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Opening weekend for playoffs: Upset specials

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

April 16, 2017 11:13 PM

Who needs movies?! Both the NBA and NHL playoffs are off to Fast and Furious starts. Let’s preview Monday’s action from a handicapping perspective as we also take time to review a weekend of high speed chases and explosive action.

Cavs carry 1-0 series lead into Monday rematch with Pacers 

We start with the biggest box office star in the NBA. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers almost let one get away from them in Saturday’s 109-108 survival of the Indiana Pacers. 

Cleveland (-8) 109, Indiana 108

  • Two-Point Pct: Indiana 51%, Cleveland 62%
  • Turnovers: Indiana 13, Cleveland 11

If you didn’t get a chance to see the game live, you might have assumed from scoreboard watching that it was played at a breakneck pace. Looked like a finish in the 230s or 240s until a dead fourth quarter “only” took the game Over the market total by eight points (scoring by quarter: 63-62-51-41). Believe it or not, this was a very SLOW game. Only 89 possessions (same as in the Milwaukee/Toronto game that landed on 180 total points). It was high scoring because neither defense could stop the other until both clamped down in the final stanza. Each team made 11 treys. LeBron scored 32 points and dished out 13 assists in playoff mode. 

Critics have been wondering if Cleveland can play defense well enough to defend its Eastern crown. That question is still very much in play. Indiana’s offense isn’t this good. Cleveland had to shoot lights out for three quarters to build a lead they could barely hold onto. Note also that Indiana won rebounding 41-34 despite being worse at that skill set entering the series. This was not championship caliber basketball from the pricey hosts. 

Indiana is plus 7.5 in this quick rematch. Can the Pacers bring the same intensity on offense but better defense? Or, will they be disheartened by their failure to steal Game One? The market continues to price Cleveland like a champion, rather than a team that only plays that well every so often. 

Can Spurs avoid Monday letdown after obliterating Grizzlies in Game 1?

Concerns that San Antonio had lost its mojo entering the Memphis series were put to rest right away. What a blowout!

San Antonio (-9) 111, Memphis 82

  • Two-Point Pct: Memphis 42%, San Antonio 53%
  • Three-Pointers: Memphis 7/20, San Antonio 10/19
  • Rebounds: Memphis 35, San Antonio 43

Another very slow game, with only 86 possessions per team. Yet, San Antonio was so efficient that they scored 111 points. Kawhi Leonard was 10 of 11 on two-point shots and 9 of 9 from the free throw line on his way to 32 points in 32 minutes. Six different Spurs made three-pointers. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 20 points. Tony Parker warded off “over the hill” criticisms for the time being with 18 points in 22 minutes. 

The main question for Monday is whether or not the Spurs can dodge the obvious letdown danger after a 29-point blowout. As long as defensive whiz Tony Allen is out for the Griz (still considered to be out “indefinitely” with a calf injury), Memphis isn’t well-suited to stopping San Antonio’s strengths. The Spurs are favored by 11.5, a jump of a bucket over Saturdays’ opener even though Memphis is in the classic zig-zag betting spot. That tells you a lot about how the “smarts” as Jimmy Vaccaro calls them currently see this series. None seem interested in Memphis as a double digit dog.

There weren’t supposed to be any NBA upsets: Bucks, Jazz, Bulls score shockers

Favorites were all priced at more than the pure value of home court advantage in this week’s openers. Few pundits were calling for a weekend of upsets. Yet three dogs won outright and a fourth just missed. A quick summary of the other six NBA playoff games played this past weekend…

*Milwaukee (plus 7.5) shocked Toronto 97-83. The Greek Freak has been amazing NBA fans all season. Casual observers finally got a glimpse of what Giannis Antetokounmpo can do Saturday as “Fear the Deer” came back to life in the form of a 21.5-point cover. Giannis scored 28 points and grabbed 8 rebounds while leading a defensive effort that held the hometown Raptors to just 32 points in the second half. The Bucks were sharp on offense, turning the ball over just 5 times while hitting 9 of 23 treys (equivalent of 59% on two’s). “The next LeBron” may be maturing into a champion at a faster pace than anticipated.

