Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 12:11 PM
To a lot of media observers, the first three rounds of the NBA playoffs are just about waiting for Golden State and Cleveland to meet in the Finals for a third straight year. Both teams validated that confidence with first-round sweeps, but from a betting perspective, they each looked different in doing so.
I noted after Cleveland’s first two games against Indiana that they had failed to cover the number and delved into the reasons why. Things improved a bit in Games 3 & 4, but not by much. The Cavs got their only clean ATS win of the series in Game 3 and that was only after falling behind 74-49 at the half. Cleveland ended up winning 119-114 as a (-1.5) favorite. Game 4 was a push, a 106-102 win while giving (-4), though if you bet the Cavs early you might have gotten (-3) and squeaked out a win.
Either way, as we look forward, those numbers suggest that oddsmakers have a good handle on Cleveland. They suggest even more strongly that the Cavs should get the most respect when they’re on the road. This makes sense—because homecourt is traditionally a big deal in the NBA playoffs, oddsmakers are going to weight the number in that direction. But LeBron James has shown himself more than capable of playing at a high level in a front of a hostile crowd or having rough games in front of his own crowd, whichever way you want to spin it. The bottom line remains the same.
Golden State is a different story. They may have started out the postseason a little shaky, failing to cover a (-13.5) number and needing a strong fourth quarter just to beat Portland outright, 121-109 in Game 1. But the Warriors immediately found their footing—Kevin Durant missing a game didn’t stop them. Even Steve Kerr’s back flaring up and sidelining the head coach didn’t slow down Golden State. They won the final three games of the series, both straight-up and ATS to close out the sweep.
Just as impressive is that the Warriors weren’t dependent on Steph Curry to cover those numbers. To be sure, the two-time MVP had big games in the series opener and closer. But he had a rough shooting night in Game 2 and was spotty in Game 3. Didn’t matter—Golden State was still golden for bettors. When they had to, the Warriors did it with defense—forcing 16 turnovers to win Game 3 by a 119-113 count as a (-4.5) favorite. And a team not known for its depth won Game 2 (the game Durant missed) decisively, 110-81 while giving (-12) because Ian Clark and Javale McGee came through off the bench.
There was never any doubt Golden State and Cleveland were going to win their first-round matchups and only marginal doubt that they would be sweeps. The question in the minds of the Vegas market was whether oddsmakers had a handle on how big their edge over the competition was. These opening round games have given us some important insight.