The National Basketball Association is living proof that “parity” among a majority of teams is not a necessary ingredient for fans to enjoy a sport.
Lack of parity in the NBA actually makes the games more interesting. If you input 5 or 10 NHL match-ups into a computer and ask it to produce random final scores, it would be easy to convince an off-the-grid fan that last night’s games actually happened that way. You couldn’t really do that in pro basketball. Someone would see “Lakers 130, Warriors 85” and smell a rat.
Having a few dominant clubs is just fine in a mega-popular league like the NBA. Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors are favored to win the NBA Finals yet again, and everyone has fun searching for that special roster that could knock them off the pedestal in summer.
The only downside is that the top-heavy organization sends 8 teams per conference, and 16 teams total to the postseason. I’ve noticed a “sleepy” vibe to the ESPN and FOX Sports highlights from low-seed vs high-seed playoff series in mid-April. It’s as if the reels are shown only out of obligation and to hype shoo-in winners for the more contested rounds to come.
Unless injuries occur, or unless a 3-vs-6 / 4-vs-5-seed type of conference quarterfinal gets heated in the late stages, most of the NBA fan base is in a holding pattern when the playoffs begin, waiting for the real drama to come later on.
They don’t have to wait in 2019. Not given what happened at Oracle Arena on Monday night.
Historic L.A. Comeback Rattles Oakland
Zion Williamson and the Duke Blue Devils supposedly pulled-off the most electric comeback of the 2018-19 hoops season when they rallied from 20+ points down to beat the Louisville Cardinals in an ACC contest.
Lou Williams: “Hold my Clippers.”
Led by Williams’ 36 points and half of a dozen double-digit scorers and rebounders, the L.A. Clippers erased a 31-point – 31-point! – 3rd quarter deficit against the aristocrats of the NBA, prevailing 135-131 in one of the greatest comeback wins in Association history.
During the Duke comeback, Louisville made the unforced error of shooting from bad looks against Coach K’s adjusted zone defense. In Game 2 of the Western Conference’s 1-vs-8 meeting, it was Golden State head coach Steve Kerr who made the fatal mistake.
Kerr pulled most of his All-Star starting lineup off the floor when the 3rd quarter appeared to progress into garbage time. After all, NBA teams only average 25 to 30 points per 12-minute frame. If the Warriors could have gotten to the start of the 4th quarter without the lead dipping back into the 20s, the #1 Western Conference seed could have conceivably won without sinking another field goal.
Fat chance. Playing against backups (and Curry, who was in foul trouble), the Clippers went on a fantastic run to close the 3rd quarter, closing the gap to just 14.
The game was on. Kerr, of course, brought Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson back onto the court. Momentum was firmly with the Clippers, but surely the Warriors could prevail at home once the best cagers on both teams were playing their guts out – especially given a 14-point lead to work with.
They couldn’t, though. Williams cemented his reputation as one of the finest bench players in the modern NBA by hitting several amazing shots to keep pressure on Golden State.
Once the Warriors went cold from the field in midst of the 4th quarter, the #8 seeded underdogs had the opening they needed to make a miracle happen.
It’s funny that the announcer says “Steve Kerr is taking no chances” early in the YouTube reel. “Taking no chances” would have meant leaving his best players on the floor until the Clippers decided it was garbage time. It can be dangerous to assume any lead is unapproachable unless and until your opponent actually believes that the game is over.
The 31-point comeback (actually 35 if you realize L.A. won by 4 points) not only sets a new NBA playoff record, it rivals the widest-overcome margin in the history of the league. The Utah Jazz came back from 36 points down to beat the Denver Nuggets in 1996.
That’s very impressive, except the Jazz weren’t playing a postseason game against the defending NBA champs.
It may have crossed Kerr’s mind in the 3rd quarter that the Warriors could still lose Game 2. But what he failed to consider was the momentum an historic victory would give a more-talented-than-usual #8 seed. When Golden State went up by 30+ it became more important to step on the gas pedal. Never has a skipper tapped the brakes and welcomed a more devastating outcome.
Where does the series go from here? Well, it heads to Staples Center in L.A. of course. But the betting odds for Thursday have taken the turn you might expect. If the Clippers appeared dead in the water after 2 games against the top seed, there would likely be a much-wider point spread and a wider gap between the moneylines of each club in Game 3.
Instead, things are tightening up…rather unlike Oakland’s 3rd-quarter defense on Monday.
Comparing the Online Betting Odds for Game 3
The NBA betting sites in our network may be offering tighter odds for Thursday night’s meeting in Los Angeles than would have been expected prior to Game 2’s jaw-dropping finish.
However, you can’t say the lines aren’t also tight in another sense too. In an era of “price wars” and adventurous gambling markets, sportsbooks are treating Game 3 in rather uniform fashion.
Bovada Sportsbook’s moneyline is Golden State (-400), Los Angeles (+300). That’s almost a carbon-copy of the straight-up W/L odds at MyBookie, which are (-400) and (+310).
Sportsbetting.ag is acting a little – ahem – rebellious with lines of (-380) and (+320).
The point spreads and O/U lines are of a similar theme, or shall we say identical themes. Bovada takes (-8 ½) points from the favored Warriors and offers a (237) Over/Under total, and Sportsbetting.ag gives the same number for each line. MyBookie and BetOnline? Same same.
Of course the action at each sportsbook could change things over the next couple days. For now, let’s focus in on that Sportsbetting.ag moneyline for the Clippers.
If L.A. is a solid underdog pick at home in Game 3, then we want to locate the longest moneyline odds at which to place the wager. Right now (+320) at Sportsbetting.ag is the number.
