Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at 9:47 AM
The Cleveland Cavaliers might not have been impressive in their first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers (to the extent that a sweep can ever be unimpressive), covering only one spread in the four games. Facing a better opponent in the Toronto Raptors, one with playoff experience, the Cavs kicked it up a notch—the result was another four-game sweep and this one with a 3-0-1 ATS performance. What are we to make of this?
*Let’s start with the way Cleveland opened games in the Raptors series. The Cavs set the tone in Games 1 & 2 by getting out to double-digit leads after the first quarter. Those margins grew to over 20 by the start of the fourth quarter both times. Cleveland wasn’t just winning and covering, they were doing it with plenty of room to spare.
On the positive side, that clearly shows the Cavs are gaining in focus as we get deeper in the playoffs, more determined to ensure their challengers never get a sense of hope. There’s always room to be concerned though, about a heavy favorite that’s never toughened up.
While the Cavs did win more competitive road games in Games 3 & 4, Toronto was missing Kyle Lowry by that point and in either case, there was no real pressure on Cleveland. It’s something we have to keep in mind when handicapping the Eastern Conference Finals and certainly a potential showdown with Golden State with the NBA Finals.
*When looking for an explanation of why things happen, it’s easy to get sidetracked into looking for deep answers, buried within the numbers or the game tape. Sometimes the easiest answer is the one that’s right in front of you and in the Cleveland-Toronto series the takeaway was that LeBron James was simply unstoppable. Check out these numbers…
Game 1: 35 points/10 rebounds, 13-for-23 shooting from the floor
Game 2: 39 points, 10-for-14 shooting from the floor
Game 3: 35 points/8 rebounds/7 assists, 9-for-16 shooting from the floor
Game 4: 35 points/9 rebounds/6 assists, 11-for-22 shooting from the floor
It’s the shooting efficiency that really stands out. We’re accustomed to stars getting their numbers in the NBA, but shooting like this takes it to a higher level. The good news for Cleveland—no one in the league, certainly in the Eastern Conference, can slow LeBron down if he’s locked in. The bad news—shooting is the one part of his game that can be a little fickle and if he cools down, the results could revert to what they were in the Indiana series—winning games, but losing money for bettors.
Perhaps the most important development for NBA bettors is what took place in the run-up to Game 4. Cleveland opened as a (-5.5) favorite and had this held, the Cavs would have completed an ATS sweep. Instead, the money showed heavily for the Cavs, the number went to (-7) and the 109-102 final ended up a push.
With Cleveland continuing to win games and LeBron playing like he is, the public enthusiasm for betting on the Cavs certainly won’t be tempered. It’s going to make it all the more imperative to have a clear idea of what the right number is when the Eastern Conference Finals begin against either the Celtics or Wizards.