An epic NBA Finals appears highly unlikely at this point. The biggest reason is Kevin Durant, who’s too good to allow another Golden State meltdown.
These are not the weak-in-the-knees Warriors of June 2016. Durant is the difference.
Durant is on his way to winning Most Valuable Player of the series because the Cleveland Cavaliers have no defense for him. It’s too much to ask of LeBron James, who initiates much of the offense, to shadow Durant and expend so much energy on both ends of the floor.
So the Cavaliers, down 2-0 after a pair of double-digit blowouts, head home to a situation that seems even more hopeless than a year ago. Durant is one of three reasons the deck is stacked against another Cleveland comeback.
Still, this is the ideal spot for the Cavaliers to get one and prevent a sweep. James has been outplayed by Durant, and Cleveland is a desperate home underdog in Game 3 on Wednesday.
“It’s such a bad spot for Golden State,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “Now it’s just a matter of the Warriors winning in how many games?”
The Warriors are going to win this series, and they know it. For the Cavaliers, it’s win this game or probably get embarrassed with a broom to the backside. With that in mind, the betting public still is playing the favorite and laying an inflated number.
“The public is really starting to play Golden State at minus-3,” Westgate sports book manager Jeff Sherman said Tuesday, before moving the line to 3½.
Matthew Holt of CG Technology sports books said the same bettor made two $110,000 wagers — one on the Warriors at minus-3 and the next at 3½ — before the line was adjusted to 4, the highest line in the Las Vegas market.
“We were already lopsided on the game,” Holt said. “If you want to bet the Cavs, come bet it with us. Historically, it’s a real good spot for the Cavs.”
Bookmakers are waiting for Cleveland believers to show up. It has not happened yet.
“I took big five-figure bets on Golden State,” Wynn sports book director John Avello said. “But I know we’ll end up getting some Cavs money.”
There is some underdog money coming, and here’s why:
Home teams down 2-0 in this year’s NBA playoffs are 15-3 against the spread in the first quarter and first half.
In the 2016 playoffs, home teams down 2-0 were 10-0 ATS in the first half, including Cleveland’s 120-90 victory over Golden State in Game 3 of the Finals.
Betting the Cavaliers in the first 24 minutes is an undeniably strong angle. Oddsmakers have adjusted for the trend. The first quarter line is pick’em (Warriors minus-120), and the first half line is the same.
Betting the Cavaliers to cover over 48 minutes against a superior team seems to be riskier business. But the full-game line is inflated, because prior to the Game 1 and 2 blowouts, the line in Game 3 was projected in the pick’em range.
The total - which stayed way under in Game 1 and flew way over in Game 2 - is back where it started at 226½. The Cavaliers appear intent on running with the Warriors instead of slowing the pace, and that looks like a fatal mistake.
As mentioned previously, Durant is one of three reasons the deck is stacked against another stunning Cleveland comeback. The Cavaliers have no defender capable of slowing Durant, a 6-foot-10 forward with a guard’s ball-handling skills and shooting range. He makes the Warriors a far betting running team than a year ago.
In the first two games, Durant averaged 35.5 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists while shooting 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
Golden State scored 113 and 132 points in the first two games of this series. The Warriors scored 104 and 110 in the first two games last year before their offensive efficiency plummeted in the final five games.
There were two reasons the Warriors opened the door for the Cavaliers’ comeback last year. One was Draymond Green, who hit James in the groin area in the closing minutes of Game 4 and was suspended for Game 5. The other was fatigue — Golden State pushed hard to reach 73 regular-season wins, leaving Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on tired legs late in the Finals.
The Warriors are not weak in the knees this time around. Durant makes them much stronger on both ends of the floor. He was the favorite to win Finals MVP going in, and he’s a bigger favorite as the scene shifts to James’ home floor.
Golden State, which was a minus-270 series favorite, is up to minus-1,600. Sherman said the Westgate took a $3,000 bet on Cleveland at 10-1 odds this week, but that bet is a longer shot to cash. This will not be a repeat of June 2016.
This writer picked Cleveland to win last year’s Finals. This writer picked Golden State to win this year, mostly due to Durant being the difference.
Still, this writer is betting on the Cavaliers in Game 3 — first quarter, first half and for the game. This should be their spot.
The home advantage means more in basketball than in any other sport. The officials call the game differently. The home team, especially in a 2-0 hole, plays with more urgency on both ends. James will attack the basket more frequently and likely get more calls. The Cavaliers, 19-for-60 on 3-pointers in the games at Golden State, should shoot a higher percentage. And they must force the Warriors to play something far less than their "A" game.
In the NBA Finals, there were only two sweeps in the past 21 years.
This should be the Cavaliers’ spot, even if it’s not their year. The betting public is infatuated with the Warriors for several good reasons. Laying the points has paid off in the playoffs, and this is an all-time great team.
“We’ll be rooting for the ‘dog,” Vaccaro said.
If the ‘dog takes another beating in Game 3, Golden State will be set to cash a 16-0 postseason proposition that appeared highly unlikely when the Warriors trailed San Antonio by 23 points in the third quarter of the Western Conference finals opener. Kawhi Leonard was lost to injury, opening the door for a run to history. But that lucky break will be forgotten.
Remember the anger directed at Durant last July, when he ditched Oklahoma City to chase a title with Golden State? Forget those fools. He made the right move. Instead of chasing a title, he’s leading the way.