Entering their sixth NBA Finals appearance in eight years, the Golden State Warriors get what the biggest stage is all about. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are three-time champions who have been here, done that and expect to do it again.
Home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series helps make the Warriors the favorites against the Boston Celtics, but the most distinct advantage Golden State has is obvious. As Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.”
Another sharp analyst, VSiN’s Brent Musburger, knows experience matters and said, “Warriors in six.”
The Celtics, young and appropriately dressed in green, will go into Thursday’s series opener with zero games of Finals experience — 123 fewer than Golden State’s roster. Still, the Warriors’ advantage in wisdom is only one way to look at a title matchup that presents several intriguing storylines and wagering angles.
At the Westgate SuperBook, where Golden State is the -160 series favorite and a 3.5-point home favorite in Game 1, a betting pattern has emerged.
“The Warriors are getting public support right now and the sharp bettors are taking the Celtics,” said SuperBook oddsmaker Jeff Sherman, who booked a $20,000 bet on Boston at + 145 for the series.
It’s not unusual for sharps to side with an underdog, of course, and it’s no surprise that a Curry-led Warriors team with a championship pedigree is more popular with the public. That’s where the story begins.
How the series ends depends on how effective the league’s best defense will be against the best 3-point shooter in NBA history. This is the first time since 1996 that the top two teams in defensive efficiency are meeting in the Finals. Boston, which brings the No. 1 defense, could have what it takes to contain Curry and his supporting shooters.
Not only do the Celtics feature a dynamic scoring duo in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, they put five starters on the floor who are elite defenders. The Warriors create open looks for Curry, Thompson and others by using a lot of screens and off-ball movement, but the Celtics are able to switch with Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart being versatile one-on-one defenders. Boston big men Al Horford and Robert Williams are also defensive forces, so Golden State’s half-court offense is facing its toughest challenge of the playoffs.
The Celtics displayed their defensive prowess in a first-round sweep of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets. Boston did not shut down Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks or Jimmy Butler of the Heat, yet the Celtics had enough toughness on both ends of the floor to take down Milwaukee and Miami in seven-game series.
“I think Boston’s defensive play is what’s going to dictate this series because I don’t think the Celtics are going to give the Warriors’ shooters as many open looks,” Sherman said. “I like the path Boston has taken to get here, beating tough competition along the way in a couple of Game 7s. If I’m betting this, I’m taking the plus money. I think Boston will win.”
Sherman has some action — he took 14-1 title odds on Golden State several months ago — and plans to bet on Boston at some point in this series. He said he’s “hopeful” the Warriors win Game 1 so he could play the Celtics at a better adjusted series price prior to Game 2.
“If you like the Warriors to win the series, you’re better off betting Curry to win MVP,” Sherman said.
Instead of laying -160 with the Warriors now, Sherman said, lay the -120 price on Curry and follow the theory that if Golden State prevails, Curry most likely will win his first Finals MVP. The problem is that’s not a foolproof plan. When the Warriors won the title in 2015, Andre Iguodala was voted MVP, and Durant won the award in 2017 and 2018.
Iguodala, a veteran forward, has missed the playoffs with an injury but could return this week along with Warriors reserves Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. With a week off since dumping Dallas in five games in the West finals, Golden State is the healthier and more-rested team.
The Celtics needed rest and are getting a few days of it before Thursday’s opener. Tatum, Brown and Horford each played at least 44 minutes in Sunday’s Game 7 at Miami. The resilience of Boston’s young team has been an advantage the past five months.
In early January, the Celtics were 18-21 and struggling so badly that some in the media were calling for Brown or Tatum to be traded. The Celtics’ title odds soared as high as 150-1 at the SuperBook. Boston rallied to finish the regular season 51-31 with a 33-10 closing run that included a 110-88 win at Golden State on March 16.
I was late to the party but do have a bet on the Celtics to win the title at 2-1 odds. I also took a shot on Smart to be named Finals MVP at 100-1 at Circa Sports. Smart’s defense will be crucial and he’s more than willing to take big shots. It’s a long shot, but Smart should be a top candidate if Boston can win the series.
Musburger, who called the NBA Finals for CBS Sports in the 1970s and ’80s, said, “The West Coast travel derails the ghost of Red Auerbach. The Warriors bring Boston to tears, winning the last game in Beantown.”
These are true road Warriors. Golden State has won at least one road game in each of its last 26 playoff series, an NBA-record streak that started nine years ago. That’s why there’s fear in betting against Curry and an experienced team on this stage.
The Celtics are built for the road as well, proving as much in these playoffs with big wins at Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami.
Boston is chasing its first championship since 2008 and is in the Finals for the first time since 2010, when the Celtics lost to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in seven games.
Since 2011, only two of the 11 Finals series went seven games. But this should be a back-and-forth thriller and I’ll predict it goes the distance.