Eastern Conference Finals Wagering Preview
The Eastern Conference Finals are set after the Boston Celtics took advantage of a great fourth quarter to storm past the Washington Wizards and win a tense Game Seven at home. The home team took all seven games in the series, so I guess that is why you fight for that top seed all season long; unless you are Cleveland of course. The Cavaliers took their foot off the gas so dramatically that they literally GAVE the top seed back to Boston in an act of seeming disinterest/disrespect.
Now, the Eastern Conference Finals are set to begin, and the Celtics are in a comfortable position, at home, with home court advantage with a trip to the Finals on the line. Will that home court advantage be enough to push them through? Will it be enough to even make this a competitive series? Vegas is definitely skeptical of Brad Stevens cast of almost-stars, installing them as a significant underdog. 5 Dimes has them at +400 against Cleveland’s -500, Bovada is a little stingier on both sides, offering Boston at +375 and Cleveland at -550. Either way, the money favors Cleveland by a very healthy margin.
Is an upset possible? Even more importantly, is the 4/1 flyer a worthwhile Lotto ticket? After all, the Celtics are deep and have home court advantage?? Let’s take a look at some interesting wagers for the Eastern Conference Finals.
Eastern Conference Finals – Series Prices
Cleveland Cavaliers to Win Series: -500
I am not usually a huge fan of 1/5 odds. That is a lot of money to lay down for a pretty modest return. The risk vs. reward spectrum gets a little too wide for my liking, but barring a LeBron catastrophe, it is very difficult seeing this team lose the series. Compared to the Golden State Warriors opening at -1100, it seems like a steal. The Cavaliers sleepwalked through the Indiana series, looking unimpressive at times, but still garnered the series sweep. They hit the accelerator a little bit for Toronto, and blew the doors of the Raptors to the point where poor DeMar DeRozan did everything but wear a LeBron James jersey to the Game Four postgame presser. They didn’t just beat the Raptors, they utterly demoralized a franchise. I think that was a sign of where this team is right now, and I have a feeling the same thing is in store for the Celtics.
Now, before tip-off, the Celtics could very well learn they now possess the top pick in next year’s NBA Draft, so “decimate the franchise” could be an overstatement; were Cleveland to sweep the C’s out the door after a regular season that earned them the #1 seed – it would be a STRONG signal that their collection of ‘good’ to ‘very good’ (and one ‘excellent’ in I.T’s case) players is lacking the true STAR power to win an NBA title. It could lead to a massive roster shake-up, even with the potential #1 pick in tow. Whether Jimmy Butler or Gordon Hayward are big enough stars to make the difference, I remain skeptical. But if Cleveland does what I think they are about to do to Boston, they will have to consider some massive offseason moves.
No offense to Kelly Olynyk, but I don’t think he is netting 26 points in a game to bail out the Celtics against the Cavs like he did in Game Seven against Washington. The Celtics got above-average contributions from Avery Bradley in the Wizards series and got excellent play out of Al Horford, but they don’t have a trio that can dream of competing with LeBron, Kyrie, and Love over the course of a long series. Their best player, Isaiah Thomas, is asked to do more and complies more counting stats, but is no better than a push with Kyrie. Kevin Love is better than Al Horford, and the remaining supporting Cavs cast all play their roles with aplomb. They have excellent defenders like Shumpert, rebounders and rim protectors in Tristan Thompson, and can spread the floor with some of the most lethal shooters in the league, including newly-acquired Kyle Korver. This team is FAR more than just their Big Three. The Cavs are better two through ten, and the #1 -LeBron, is ridiculously and obviously unequalled.
The proof to me was contained in the final meeting between these teams in the regular season. With home court advantage on the line and both teams playing at max effort, Cleveland went IN TO Boston and beat them with a yawn. They overwhelmed Boston; a casual dismissal of any threat to their Eastern Conference supremacy, and while Boston would never say it aloud, I think they KNOW IT too.
To me, the question in this series isn’t “IF” Cleveland wins, but how quickly. And we shall discuss that prop wager next.
