For the first time in the history of all four major professional sports (the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB), the same two teams will meet in the NBA Finals to decide a league’s champion for the fourth straight year.
But Golden State vs. Cleveland IV nearly didn’t happen. The Cavaliers had to survive three elimination games, including a pair of Game 7’s. They had to weather multiple storms, trades, leaves of absence and controversies during a chaotic regular season.
As for the Warriors, they trailed Houston 3-2 in the Western Conference finals and faced considerable deficits in the first half of both Game 6 and 7. If not for an injury to the Rockets’ perennial All-Star guard Chris Paul, who missed both of the series’s final two games with a hamstring injury, you know Houston would’ve had a great opportunity to advance past Golden State.
Whatever the case, the Cavs and Warriors are here and bettors are prepping for Round 4 of this rivalry. Game 1 is scheduled for Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Tip-off is slated for 9:05 p.m. Eastern on ABC.
As of Wednesday afternoon, most betting shops had Golden State (70-29 straight up, 43-55-1 against the spread) installed as a 12.5-point home favorite for the series opener. The total was 214.5 points and the Cavs were available on the money line for an enormous +700 return (paid $700 on $100 wagers).
The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas opened the Warriors as 12-point home ‘chalk’ with a total of 215.5 on Tuesday morning. Jay Kornegay and his staff initially had Golden State favored by seven for first-half wagers, but that number was up to 7.5 on Wednesday afternoon.
Sportsbook.ag has the Warriors listed as huge -1100 favorites to repeat as NBA champs. The Cavs are massive +700 underdogs (risk $100 to win $700). The offshore website also has series props. For instance, if you’re bullish on LeBron James and Co., you can wager on Cleveland at -1.5 games (to win the series by Game 6 at the latest) for a +1500 payout (risk $100 to win $1,500).
On the flip side, you can trim a bit of the price off of the Warriors by backing them at -1.5 games for the series at a -600 price. Even better yet still expensive, Golden State is at a -250 price to win by -2.5 games (a four-game sweep or polishing the Cavs off in Game 5).
As for the distance of the series, Sportsbook has those options as well. For gamblers expecting a sweep (by either team), ‘under’ 4.5 games offers a +220 return (risk $100 to win $220). Bettors expecting the best-of-seven showdown to go deep can take ‘over’ 5.5 games at +165. For ‘over’ 6.5 games, the payout is +400.
After losing Game 4 to Houston at home (95-92), Golden State dropped a 98-94 decision at Toyota Center as a one-point road underdog. This put the Warriors’ season – and their quest to win a third NBA title in four years – in doubt heading back home to Oakland for Game 6. However, Paul’s hamstring injury late in Game 5 prompted him to sit out.
This development prompted oddsmakers to make the Warriors 12.5-point home favorites for Game 6. Without Paul, Houston shockingly raced out to a 39-22 advantage at the end of the first quarter. Steve Kerr’s team would outscore the Rockets 29-22 to slice the deficit to 10 by intermission.
Klay Thompson hit a pair of treys early in the third quarter that shifted the momentum toward the home team. Golden State would surge into the lead with 3:35 left in the third quarter. It was all Warriors from there. They blasted Houston by a 31-9 margin in the final stanza en route to a 115-86 victory. (Yes, Houston backers were ahead of the number 29.5 points and ended up losing by 16.5 points.)
Thompson drained 9-of-14 attempts from 3-point range and finished with a game-high 35 points. Steph Curry added 29 points, six assists, five rebounds and three blocked shots, while Kevin Durant had 23 points, seven boards and four assists. Durant made only 6-of-17 field-goal attempts. Draymond Green produced four points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, five blocks and four steals.
After surviving a first-quarter debacle in Game 6, conventional wisdom indicated that Golden State would come out strong in Game 7 at Toyota Center. Or not!
Once again, Mike D’Antoni’s team made all the energy and effort plays early. Durant was forcing low-percentage shots and loafing back on defense. The crowd was electric and the Rockets led 24-19 going into the second quarter. They’d extend the lead to 11 for another double-digit advantage at halftime.
However, you could sense that Houston should’ve been up by more at intermission. Part of that blame can be pointed at the officials. James Harden was clearly fouled on a pair of 3-point launches, yet nothing was called and six free-throw attempts earned by Harden didn’t happen.
Then on a play in the third quarter, a foul was called on a Harden 3-pointer that was good. Again, he was clearly in the act of shooting, meaning the triple should’ve counted and Harden should’ve been headed to the charity stripe to potentially complete a four-point play. But the referee inexplicably ruled the foul was on the floor. Fortunately for Houston, it was in the bonus and Harden made both FTs. Nevertheless, another point was taken away, as was another free-throw attempt.
In the second half, Houston went ice cold. I’m talking North Pole without a jacket freezing. I thought Boston’s Terry Rozier struggled in Sunday’s Game 7 (and to be clear, much to my dismay as a Celtics’ backer that night, Rozier did indeed struggle – mightily!) when he went 0-of-10 from downtown. The Rockets nearly tripled that dismal effort by missing 27 straight 3-balls. Meanwhile, Curry buried 4-of-5 shots from long distance in the third quarter alone, scoring 14 of his 27 points.
