It’s why we love our sports with a passion unlike that in virtually any other area of life and culture.
Last Sunday night showed why Yogi Berra was right and the reason sports is often the best reality show on television.
Berra, the Hall of Fame New York Yankees catcher, many decades ago uttered the famous phrase, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” He was not referring to those of us in Las Vegas who wager on Over/Unders – to which his phrase would be considered obvious (except in the case of rain shortened baseball games).
Rather, Yogi was, in his unique way, warning those of us who feel games are “in the bag” when way ahead or comforting those whose teams seemed helplessly out of a contest that until the final whistle, gun or umpires walking off the field the trailing team, time permitting in sports other than baseball in which there is no clock, can still make a comeback from what seems an insurmountable deficit.
Cleveland won the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston by margins of 13 and 44 points. In that 44-point Game 2 win the Cavs led by 42 points at the half (72-31) and had the margin up to 51 during the contest. To compound the embarrassment of that loss Boston’s Isaiah Thomas was injured and will miss the rest of the Playoffs (which might only be another two games).
Cleveland opened as a 14.5 point favorite returning home for Game 3 and, once the news of Thomas’ absence was confirmed, the line rose to 17 and closed at 16.5 at most sportsbooks.
And that line seemed justified, if not a bit short, when Cleveland led by nine after one quarter and by 16 points at the half. Their lead expanded to 21 points in the third as many TV sets were turned off and sportsbooks and bars began to empty in the late evening on the East Coast and the early evening here in Las Vegas.
But then Cleveland seemed to get complacent and played lethargically while Boston increased its defensive intensity, made a bunch of three-point shots, chipping away at the huge deficit to trail by just five points (87-82) at the end of the third quarter, creating the possibility for a competitive fourth quarter and possible upset.
Even as the game showed signs of becoming more competitive the Cavs were still 9.5-point in-game favorites at the first time out of the fourth quarter. And at several sportsbooks money came in on the Cavs as it did a few minutes later in mid-quarter when, up by two, the Cavs were favored by 4.5.
Tied at 108 with 10 seconds remaining, Avery Bradley’s three-point attempt took several seconds to bounce around the rim prior to falling through the net with a tenth of a second remaining to give Boston a thrilling 111-108 victory that assured the Celtics of at least hosting a Game 5 on Thursday.
LeBron James had perhaps the poorest Playoff game of his career and certainly in recent memory, and after embarrassing the Celtics in Game 2 it was Cleveland that exited Game 3 embarrassed, though still holding a two-games-to-one lead and the home court advantage.
Cleveland opened as a 15-point favorite for Tuesday’s Game 4 and by late Monday morning could be found at either 15 or 14.5. Such huge lines in Playoff games are tough to bet prior to tip off and with in-game wagering available at virtually all sportsbooks it may be more prudent to watch how the game unfolds before stepping in.
Cleveland should regroup and get a decisive win in Game 4, no longer distracted by keeping pace with Golden State, which had a chance to close out its Western Conference Finals series against San Antonio with a win Monday night.
If the Warriors get that win they would await the start of the NBA Finals next Thursday with a Playoffs record of 12-0, looking very much like the team we saw all of last season up through Game 4 of the NBA Finals when they had a three-games-to-one lead over Cleveland before losing the final three games.
Entering Monday night’s game the Warriors had won 12 in a row overall, dating back to the final game of the regular season, and had won 26 of its last 27!
The prospects of a third straight Cleveland vs. Golden State Finals is all but a certainty, although the Warriors are facing a shorthanded San Antonio team that lost Tony Parker earlier in the Playoffs and played Games 2 and 3 (and likely Game 4) without their best player, Kawhi Leonard.
And that’s a shame because with Leonard the Spurs might have had a chance to at least extend the Warriors in this series if not pull what would be a shocking upset.
Though it sounds far-fetched that statement about a Spurs upset can be argued as at least more than a remote possibility.
The Spurs had leads of more than 20 points in each of their first four meetings this season – three times in the regular season and once more in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals.
The Spurs opened the current season with a resounding 129-100 win at Golden State last October. The teams did not meet again until March 11 when the Spurs nearly duplicated that opening night effort with a 107-85 home win.
The teams met once more in the regular season, in San Antonio on March 29 when the Spurs raced out to a first quarter 22-point lead before the Warriors started playing their “A” game. Trailing by 16 after the first quarter, Golden State narrowed the deficit to 3 points at the half and then outscored the Spurs by 10 points in the third quarter and by 5 in the fourth en route to a 110-98 win.
Still, those three regular season efforts against the best team in the NBA showed the Spurs, when healthy, could more than compete with the Warriors on an even basis.
When Leonard exited Game 1 of this series in the third quarter the Spurs had a 23-point lead at Golden State. Leonard missed Game 2 in which the Spurs all but conceded defeat from the outset in a 136-100 loss in which the Spurs trailed by 17 after one quarter and by 28 at the half. The Spurs were much more competitive in Game 3, back home but again playing without Leonard.
No team in NBA history has overcome a three-games-to-none deficit in the Playoffs and San Antonio will not be the first. Golden State was favored to wrap up the series by the time many of you are reading this column on Tuesday as the Warriors were favored by 11.5 points on Monday morning.
The Spurs should have given an inspired effort to avoid being swept but the Warriors are intent on entering the NBA Finals unbeaten in the Playoffs, even more so after Cleveland suffered its first Playoffs loss Sunday night.
But should the Spurs somehow pull off the upset (recall the Celtics just 24 hours earlier) Golden State should wrap up the series back in Game 5, which would be played Thursday.
The Finals will start next Thursday, June 1, and barring what would be considered historically surprising results, Game 1 will feature a pair of well rested teams as the Warriors might have as much as 10 day’s rest and the Cavs a full week (should they wrap up the series in Boson on Thursday after winning at home on Tuesday).
Thus the chances are great next week’s column will preview an NBA Finals that had been determined for several days.
But before making that a 100 percent certainty, let’s again reflect back to philosopher Yogi Berra.
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]