*Utah (plus 5.5) beat the LA Clippers 97-95 on a buzzer shot from Joe Johnson. This despite losing defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert on the first play of the game to a knee sprain. If you went to bed thinking Utah’s season was as good as over after the early injury, you woke up to surprising news! Not much separated the two in the boxscore in this hardfought battle. Utah’s bench did outscore LAC 47-20, only partly because of Gobert’s immediate injury. If Blake Griffin has to play 43 minutes, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan 37 minutes apiece, and the Clippers still can’t win…that favors the Jazz even if Gobert can’t return. 92 possessions in this one for those of you keeping track.

*Washington (-4.5) beat Atlanta 114-107. The Hawks looked like they might score another upset, but Washington won the second half 69-59 to take care of business. John Wall scored 32 points and had 14 assists. The big difference in this fast game (100 possessions) was that Atlanta couldn’t handle the lightning pace. The Hawks suffered 19 turnovers, which helped the Wizards score 10 extra two-point baskets. Both offenses shot 51% on deuces, but too many of Atlanta’s possessions were ending up in Washington’s hands. 

*Golden State (-15) beat Portland 121-109, failing to cover the very high point spread. This was a tie game entering the fourth quarter before a Warriors flurry put it out of reach. Both teams made 11 treys. The Warriors won two-point shooting 59% to 46%, converted free throws 24-18, and rebounds 45-38. Portland’s soft defense doesn’t have any workable options in this matchup, particularly if GS can play at its preferred pace (101 possessions here). 

*Chicago (plus 7) beat Boston 106-102. This finished off a stunning weekend in the East where the four road underdogs outscored the four home favorites 418-408 while going 2-2 straight up and 3-1 ATS (the Pacers were a buzzer shot away from making it three outright wins for the Eastern dogs). You read in our matchup preview last week that Chicago was likely to own the boards (#4 in the league at rebound rate, compared to #27 for Boston). That held true in the extreme, with the Bulls dominating the category 53-36. All the second chance points scored off 20 offensive rebounds proved to be the difference-maker. Valiant effort from Celtics’ guard Isaiah Thomas in a very tough situation after the tragic death of his sister. He scored 33 points with just 18 shots from the field. 95 possessions per team in this one.

*Houston (-7) beat Oklahoma City 118-87. The Thunder actually led 52-51 with 2:42 left in the second quarter. Houston would win the rest of the game 67-35. James Harden was 10 of 17 on two-point shots on his way to 37 points and 9 assists. Russell Westbrook reverted to the worst of his past playoff form, shooting just 6 of 23 from the floor while turning the ball over 9 times. Houston will certainly see something more explosive before the series ends. Very disappointing “defense and rebounding” efforts from the road dog. OKC let Houston shoot 60% on deuces, and lost the battle of the boards 56-41. The Thunder led the NBA in rebound rate (percentage of available rebounds grabbed) during the regular season. A decisive Under here, failing to reach the market price by 22 points despite an active 98 possession pace. 

Pace Recap

  • Fast: Portland/Golden State, Atlanta/Washington, OKC/Houston
  • Normal: Chicago/Boston
  • Slow: Utah/LAC
  • Very Slow: Indiana/Cleveland, Milwaukee/Toronto, Memphis/San Antonio

Moving now to the NHL…

NHL: Must-win Monday for Blackhawks, Flames; Senators/Bruins, Caps/Leafs are 1-1

Four games on tap Monday night in the NHL playoffs, as the first round continues to zoom through the schedule at breakneck pace. Quick notes on this evening’s matchups in Nevada rotation order…

*Washington (-155, total is 5 with the Over at -140) at Toronto: The teams split overtime games in Washington, which shocked the hockey world because the Caps were prohibitive favorites in both (-265 and -235). We’re knotted at 6-apiece on the scoreboard. But, the underdog Leafs actually won “even strength” scoring 5-3. Does that mean they can steal another game as a dog at home? Washington is -155 Monday because the market still sees them as the much superior side going forward. 