Why Las Vegas Isn’t More Generous to Golden State Bettors
Though the betting odds are certainly tighter than they would be in a 2-0 snoozer of a series, the opening consensus for Thursday is still not as tight as I would have forecasted.
After all the Clippers have nothing to lose and a tremendous win fresh in memory. The fans at Staples Center are likely to be off the hook. L.A. likes to run in the transition game and can put plenty of size, speed and talent on the floor.
Williams may come off the bench a lot, but he’s really a starter in the practical sense, leading the team in minutes-per-game over the opening 2 games in Oakland. The wily veteran is dishing-out assists as if he’s not playing against one of the quickest defenses in the game.
Montrezl Harrell is a beefy power forward who also lit it up in Game 2, going a perfect 9-of-9 from the field. Point guard Landry Shamet led the squad with a .450 shooting mark from downtown during the season, and connected on 4-of-9 looks from beyond the arc on Monday.
What is the logic of bookies who expect a comfortable Golden State win on Thursday night?
Vegas could be predicting a simple reversion to the average likely outcome between a top seed and a bottom-qualifier. The Golden State Warriors were dominant in Game 1 of the series, running-up a double-digit halftime lead and coasting to a 17-point victory.
Psychology could also be a factor. Bookmakers may be thinking that since Kerr is treating the NBA playoffs like a marathon, not a sprint, it should be simple enough for the conservative coach to utilize an up-tempo game with his 5 starters, and show those upstart Clippers who’s boss. Once the Warriors have been bothered by an opponent, the club often responds with a nice outing in the next game.
There are 2 problems with that analysis.
First, the skipper already tried to dial-up 100% intensity from his team in the desperate final quarter of Game 2. But it’s very difficult to adjust mentally once things have stalled on the court. The Warriors are still a solid pick to recover and win the NBA Finals…but they’re not so great that they can start scoring well in an instant simply because they want to. Especially against playoff-level defense.
Second, one of those “5 starters” – arguably the most crucial outside of Curry and Durant – is sure to miss the game on Thursday.
Boogie Cousins may have suffered a major injury in Monday’s contest. Unless a 2nd opinion comes quickly, club doctors are diagnosing the All-Star big man with a torn quad.
While the NBA isn’t the NHL – Curry would be unlikely to sit out a playoff game with “the flu” unless he actually had a very bad flu – I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of clarity from the Warriors on the exact injury. The team is giving no timetable for Boogie’s return, perhaps a ploy to make the Clippers wonder if he could somehow gut things out later in the series.
The quotes from Boogie’s teammates, however, are ominous.
“We’ll rally behind him, tell him it’s far from the end of the world and tell him he has so much great basketball ahead of him,” says Klay Thompson of the Cousins injury. “It sucks. Injuries are part of the game, a terrible part of the game. But he’ll bounce back. I know he will. He’s a fighter.”
Hmm. NBA players are taught “loose lips sink ships” and to begin and end every sentence spoken to the media with generalities and platitudes. But look out-of-context at the words that kept coming to the 5-time All Star’s mind. “Sucks.” “Terrible.” “End of the world.”
Thompson knows what’s up. DeMarcus Cousins isn’t coming back for a while.
That puts extra pressure on Thompson, Curry and Golden State’s other fine outside shooters. Not just mental pressure but literal pressure, since the Clipper defense can now focus more on guarding the perimeter. While Durant still gives the favorites a consistent threat to score from inside, it could also take time to adjust to Cousins’ absence – just like it took time to adjust to his presence.
Sportsbooks Could Regret the Lines on Game 3
I promise this isn’t a golf preview edited into the wrong spot – we’re sticking to NBA basketball predictions. But bear with me for a moment.
While watching The Masters this year, it struck me that Tiger Woods’ mental-game advantage comes into play most when he’s walking to the green after an average iron shot.
Most PGA pros “carry” a bad shot onto the green with them. When a promising approach shot lands 20 or 30 feet away from the hole, they tend to mutter curses, then “lag” the putt after thinking ahead to where other birdie opportunities could come from.
Not Tiger. Whatever lousy shot happened 5 minutes ago doesn’t stick with him. It’s gone, forgotten, water under the Byron Nelson bridge. Tiger’s going to stalk that putt like it’s his only stroke of the round, and nobody will be surprised if it goes in.
I’m thinking that Game 3 of the Warriors-Clippers series could come with a similar “realization” effect for bookies and gamblers when the tip-off is imminent on Thursday night.
Sure, it’s easy to look at numbers and individual match-ups and conclude that Golden State is an (8 ½) point favorite. Curry, Durant, and Thompson are all still there, playing against a defense that just isn’t that muscular or imposing compared to that of the Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics.
But the Vegas odds are badly overlooking the real situation. A talented NBA team just put on one of the greatest shows of all time on hostile hardwood. Now they’re returning home to one of the most basketball-rabid cities in America. The Clippers’ momentum should at least provide a significant boost in Game 3, their maiden home game of the 2019 playoffs.
Those factors will hit home to most of the gambling public during pre-game warm ups on Thursday night. The atmosphere at Staples Center will not reflect a foregone conclusion.
Meanwhile, Kerr’s Warriors are not only facing a road trip after blowing a gasket in Game 2, but dealing with a huge bummer in the trainer’s room. The team’s best big man and most-significant acquisition of the season is firmly out of the lineup.
The Clippers are clearly the pick. Moneyline or point spread? It’s a matter of taste…and how much you’re willing to sweat it out to earn a better payoff on the winner.