Starting the week both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals have seen three games played. In the East, Miami has taken away the home court advantage with a pair of wins in Games 2 and 3 following the Pacers’ impressive win to open the series a week ago this past Sunday.
Indiana played competitively in both games and arguably could have won Game 2 at home but the Heat’s experience down the stretch enabled the two time defending champions to be in position to win the series and advance to the NBA Finals simply by winning the remaining games on its home court.
The second such home game for the Heat will have been played by the time you are reading this. The Heat were 6.5 point favorites to win Monday night’s fourth game and take a 3-1 lead back to Indiana for Game 5. If the Pacers managed to pull off the upset and tie the series at two games apiece the Pacers would have regained the home court edge by making this a best-of-three series with two of the games at home.
In the Western Conference San Antonio defeated Oklahoma City by 17 points in Game 1 and by 35 points in Game 2 with both games played at home. Game 1 was a bit more competitive than the final score might show as this was close late in the third quarter. But Game 2 was every bit as one-sided as the 112-77 score suggests as the Spurs were in control from the opening tip.
Of course OKC was without the services of Serge Ibaka for those first two games in San Antonio. Nursing a calf injury that was initially expected to sideline him for perhaps not just this series but the duration of the Playoffs, Ibaka recovered quickly enough to gain clearance to start, and play, in Sunday night’s Game 3.
San Antonio and Gregg Popovich were intent on ending this series as quickly as possible to give its aging veterans as much rest as possible before the start of what would be a physically grueling NBA Finals regardless of whether the Spurs would face the Heat or the Pacers.
And, indeed, Game 3 unfolded as a very competitive, back and forth contest for the entirety of the first half with OKC leading by 57-53 at recess. OKC led throughout the third quarter, briefly extending its edges to double digits before concluding 36 minutes of play with a 7 point lead.
It was at the start of the fourth quarter that the Thunder began to break the game open, holding the Spurs to just 2 points over the first four and a half minutes of the final quarter to extend an 83-76 lead to 95-78 with seven and a half minutes remaining. OKC ultimately built its lead to 104-84 before the Spurs put up some late points to make the final score appear respectable.
With OKC’s win in Game 3 this is now a series although the Spurs are still the solid favorites to advance.
After underdogs dominated point spread results through the first two rounds of the playoffs, favorites have covered 5 of 6 games in the conference finals, including all 5 games following Indiana’s upset of Miami to open this round.
Still, for the entire playoffs after 78 games, underdogs have gone 48-27-1 ATS (64.0 percent) using the closing LVH line, which shows two other playoff games closed as pick ‘ems.
Also, after OVERs outpaced UNDERs 43-29 in the first two playoff rounds, the conference finals have produced 3 UNDER and 3 OVER through Sunday.
Here’s a look at how both series may play out.
Indiana vs. Miami: Monday’s Game 4 could be the critical matchup of the series as a Miami win sends the Heat to Indiana up 3-1 and a chance to end the series in 5. An Indiana win and this becomes a best-of-three series.
The play in Game 5 depends upon the result of Game 4 as the forecast is for Miami to be up 3-2 after five games and wrap up the series back home in Game 6.
Thus, if Miami won on Monday the Pacers would be the play back home in Game 5, likely as the smallest of underdogs as they were in Games 1 and 2 But an Indiana win on Monday would make Miami the play in Game 5 as the Heat would look to go up 3-2.
Should the series go back to Miami for a sixth game the play would depend on the point spread with Indiana worth a look at +8 or more and the Heat playable at -5 or less. Note that Miami was favored by from 6 to 6.5 points at home in Games 3 and 4.
The UNDER remains the preferred totals play at 184 or higher although, including the regular season, all 3 games in Miami between the Pacers and Heat have gone OVER whereas in Indiana the UNDER is 3-1.
San Antonio vs. OKC: Oklahoma City seeks to even the series at 2 games apiece on Tuesday night after winning on Sunday, such that the home team has now won all three games of this series.
San Antonio remains the pick to win this series in at most 6 games and thus would be playable in both Games 4 and 5 with the stronger play being Game 5 if the Spurs return home tied at two games apiece.
Should OKC win at least one of the next two games to force a Game 6 back in OKC either up 3-2 or down 3-2. San Antonio would be the play in Game 6 if favored by no more than 2 points.
Although Ibaka played 30 minutes in Sunday night’s Game 3, scoring 15 points and snaring 7 boards, he appeared less than 100 percent and might not regain full health during this series. Expect San Antonio to make the necessary adjustments to limit Ibaka’s effectiveness going forward in this series while also devising defensive schemes to limit the productivity of both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
In the event this series does go to a seventh game and the above predictions and strategies have failed miserably the play in Game 7 would still be on San Antonio if laying fewer than 8 points.
When next week’s column is penned we will know at least one of the teams that will play for the NBA Title as a Game 7 between Miami and Indiana would be played Sunday, June 1. Should the Western Finals go 7 games that deciding game would be played Monday, June 2.
Either way, next week’s column will preview the NBA Finals, which begin Thursday, June 5, and will have any number of story lines from which to draw in what should be an exciting conclusion to a most interesting NBA 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]