There have been several big doses of irony in spring and summer sports this year.
Try Tiger Woods triumphantly embracing his son 22 years after his late father did the same next to the 18th green at Augusta National. Or how about Manchester City winning the English domestic “treble” yet somehow allowing 2 rival clubs from the United Kingdom to represent Association football in the UEFA Champions League final.
Don’t forget Finland getting hosed out of a Women’s World Championship in Espoo, only to turn around and win the Men’s tournament without a single NHL player in front of a stunned crowd in Slovakia. That’s almost like an NHL team getting laughed out of the league in 2018 only to come back and go .800 in 2019 and advance to play an Original Six powerhouse in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Oh wait…that just happened too.
But you won’t find a more compelling storyline than the NBA playoffs.
Just think of the debates we’ve all had over the years. Could the Golden State Warriors have beaten XYZ opponent from 2017/’18/’19 without Kevin Durant on the team? Was the franchise in-essence “cheating” when it signed Durant and later Boogie Cousins to stack the roster for another postseason? What if the Basketball Gods forced Stephen Curry to play with a supporting cast that more-closely resembled the “small ball” upstart from the Obama years?
Careful what you wish for. Durant and Cousins have suffered scary injuries at unlucky times, and Steve Kerr’s club has been forced to compete for a championship without – oh, the agony – 4-to-5 perennial NBA All-Stars in the starting lineup for every game.
That’s what’s known as “facing adversity” for the dynasties of the world. Must be nice, huh?
The Warriors’ decidedly 1st-world issues will dominant sports pages again this Thursday as Golden State visits Toronto for Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Warriors Facing Raptors With Crippled Lineup
The Warriors have been surviving. But it hasn’t been easy, save for a clumsy wagon of an opponent in Portland. And now, in the Finals, Kerr and company must make a Pascal’s Wager of sorts.
Do the Warriors put faith in injured superstars who are rushing their recoveries trying to get back on the court? Or press ahead patiently with healthy cogs and a 4-quarter game plan? Even 2/3 of the Curry-Durant-Cousins combination would be a tremendous bonus to a club which has not looked quite as dominant in the postseason as fans and gamblers are accustomed to seeing.
But if the team plans to play an ailing player right away and things don’t work out, Golden State cagers could be worn-down by Pascal Siakam and the opposing Toronto Raptors’ interior game.
Kerr appears to be leaning toward Plan A for facing the Eastern Conference champions.
The coach told a reporter from The Athletic on Monday that while it “would be great” to have DeMarcus Cousins in the Game 1 lineup, the big man’s conditioning will need to be up to par first, and that the Warriors “have a lot of options.” As in other options.
I agree that it’s better to let Cousins go 100% in practice for a few more days before giving him any key role on the court against Toronto. We saw what happened when the dominant scorer debuted with Golden State during the regular season – the whole roster went cold while trying to accommodate Boogie. His game needs rehearsal or at least garbage-time minutes to warm up and gel with the other icons patrolling the hardwood in Oakland.
Meanwhile, Durant has been ruled-out of Game 1 in Toronto entirely.
Golden State vs Toronto: Series Price and Game 1 Lines
Let’s compare the “big daddy” Bovada Sportsbook’s current lines against one of the Raptors-like “upstarts” of our purview of NBA betting sites, the direct-branded Sportsbetting.ag.
Sportsbetting.ag likes to post “Asian Handicaps,” those pesky “(2, 2 ½) Over/Under lines and goal spreads we always see cropping up online. The odds are designed to give the house a scientific and mathematical advantage through partial payouts and the lack of traditional “push” outcomes.
But for NBA basketball, no such advantage can be gained through poison sushi – it’s just not as tasty when hundreds of points are being scored. So instead the bookmaker weighs the “vig” very cautiously – scientifically even – on hoops spreads and O/U totals.
For instance, the current Over/Under for Game 1 is (213 ½), a reasonable total, but the book offers only a (-113) payout on the Under result, eyeing the Warriors’ injuries and Toronto’s determination on defense.
The Toronto Raptors are a razor-thin (-115) favorite on the moneyline and (-1) on the Sportsbetting.ag spread for Thursday night in Canada.
It just occurred to me why Game 2 is scheduled for Sunday evening, not Saturday night. This wouldn’t look quite as awesome on a graphic. Or it would be an upgrade, depending on who you talk to:
The betting sites of the World Wide Web appear to agree on 2 things – that the Warriors are favorites to defend the NBA crown and that the Raptors are going to fight tooth-and-nail to win Game 1.
Bovada Sportsbook is favoring Golden State in Game 1, a notable fact considering that smaller-time sportsbooks often mimic the giant bookmaker, and because Sportsbetting.ag’s action has apparently been more pro-Raptors than the “worldly” Bovada! More Canadian immigrants to the United States, for instance (hate to stereotype but let’s be real here) appear to be wagering on Toronto for good luck or cheering interest than the number of Golden State fans at Sportsbetting.ag, while at Bovada the action is very slightly favoring the defending champs, even on Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.
The Raptors are an (Even) underdog at the larger sportsbook. The Warriors are a (-1) favorite, a (-120) pick on the moneyline and a big old (-280) favorite to win the series.
Weirdly, the series prices at the 2 books are almost identical. It seems that whatever fans may disagree about, they agree that Golden State is a strong favorite to lead the series later on.
That creates a very simple handicapping angle for the overall match-up. Can the Toronto Raptors wear-out or at least dim Golden State’s brightest shining lights as the NBA Finals travel over the border once and then back again? Could the Warriors’ level of fatigue effectively “cancel out” any sooner-than-expected return to 100% (or at least 90%) from Durant or Cousins next week?