*Ottawa at Boston (-165, total is 5 with the Under at -125): Ottawa was on the brink of virtual elimination down two goals at home to the Bruins Saturday. The Senators rallied to knot the series. Boston is still in control with home ice advantage moving forward. Ottawa leads total shots 56-54, which isn’t impressive for a team that was playing from behind much of the time. 

*Chicago at Nashville (-115, total is 5 with the Over at -125): Nashville is up 6-0 on the scoreboard even though both games were played at Chicago. The Blackhawks outshot Nashville 59-49, but that’s not impressive considering they were in desperation mode as the superior team much of the time. Brent Musburger talked at length about his disappointment with the Blackhawks effort with Vinny Magliulo Sunday during the first half hour of “My Guys in the Desert.” Three of the next four games would be in Nashville if needed. 

*Anaheim at Calgary (-120, total is 5 with the Under at -140): Anaheim won both home games 3-2 as favorites near -160. Shot attempts are almost even at 70-69. Clearly a must-have game for Calgary. Though, the price doesn’t reflect much respect for the Flames. If they were seen as a dangerous side, they’d be laying a lot more at home while trying to avoid a 3-0 hole. 

Quick summaries of Sunday’s results…

*Montreal (pick-em) beat the NY Rangers on the road 3-1 (to lead the series 2-1). Like Ottawa, they were near the point of no return at home not too long ago. Now they’ve regained home ice thanks to a 29-21 advantage in Sunday shots. That reflects an impressive 22-12 edge in the first two periods when the game was mostly tied, and only a 7-9 loss in attempts as the Rangers tried to play from behind the whole third period.  

*Pittsburgh (plus 110) beat Columbus 5-4 in overtime (to lead the series 3-0). That late-season Columbus slide has continued into the playoffs. Pittsburgh leads even-strength scoring 10-5 through three games. The Penguins are now positioned to get this series finished earlier than expected, while projected second round opponent Washington is already locked into playing at least five games on a later rotation. 

*St. Louis (plus 110) beat Minnesota 3-1 (to lead the series 3-0). Truly the shocker of the first round to this point, as Minnesota has now lost as favorites of -180, -200, and -130 (on the road). Minnesota won total shots for the third straight game (41-31) because they were playing from behind for the third straight game. Quite the wall the Blues have built in front of their net! Only three goals for the Wild from 117 shots. St. Louis leads even-strength scoring 6-2 through three games.

*Edmonton (plus 110) beat San Jose 1-0 (to lead the series 2-1). Scoreless into the third period, Edmonton broke through just past the fiftieth minute with the game's only goal. The last two games in this series have been played very close to the vest...with just 52 total shots in G2, and only 45 in G3. Even-strength scoring is just 2-2 through all three games. Edmonton regains home ice advantage with this victory.

NHL Recap through 20 games

Road teams are 11-9

5 Overs, 11 Unders, 4 pushes 

Pauly Howard joins VSiN’s weekday lineup Monday

If you missed the news, VSiN’s weekday coverage expands to SIX hours today with the addition of “Follow the Money” with Pauly Howard. You’ve enjoyed Howard’s bold sports analysis and informative market insights weekends on VSiN since early in the NCAA Tournament.

The start of our broadcast day is now an hour earlier from this point forward and features these three two-hour shows. 

2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. in Las Vegas: “Follow the Money” with Pauly Howard

4 p.m. ET, 1 p.m. in Las Vegas: “A Number’s Game” with Gill Alexander

6 p.m. ET, 3 p.m. in Las Vegas: “My Guys in the Desert” with Brent Musburger

Watch live here at, or listen live on Sirius channel 215, XM channel 204.

Back Tuesday with more NBA and NHL Previews…and more recaps of key stats. We’ll do our best to squeeze in baseball, which will be easier once some playoff teams get eliminated. Look for special MLB starting pitcher analysis from VSiN's Michael Lambourne in the very near future.

Thanks for spending part of your Monday in VSiN City. If you have any comments, questions, or other feedback about our newsletter or broadcast coverage, please drop us an email.

If you are not yet a newsletter subscriber, get on board by signing up here.

Follow us on Twitter: @VSiNLive.


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