Putting my own numbers on the current conference finals, I’d list the Cavs as a -190 favorite against the Celtics, if we’re talking series prices, and like the defending champion Warriors to end up -120 vs. the top-seeded Rockets despite lacking homecourt advantage.
At the time of this writing, both conferences will have teams advance following the next win, which makes for an anti-climactic early part of the week. In an effort to get out ahead of things, we’re going to assume by the time the weekend arrives we’ll be looking at Boston hosting Cleveland for a Game 1 in the Eastern Conference finals and Houston welcoming Golden State to open up action in the West.
We’ve been looking forward to an epic Western Conference finals as a foregone conclusion since before Thanksgiving, so while the effort New Orleans and Utah have put forth in reaching the NBA’s final eight must be commended, the fact is seeing Chris Paul and James Harden take on the Splash Bros. seems like a birth right.
In the East, we’ve written all season that the Cavs would reach the Finals, advising you to get in on improving odds each step of the way. I hope you’ve listened, because Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward remain out for Boston.
After dropping Game 3 in New Orleans, the defending champs avoided consecutive playoff losses for the first time since dropping three straight against Cleveland to famously fumble away the 2016 NBA Finals.
As a team, the Warriors shot 38 percent for the game and were 9-for-31 (29 percent) from beyond the arc to lose to the Pelicans. Only Draymond Green shot better than 33 percent on 3-pointers, knocking down two of his four open looks since New Orleans has intentionally played off of him all series. Although he fell one assist shy of a triple-double, Green contributed a game-high seven turnovers. New Orleans provided the blueprint on how to defeat Golden State but executing that is another story.
The Rockets scored 39 first-quarter points and led 70-40 at the break after suffering an upset loss in Game 2 against Utah, a shocker that paid out +650 on the moneyline and was more fluke than anything else. After coasting in the series opener, Houston’s lack of intensity on Wednesday can be explained away as an aberration, given how dominant it looked when it had to in order to restore order in that series.
Houston guards James Harden, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon form the best trio in the league. Forward Trevor Ariza finished a ridiculous plus-40 in his time on the floor in Game 3, while Rockets center Clint Capela outperformed Rudy Gobert and produced four blocks, continuing to emerge as an undeniable x-factor.
Houston was the NBA’s best road team during the regular season and is now 3-1 away from home in these playoffs, which certainly will be a factor worth considering when they visit Oakland. Even with the homecourt edge, that’s unlikely to keep the proven Warriors from being favored.
In the other series, the Celtics must overcome an average age of 24.82, the youngest remaining after they out-classed an equally inexperience Philadelphia squad with their late-game execution.
The Celtics have won the second half all three times in going up 3-0 over the 76ers, which includes prevailing in OT in a Saturday Game 3 that featured confetti falling from the rafters at Wells Fargo Center after Marco Belinelli’s game-tying bucket at the buzzer was incorrectly judged to be a 3-pointer by game operations staff.
The Italian sniper’s foot was clearly on the line upon review, so when the celebratory scraps of paper finally stopped falling from the sky onto the court, Boston went back to work on lapping Philly with its late-game execution. After a 117-101 Game 1 loss, the 76ers squandered a 22-point lead in Game 2 to put themselves in a must-win situation coming back home.
The 20-year-old Jayson Tatum has displayed the most poise and surpassed Larry Bird with five consecutive games scoring at least 20 points, a Celtics’ playoff record for a rookie. Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier have each stepped up in major roles.
With Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr. and Rodney Hood all capable of breaking out, there’s enough depth for the Cavs to continue persevering.
The exact Finals series matchup I forecasted to start the season, a fourth consecutive installment of Golden State vs. Cleveland continues to be my projection. The Rockets and Celtics won’t make it easy, but won’t be able to prevent the inevitable, barring injury.