If so, then the Raptors are a fine underdog series-price wager at either bookmaker.
But if Toronto proves to be the thinner or more-fragile roster of cagers at any point this week, as the Finals are beginning? Then bettors should head to Sportsbetting.ag or another spot where the Warriors are actually an underdog for Game 1.
Toronto’s Freaky-Good Defense vs Milwaukee
The Raptors met the Greek Freak and the Eastern Conference #1 seed in the 3rd round, and coach Nick Nurse wiped ether over the Milwaukee Bucks’ noses. Or, more accurately, Nurse put the Bucks’ offense on a treadmill. Try as they would, the club just couldn’t crack 100 points when it counted.
Maybe it felt too easy. Milwaukee unleashed a flurry to outscore the Raptors 32-17 in the 4th quarter to capture a 108-100 victory in Game 1, then made an emphatic statement in a 125-103 win behind an electric 30-point and 17-rebound performance by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Kawhi Leonard was brilliant for Toronto in Game 3, scoring 36 points in a 118-112 2OT victory. Key contributions from Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka would soon propel the Raptors to an impressive 18-point win at home to even the series.
Desperate, the Bucks rang up a 15-point lead in Game 6. But Nurse’s team went on an epic 26-3 run that served as the final death blow to the Bucks’ promising season. Lo and behold – Leonard had out-dueled the Freak in front of a crushed Milwaukee crowd.
The Raptors won 105-99 and followed up with another impressive game on defense to prevail 100-94 and meet Golden State for all the marbles.
They’ll face a club that has been battle-tested for weeks. But we already knew that the Golden State Warriors have championship experience. The injuries – and losses – have felt more like potential alarms…or red-flags against betting at short odds on Oakland to repeat.
When the Levee Breaks…if it Ever Does
Kerr’s team didn’t get by on reputation-alone in the first 2 playoff series of 2018-19. But it sure got by with a healthy dose of KD.
Before going down with a calf injury, Durant averaged a playoff league-high 34.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.9 assists this postseason.
A little guard you may have heard of has been picking-up the slack. Stephen Curry has averaged 36.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 7.3 assists, producing a clutch triple-double in Game 4 of the Warriors’ breeze over Portland in the Western Conference finals.
No Warrior elevated his performance against the Blazers more than Draymond Green. Green was at his best in a hostile environment, scoring triple-doubles on the road in Games 3 and 4.
Another betting angle could be that Golden State has been “spreading the wealth” anyway, keeping excellent scorers on the back-burner to accommodate Boogie and the other new talent while always having the option to rely on its true hometown heroes. Klay Thompson, Green, Curry and others are all still in their primes. We shouldn’t be waiting for the Warriors to fall like an NFL or NCAA dynasty.
Golden State’s roster won’t get old for a while and it looks just fine without its latest acquisitions – at least when sweeping a playoff opponent in round 3.
What happens if the extra minutes for Curry, Green, and Thompson happen to take a toll in Game 5 and/or Game 7 in Muddy York? Will the series get that far?
It certainly will if Toronto takes the floor looking like the superior team at home in Game 1…as a majority of Sportsbetting.ag users think will occur.
An Interesting Prop to Consider
It’s rare to see the gambling public agree on such a clear theory for how an NBA Finals will go. The public believes that the Raptors’ bench, not the Warriors’ bench, will be ground-down over 7 games (if necessary) after a promising start to the series at home.
Leonard has played inspired basketball throughout the postseason, but he has also been hampered by a persistent leg injury…at least according to teammate Denny Green. (Strange to see a player so-honestly rattle-off his club’s health issues in public.)
The superstar’s career-high 52 minutes in Game 3 against the Bucks certainly did not help matters. The Warriors have already proved this postseason the team is capable of winning without Durant on the court. The same may not be said for the Raptors without Leonard.
Nurse’s adjustments to his team’s offense, intended to increase pace and 3-point shot attempts, has made the Raptors more explosive. Pascal Siakam is a breakout performer, Serge Ibaka is his most productive since joining the team, and Kyle Lowry averaged a career-high in assists this season.
None of those players stand-up all that well against the Golden State guards and interior line-up. It will be up to Toronto’s fine team defense to hold down the Splash Brothers’ shooting % whether or not Boogie Cousins or Kevin Durant becomes a prohibitive threat.
There is no “Toronto will win Game 1 and then Leonard will get re-injured and everything will go south from there and Golden State will win 2 or 3 games in a row to defend the title” prop on the Finals at Bovada Sportsbook. (After all, they’d run out of room trying to print that.)
But wait – is there now? The sportsbook offers a (+155) line on Toronto to “Lead The Series After 3 Games” along with the series-prop of “Warriors in 6” at (+250).
That could make a hell of a combination-wager if you believe Leonard will hit the ground running in Toronto, then sag as the series wears on in unfriendly Oakland. If the 3-in-a-row run everyone’s expecting begins at Oracle Arena on June 5th, a gambler could clean up on both of those lines at once.
Too bad there’s not a parlay.
Betting Tips on the 2019 NBA Finals
To recap, bettors are thinking that while the Warriors’ injuries look worse in the short term, ironically (imagine that) the talents of Durant and Cousins could be getting “saved for later” just as Leonard’s chronic injury swells-up again after playing his guts out above the border.
It won’t necessarily be that simple. It never is. I’m liking the Over (213 ½) and (-107) at Sportsbetting.ag, as I believe Nurse will recognize that his best bet is a crank-up the team’s intensity and tempo and try to get ahead of Golden State while his team’s nucleus is indisputably healthier.
But the prop odds at Bovada are also too sweet to ignore. I predict a hot 4th-quarter comeback by the Warriors in Game 1 and an eventual 6-game series win.