The NBA is down to its version of the Final Four as the two Conference Finals series are underway.
The top two seeds in the West – San Antonio and Oklahoma City – have already opened their series as we go to press on Monday with the Spurs defeating the Thunder this past Sunday evening to take a 1-0 lead into Tuesday’s second game, also to be played in San Antonio.
The Spurs’ 101-98 win was their 19th straight win dating back to the final weeks of the regular season. Their last loss came way back on April 11 and it was the second of back-to-back defeats that followed an 11-game winning streak. Thus, entering Tuesday’s Game 2, the Spurs have won 30 of their last 32, compiling an astounding point spread mark of 24-6-2 ATS, including 15-3-1 during their current run.
San Antonio was favored by 5½ points in the opening game win over the Thunder and its failure to cover was the second straight such win but no cover. The Spurs previously failed to cover in their clinching victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the previous round.
In fact, San Antonio is now 9-0 SU in the playoffs with a 6-3 ATS mark. The third playoff pointspread loss also came in a series clinching game in their opening round sweep of Utah.
Oklahoma City can take some comfort from its performance for most of Game 1 in that they have a chance to win this series. They controlled the game for most of the first three quarters and had a nine-point lead early in the fourth.
The Spurs then made adjustments that enabled them to extend their winning streak and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
San Antonio coach Greg Popovich continues to get little recognition from both the media and the public at large other than when his team is in the national spotlight such as in these playoffs. But bring up the subject of the best coaches of all time, say in August, and rarely will his name, excuse the pun, pop up.
A strong argument can be made that Popovich ranks right up there with Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach as the top three coaches of all time. That status will be further validated should his Spurs win a fifth NBA Title next month.
This series has the making of going six or seven games and Oklahoma City is worth a play at +4½ in Tuesday’s Game 2. If the series heads to Oklahoma City with the Spurs holding a 2-0 margin the Thunder would be playable in both games three and four at home, likely as very slight favorites.
Should the Thunder upset the Spurs on Tuesday and the series heads up north tied at a game apiece the Game 3 play on Thursday would be on San Antonio. The loser of Game 3 would then become the play in Saturday’s Game 4.
Barring a four-game sweep by the Spurs, Game 5 will be played next Monday, June 4. San Antonio should be in excellent position to make a statement regardless of the status of the series, which could be tied at two games apiece or one team, more likely the Spurs than the Thunder, is up 3-1 with a chance to close out the series.
The Spurs will likely be favored in the range of from four to six points and would be the play.
Second seeded Miami has the home court edge versus fourth seeded Boston as the Heat and Celtics began their series on Memorial Day evening.
Both teams have key injuries as the series gets underway. Miami’s Chris Bosh, injured in their opening series against New York, remains out indefinitely. Avery Bradley, one of their lesser known yet still key players, is out for Boston for the duration of their season.
In winning the final three games of their series against Indiana, Miami’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played at an incredibly high level, causing many observers to all but concede this series to the Heat. Citing Boston’s age the thinking is Boston just can’t make enough plays over the course of a best-of-seven series to prevail.
That thinking was reinforced by Boston struggling to defeat eighth seeded Philadelphia in a full seven games. But the matchups and the regular season meetings between the Celtics and Heat may cause one to utter “not so fast.”
Boston won three of four regular season meetings against Miami and covered in all four games. But what’s really interesting to note about these results is Miami won their meeting 115-107 back on Dec. 27, just as the season was getting underway.
The Celtics won each of the next three meetings, all of which were played during April, close to the end of the regular season. Boston’s home wins were by 12 and 19 points and their middle win, at Miami, was by 8.
Bosh, James and Wade all played for Miami in the first two of those April losses to the Celtics but all three were DNP’s in the ugly 78-66 loss on April 26. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo also sat out that final meeting for Boston.
Most observers give a huge coaching edge to Boston’s Doc Rivers over Eric Spoelstra, his Miami counterpart. The Celtics do have a lot of veteran experience, but such was the case last season when Miami eliminated the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs in just five games after Boston had also won three of four regular season meetings.
It’s easy to call for Miami to once again eliminate the Celtics this season but because of Boston’s outstanding defense an upset would not be a shock.
Miami was favored by 8½ points in Monday night’s opener. If Miami won that opening game then Boston would be playable as an underdog in Wednesday’s Game 2.
Boston would also be playable back home in Game 3 on Friday unless they somehow managed to sweep the two games in Miami. In such a case the Heat would be the play as they seek to avoid going down 0-3 in the series.
More likely the teams will head to Boston either tied at a game apiece or with Miami up 2-0. The Celtics would also be the play in next Sunday’s Game 4 even if down 0-3.
Miami’s best situation for a point spread cover would be back home in Game 5 next Tuesday.