Although I wish the results had occurred in reverse order, the NBA Finals between Golden State and Toronto has become a best of five series.
After Toronto won the opener at home last Thursday, 118-109, the Warriors rallied in the second half of Sunday’s second game to defeat the Raptors 109-104, sending the series to the west coast tied at a game apiece for Games 3 and 4 which will be played this Wednesday and Friday.
With their win in Game 2 the Warriors claimed the home court advantage as they would need only to win the next two games at home and a potential Game 6 at home to claim a third straight NBA Title.
The first two games have been marked by spurts, droughts, rusty play and injuries. Toronto controlled most of the opening game, opening up and then extending a 10-point halftime lead, allowing the Warriors to get as close as two points early in the fourth quarter.
In Game 2, the Warriors scored the final two points of the first half to trail by five at intermission and then began the third quarter outscoring the Raptors 18-0 to build a 13-point lead. Toronto rallied before Andre Iguodala hit a wide open three pointer with 5.9 seconds left for the final points of the game.
Playing for more than a month without Kevin Durant (winner of the NBA Finals MVP Award the past two seasons) Golden State’s Klay Thompson suffered a hamstring injury early in the fourth quarter that caused him to miss much of that final quarter. He is officially listed as questionable as of Tuesday morning but is expected to play. Iguodala and Kevon Looney are also nursing injuries while DeMarcus Cousins, who had missed all but 30 games in the regular season and all but the first two games of the playoffs, returned off the bench in the series opener before starting and playing 28 minutes in Game Two.
Looney’s injury was more serious than initially thought and he’s sidelined for the series with a broken collarbone. He had averaged 20 minutes per game off the bench in 18 playoff games.
Durant’s return is still uncertain although there are indications he will be cleared to practice and might see action as early as in Game Four with Game Five considered a more realistic possibility.
For Wednesday’s Game 3, Golden State opened as a five-point home favorite and was bet up to -6 where it sat as of mid-morning Tuesday. The Total opened 213 and was jumping between that number and 212.5 at books both inside and outside Nevada.
The adjusted series price after Game 2 has Golden State a -300 favorite. Prior to the start of the series the Warriors opened generally in the -140 to -150 range when Toronto had the home court edge.
Prior to the start of the series my projection was for the teams to split the first two games, Golden State to win both home games, Toronto to win at home in Game 5 and the Warriors to wrap up the Title back home in Game 6. The first of those four scenarios unfolded as I had thought but not as I had hoped as I bet on Golden State in the opener and their loss had me backing them again in Game 2.
While I have projected the Warriors to win both Games 3 and 4 that is not necessarily the way I will bet those games. In fact, I am playing over the total in Wednesday’s game. Both teams showed rust in the opening game of the series and that carried over to an extent in Game 2. Not only did Toronto go scoreless for over 5 1/2 minutes to start the second half but both teams went scoreless for nearly 3 1/2 minutes in the final stages of the fourth quarter.
Game 1 went over the closing total of 212.5 by 14.5 points. Game 2 pushed the total of 213. Both totals were considerably lower then the totals in their two regular season meetings of 223 and 226.5 (one of which went over and the other stayed under). The game that went over was the game played at Golden State and, even though it went into overtime, was tied at 119 at the end of regulation having already clearing the total by 15 points.
Toronto has been a better defensive team at home than on the road while at the same time has not been intimidated by the Warriors and is capable of and comfortable with Golden State’s preferred up tempo pace. I do not expect to see the prolonged scoring droughts we saw in the first two games and expect the next couple of games to total in the 220s.
Golden State’s injuries are a concern but the team has shown an ability to successfully deal with over the past half decade. As noted above I expect the Warriors to sweep both home games. But covering both is a different matter entirely. Toronto has shown in winning both regular season games and splitting the first two games in this series that they are confident of competing with the Warriors on an even basis. In winning Game One they did so with star Kawhi Leonard having a subpar performance (5 of 14 from the field).
I expect Toronto will cover one of the next two games despite losing straight up. Since I am playing the total in Game 3 my play in Game 4 is likely to be on team that does not cover in Game 3.
My play in next Monday’s Game 5 is likely to be on the Raptors, even if they are up 3-1 with a chance to clinch the title. Although I do not expect that to be the situation, such a scenario would be their best chance to win the title, even better than hosting a Game 7 in which they’d be coming off of losses in Games 5 and 6.
Barring a three-game sweep by either team, the endgame for the NBA Finals will be the subject of next week’s column that will go through the thought process for potential Games 6 and 7 that are scheduled for Thursday, June 13 and Sunday, June 16.