be up 2-0. The Cavs had double digit leads in both games and led for much of both contests. In last Thursday’s opener the Cavs were outscored 10-0 in overtime before getting the game’s final bucket in a 108-100 Golden State win. On Sunday night the Cavs won the overtime session 8-6 to square the series.

Both games were UNDER the total at the end of four quarters of play with the opening game ending up OVER the total but Game 2 staying UNDER even after 5 minutes of overtime play.

Of course the biggest story has been the season-ending injury to Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving that occurred during overtime in Game 1. A busted kneecap will sideline Irving for perhaps four months.

Irving’s loss, combined with the injury of Kevin Love at the end of Cleveland’s opening playoff series against Boston, leaves the Cavs without 40 percent of their starting lineup. That loss of talent is almost impossible to overcome, even more so against a healthy opponent as is the status of the Warriors.

That makes the performance of Cleveland – on the road – in Game 2 even more impressive. And it further validates LeBron James’ status among the elite players ever to suit it up in the NBA. Despite being the focus of the Warriors on every trip up and down the court, James recorded his fifth triple double in an NBA Finals and his thirteenth triple double overall in the playoffs.

Whether James and his Cavalier teammates can ride the momentum of that Game 2 win and make this a competitive series, much less win the NBA Title while so shorthanded, is debatable. But on the chance the Cavs pull the upset and win the NBA Championship such an accomplishment would elevate James even more in the discussion of “greatest player ever” even though he still has several seasons of high level play ahead of him, barring injury.

The oddsmakers certainly like Cleveland’s chances to remain competitive in this series. Minutes after Game 2 ended Cleveland was made a 1-point home favorite for Tuesday’s Game 3 with the total opening at 195.

Cleveland deserves a lot of credit for playing as well as they did in those first two road games where the hosts had lost just twice during the regular season and once more in the playoffs prior to Game 2. Last week the call in this column was for Cleveland to win the title in 6. That was, of course, before the injury to Irving.

Prior to Game 2 the Cavs’ adjusted odds to win the NBA Title were in the neighborhood of 6-1. Following Cleveland’s win to tie the series the price was adjusted significantly downward to slightly below where they opened before Game 1, in the vicinity of 2-1. If you happened to make a futures play on Cleveland taking more than 2-1 you now have the opportunity to create a modest middle by shopping around and laying slightly less than 2-1 with the Warriors.

In looking at the next few games in this series it is reasonable to expect the Warriors to play much more aggressively than they did in either of the first two games, especially in the opening quarter. The Warriors have appeared tentative at times, which is uncharacteristic of their regular season play.

Cleveland’s play in the first two games of this series, and especially the Game 2 win, should have gotten the Warriors’ attention. Cleveland gets plenty of credit for playing great defense. Perhaps the pressure of being expected to win has gotten to Golden State? That should change now that this is a best of five series with Cleveland having the extra home game.

Golden State showed its ability in rallying late in both of the first two games, briefly showing signs of their ability to dominate in spurts.

Expect Golden State to win at least one of the two games in Cleveland and quite possibly both, heading back to Golden State for next Sunday’s Game 5 up 3-1 with a chance to clinch the Title. The Cavs will have great difficulty in compensating for the losses of both Love and Irving and it may just be a matter of Golden State making a few adjustments and looking to force the pace before they ultimately prevail.

It’s a shame Irving is out as this had the makings of a great series. But the reality is the Warriors were the better team at the start of the series and are deeper and healthier with Love and Irving gone. As stated at the outset, if Cleveland somehow manages to win this NBA Title LeBron James’ legacy might be sealed – with plenty of career still to be played.

Despite the OVER in Game 1 that resulted from overtime, Golden State has still played many more UNDERS (13) than OVERS (4). Cleveland’s results have been more balanced but the Cavs have still played more UNDERS (9) than OVERS (7).

It would not be surprising if we see at least one of the games in Cleveland go OVER the total, largely due to Golden State trying to force the pace in an attempt to exploit Cleveland’s lack of depth. The total for Game 3, as noted above, opened 195. That compares to the closing totals in both Game 1 (203.5) and Game 2 (199.5).

The 195 represents a significant adjustment and the long time contrarian principle might be at work here. With the markets expecting another low scoring game that stays UNDER the total, the “value” may be in going the other way and looking to play the OVER.

Should either team sweep the next three games the NBA season will have ended by the time next week’s issue is published. But in the more likely scenario of one team ahead 3-2 after next Sunday’s Game 5 thoughts on the balance of the series will be presented next week.

Let’s all hope there are no more major injuries to take away from what has been an entertaining start to the end of this season.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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