This year’s NBA playoffs were different than any other in recent memory if for just one simple reason: LeBron James was not involved. After ruling the Eastern Conference since his rookie days with the Cavaliers, James went out west this year to L.A. and didn’t even reach the postseason. What it means is that we will have some new faces representing the Eastern Conference in the Finals, those of the Toronto Raptors, who have reached the NBA’s championship series for the first time ever. Of course, for as different as things were in the East this year, they couldn’t have been any more similar in the West, with Golden State back for a fifth straight time in the Finals, seeking a third straight title. The Warriors may have to do it without Kevin Durant, the MVP of the Finals in each of the last two years, as he is expected to miss AT LEAST the first game of the series and likely more.
On paper this matchup is surprisingly even, with the teams boasting similar situational records & point differentials across the board. Golden State is the series favorite even though the Raptors are favored in Game 1 AND have home-court advantage. I’m anxious to see how it plays out. So as the NBA moves on to its final round, so do I in my 4-part series of round-by-round trends from past playoff seasons. This is the last part of what has turned out to be a popular series. So read on and take notes so that you are fully prepared to beat the books when the Finals tip off on Thursday from Toronto.
Before getting into the specific trends, you should know that of the last six seasons, the better seed has won each of the five times there were uneven seeds. The last upset in a finals, at least as far as seed placement is concerned, was in 2013, when the Heat upended the Spurs in seven games. Also note that outright winners are 31-2-1 ATS over the L6 seasons, a glowing endorsement for money line wagering on underdogs.
• 92 points is a low benchmark for NBA Finals success – Identical to what we found in the conference finals, teams that score 92 points or less in a NBA Finals playoff game have struggled badly, going just 1-16 SU & ATS over the L6 seasons.
• Success accompanies reaching the 103-point mark – NBA Finals teams scoring 103 points or more boast a record of 28-7 SU & 26-7-2 ATS over the L6 seasons. If you recall, the magic number for the second round was just 112 points, and for the conference finals 106, much higher numbers.
• Home teams are a slightly better option – Hosts in the NBA Finals are 20-14 SU & 17-16-1 ATS since 2013.
• Winners cover – Over the L6 seasons, and 34 games, outright winners have gone 31-2-1 ATS in the NBA Finals.
TRENDS BY LINE RANGE
• Big home favorites get it done - Since the start of the 2013 playoffs, NBA Finals favorites of 5.5 points or more are 14-3 SU & 12-4-1 ATS. This success level is similar to that from the conference finals round if you recall. All of these have been home favorites.
• Small home favorites have been vulnerable – Again like the conference finals, the record of the L8 small home favorites (-5 points or less) in the NBA Finals is just 3-5 SU & ATS.
• Home underdogs’ bark is less than their bite – Home underdogs in the NBA Finals have proven to be overmatched recently, going just 1-5 SU & ATS in their L6 opportunities.
• Games with vulnerable home teams have meant OVER’s – Eight of the L12 NBA Finals’ games with home teams playing as underdogs or favorites of 2 points or less have gone OVER the total.
LAST GAME TRENDS
• Bad shooting games have carried over negative momentum in The Finals – Teams coming off games where they shot less than 41.5% in a NBA Finals game are just 1-8 SU & ATS outright in their L9 tries.
• Good 3PT shooting games don’t carry momentum – While poor shooting games overall don’t bode well for teams in the next NBA Finals game, either does hot 3-point shooting, as teams that shoot 47% or better from deep have lost six straight follow-up games while going 0-5-1 ATS.
• Embarrassing losses have galvanized teams – In the L6 NBA Finals series, there have been three games decided by 30 points or more. In all three cases, the team that lost bounced back with an outright & ATS win in the next game.
TRENDS BY GAME NUMBER
• NBA Finals series’ opening games have sided with the home teams of late – Home teams are on a 5-game SU winning streak (4-1 ATS) in NBA Finals Game 1s, with an average margin of victory of 14.0 PPG.
• UNDER’s have prevailed in Game 2s lately – Four of the L6 NBA Finals Game 2s have gone UNDER the total, including all four with totals of 209 or less. Only one visiting team in those games topped the 100-point mark.
• Home teams that have scored 100 points have thrived Game 2s – Home teams are 4-2 SU & ATS in the L6 NBA Finals Game 2s, but those that reached the 100-point mark are 4-0 SU & ATS with an average MOV of 22.3 PPG!
• Game 3’s have been higher scoring – Following the same pattern of the conference finals, after low-scoring Game 2s, scoring is up in Game 3’s with four of the L6 NBA Finals games going OVER the total.
• Home team Game 4’s that won Game 3 are bad bets – Home teams that won their NBA Finals Game 3 are 0-3 SU & ATS since 2013 in Game 4, losing all three times by double-digits, despite being favored in two of the games.
• Momentum has been a big factor in Games 5-7 – The later a series gets, the more important momentum has become, as teams coming off a win in a NBA Finals game are 6-3 SU & 7-1-1 ATS in Games 5-7 of a series.
TRENDS BY SEED NUMBER
(note that this year’s Finals matches a #2 in Toronto versus a #1 in Golden State)
• #2 seeds struggle against the #’1 – In the last six NBA Finals series, there have been three different #2 seeds playing, all against #’1. The combined record of those teams is just 7-16 SU & 8-14-1 ATS in their L23 NBA Finals games when playing as underdogs or favorites of 4.5 points or less, #1 seeds are just 7-19 SU & 9-17 ATS.
• Lay the wood again with #1 seeds vs. #2’s– Top-seeded teams playing at home against #2 teams are on a run of 10-1 SU & 8-2-1 ATS in their L11 NBA Finals opportunities.
• When #2 seeds do win over #’1, it’s because of defense - #2 seeded teams are on 5-1 SU & ATS surge when holding #1 seeds below 100 points in NBA Finals series games.
• #2 seeds can’t put back-to-back wins together versus #1’s – 2015 Cleveland, in Games 2 & 3, is the only one of the recent three #2 seeded teams to put back-to-back wins together in a NBA Finals series. The others have combined to go 0-8 SU & 1-6-1 ATS following up a win.
• The only #1 vs. #1 matchup was in 2016 – In the L6 years, the only time that two #1 seeds matched up in the NBA Finals was in 2016, the year Lebron & Cleveland beat Golden State 4-3. Home teams were 4-3 SU & ATS in that series and outright winners went 7-0 ATS.
TRENDS BY TEAMS CLOSING OUT SERIES OR FACING ELIMINATION
• Closeout games have been high scoring – In the L6 games where ONE of the two teams was looking to close out a series, OVER the total is 5-1.