Pascal’s wager: Bet on Toronto and hope Siakam plays like a god!
That worked for Raptors backers in Thursday night’s series opener in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Pascal Siakam scored 32 points on 14 of 17 shooting, a surprising X-factor leading Toronto to a 118-109 victory as a 2-point favorite.
Granting that it’s not smart for bettors to ask any individual to continue playing over his head, the Raptors are deep with role players who are capable of taking a bite out of opponents with little warning (ask Milwaukee about Fred VanVleet).
And that depth helps them succeed in a variety of areas. Here are some key factors from Game 1 that handicappers should study as they ponder Sunday’s rematch (ABC, 8 p.m. ET)
Two-Point Shooting: Toronto won this stat 59% to 47%, meaning effectiveness on both offense and defense. Siakam shooting 12 of 14 on deuces was obviously a huge key. If you pencil in 8 of 14 for him, it’s still a Raptors win.
Three-Point Shooting: VSiN alerted you to Toronto’s production in the Eastern Finals. The Raptors won three-point scoring against the Bucks, surprising many. Thursday, Toronto was 13 of 33 while Golden State was 12 of 31. Any team that can hold its own with the Warriors from long range in volume and accuracy has a chance to win.
Turnovers: Golden State’s stars are prone to sloppiness when they don’t fear an opponent. Toronto played much cleaner with a 16-10 edge in this stat. Few wasted possessions for the hosts.
Pace: Toronto disrupted Milwaukee in the prior round by slowing that battle down. Golden State is comfortable at any pace. But a series underdog that plays slowly can make it tougher for opponents to rally from behind. Fewer opportunities. Game 1’s pace factor of 94.1 is right in line with Toronto’s average of 93.9 in its four wins over Milwaukee.
We should also mention that heavy production from secondary threats will keep Kawhi Leonard from shouldering too much of a burden. Toronto only needs to win three more games. Leonard hasn’t been asked to carry the team yet.
Moments after Game 1 finished, sportsbooks were up with Game 2 openers. They had cleaned up with the preponderance of bets on the Warriors (in the opener and in series wagers). Clearly they were comfortable taking a position on Toronto again. Out of the gate, the line only dropped a half a point from -2 to -1.5 despite a dynasty sitting in a classic zig-zag spot. Monitor the markets between now and tipoff to see if a flood of money on the bounce-back causes a switch in favorites.
For the series, Golden State fell from roughly 72% (variations depending on the store) to roughly 58% to win the NBA title. Telling, because sports books didn’t price like the Warriors are about to break serve to retake a dominant position. They priced with an awareness that winning four games out of six against Toronto is going to be a tough test.