Here is where the wagering possibilities get interesting. Do you give Boston a puncher’s chance with home court advantage and some of the glaring defensive metrics that plagued the Cavs in the regular season? After all, Cleveland was just 22nd in defensive efficiency to Boston’s 22nd. If so, you can get a really nice price for Cleveland winning in six games. That would do a lot for the home court advantage factor, allowing them to split the first two at home and stave off elimination in Game Five before capitulating in Cleveland in Game Six. I like that value at +240.
I also like the “doors blown off” in “time to reevaluate our entire roster and philosophy” fashion that LeBron has done to more than a few teams over the last decade (Chicago, Indiana, Toronto…) and a sweep. Forget those defensive metrics; the Cavs didn’t put out much effort for a lot of stretches this season. This team CAN play defense, they just have to WANT to. I think they will WANT TO starting tomorrow night. Somewhat surprisingly, Vegas doesn’t find a sweep to be too far-fetched either, as it is priced at just +300.
I can’t envision this series going the full seven games. Cleveland doesn’t NEED to be at home to win, and they showed that clearly at the end of the season with the massacre in Boston. I think that game result was a big reason they chose ‘rest’ over ‘fighting for home court advantage’ the final week of the season. After that game, they knew Boston was no threat and decided to play the long game and get healthy for the eventual Golden State trifecta. This week, that prescience comes to fruition.
Average Points in the Series – LeBron James 30.5
Brad Stevens is nothing if not an astute student of the modern NBA. I am not sure there is a better X’s and O’s coach in the NBA and what they do coming out of timeouts; dead ball situations is an ongoing coaching clinic. Frankly, what he did with the roster, he has is NBA Coach of the Year worthy. Stevens will know well that while there is NO stopping LeBron, perhaps the best tactic is not to try to stop him at all…
LeBron can score. Obviously. But it isn’t his primary objective or competency. He is much better when facilitating and getting the entire team involved. If you have to pick your poison, you are mathematically better off with LeBron scoring 35 to 40 and hoping his teammates don’t get confidence from knocking down a ton of open shots. That means no cheating off Kyle Korver or JR Smith or Channing Frye. It means no double teaming on the block or running extra defenders at pick and rolls. It means everyone staying home and hoping instead of helping.
It also means LeBron having a monster 40-point effort a time or two in the series.
I think those monster games where Boston tries to play the slim percentages and refuses to help on ‘Bron is enough to get his average north of 30 in this series. The only downside to this wager is the possibility of a blowout game or two where his minutes are curtailed.
Average Points in the Series – Isaiah Thomas 28.5
Conversely, I don’t see why Cleveland would have any opposition to trying everything to neutralize I.T. His teammates had a few good games in the Wizards series and carried them to wins. They also had a few poorer games and the Celtics got smoked. If I am Cleveland, I am trying to cut the head off the snake and eliminate Thomas’s offensive outbursts. Kyrie isn’t a great defender, but the Cavaliers do have plenty of other people who can help. Don’t be surprised to see more talented, bigger and physical defenders get turns on I.T. and for Kyrie to slide to the less-dangerous Avery Bradley. If Avery Bradley can score 25, so be it, but they won’t let Thomas be a one-man band.
I expect Thomas to have a big game or two, just because of the volume of touches and the heavy reliance the Celtics place on him scoring and touching the basketball. But I also see a couple sub-twenties in the mix as the Cavs throw waves of bigger, more physical defenders his way. This has happened time and time again with LeBron in the postseason; the up-and-coming scoring superstar gunning for the King, only to leave after a disappointing series (ahem, Derek Rose…)
Game One seems to be the game where the underdog generally has the best chance to steal one; however, today the underdog is at home, fresh off an emotional Game Seven victory and the road team is the well-rested favorite. I think Cleveland gets the jump on the Celtics Wednesday night and immediately steals back what the Celtics worked so hard for all season long; home court advantage. That makes the minus 500 series price potentially the lowest that number will ever be, so if you like the Cavs in the series, I’d get in early. Boston has the home court, but I don’t see any way Warriors vs. Cavaliers III isn’t part of our June viewing pleasure.
** Game one of the Eastern Conference Finals begins Wednesday, May 17th