After Harden dished to Clint Capela for a dunk that gave Houston a 61-55 edge, Golden State responded with a ruthless 17-2 run. Capela was substituted for at the next whistle after his dunk and was resting during this stretch. I felt D’Antoni waited entirely too long to put his big man back in the game and should’ve used a timeout earlier (to get Capela back in and halt Golden State’s sick surge). The Warriors enjoyed a 33-15 third-quarter advantage to take a 76-69 lead into the final stanza.
Houston trimmed the deficit to six at 89-83 with 5:07 remaining, but it would get no closer. Golden St. captured a 101-92 win to cover as a six-point road favorite. The 193 combined points dropped ‘under’ the 208-point total (which was the lowest of the series).
Houston backers merely lost by three points to the number, which undoubtedly left those bettors lamenting the no-calls on Harden and the bricks by the Rockets from 3-point land in the first 18 minutes of the second half.
Curry nearly went for a triple-double, tacking on 10 assists, nine rebounds, four steals and one block to his 27 points. Durant came on strong in the second half and finished with 34 points, five boards, five assists, three blocked shots and one steal. Thompson, who made 8-of-13 FGAs and 3-of-7 from downtown, had 19 points. Green was also in double figures with 10 points, 13 boards and five assists.
Jordan Bell, the Warriors’ rookie center out of Oregon, didn’t score but certainly made his presence felt. His play in the postseason has earned the confidence of Kerr to give him major minutes. In fact, I won’t be shocked if we see Bell defending James at times during the Finals. He had five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal in Game 7, but it was one particular play that stood out.
With the Warriors strangling Houston’s momentum in the aforementioned 17-2 run late in the third quarter, Curry drove to the hole before dishing to Bell in the corner. Bell caught and the ball and noticed Curry sprinting toward him. Instantly recognizing that the red-hot pure shooter was wanting a corner trey, Bell bounced the ball between his legs and stepped toward the baseline to set a screen on an oncoming defender. Curry caught the between-the-legs bounce pass perfectly in stride, squared his feet and launched a 3-ball that splashed the nets and left the crowd deflated.
Cleveland trailed Boston in the East finals throughout the series, although it twice pulled even at 2-2 and then 3-3 after winning and covering in Game 6. In fact, the home team had won outright and covered the number in the first six games of the ECF. Furthermore, the Celtics were 10-0 both SU and ATS at home in the postseason going into Game 7 at TD Garden.
Making matters worse for the Cavs, Kevin Love had suffered a concussion and was ‘out.’ This led to Boston being listed as a 2.5-point home ‘chalk’ at most spots.
Brad Stevens’s team came out strong and led 26-18 at the end of the opening quarter. Boston would build the lead to as high as 12 midway through the second at 35-23, but Cleveland answered with a 15-8 blitz to end the first half and slice the deficit to four.
Tyronn Lue’s club surged into the lead with 4:10 left in the third quarter. The Cavs built the lead to five before the C’s went back in front early in the fourth. With Cleveland leading by four midway through the final stanza, Boston’s Jayson Tatum drove hard to the rim and accomplished the unthinkable – for anyone, much less a 19-year-old rookie – by dunking with authority on James’s face.
With the poise of a 10-year veteran, Tatum didn’t lose his composure after sending the crowd into a frenetic frenzy. Instead, on the very next possession, he used a shot fake to shake a defender and then knocked down a go-ahead trey.
But the lead would be short-lived. Once the Cavs went in front 76-73 with 4:44 remaining, Boston missed nine shots in a row. Cleveland won by an 87-79 count, with the 166 combined points falling way ‘under’ the 197-point tally.
James produced 35 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and two blocked shots, making 12-of-24 FGAs. Jeff Green’s offense was pivotal, as the Georgetown product scored 19 points and snagged eight rebounds. J.R. Smith (12 pts) and Tristan Thompson (10 pts, 9 rebs) were also in double figures.
Kerr’s squad is 37-13 SU and 21-28-1 ATS in its home outings.
Cleveland (62-38 SU, 40-59-1 ATS) owns a 25-25 SU record and a 23-27 ATS mark in its road assignments. The Cavs are in their richest underdog situation of the season. They’re 15-9 ATS in 24 games as underdogs, but this is their first spot as ‘dogs of more than 7.5 points.
For the series opener, Love is listed as ‘questionable’ due to concussion symptoms. In 17 postseason games this year, Love has averaged 13.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.6 steals per game. He has shot at just a 38.8 percent rate from the field and made only 34.6 percent of his 3-pointers.
Iguodala will miss his fifth straight game Thursday night due to a knee contusion sustained in Game 3 of the West finals vs. Houston. Draymond Green is dealing with an ankle issue from Game 7, but he’s listed as ‘probable.’