Cleveland Cracks First
In the cross-country battle that’s being waged by the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors as they head towards the NBA Finals, it was the Cavaliers who cracked first. With both teams having won their first ten games of the postseason, Golden State held serve on the road in Game 3 at San Antonio, but Cleveland could not do the same on their home floor against Boston last night. The Cavs coughed up a 21-point lead and lost 111-108, a game they were a (-16.5) favorite.
No one is under any illusion that this is going to slow Cleveland’s march to the Finals, but that doesn’t mean we can just dismiss it as an embarrassment. Basketball bettors have been preparing for the anticipated Warriors-Cavs Finals matchup all season and information gathered now matters a great deal. So, was last night’s lost just a little embarrassing hiccup or is it a sign that the Cavs are clearly not in Golden State’s class?
Critics of the Cavaliers will point to the supposedly easier road that they’ve had in the Eastern Conference. While no one can dispute that the West is, top-to-bottom, the superior conference, Golden State’s playoff road has not been harder than Cleveland’s.
For one, the worst team in the postseason was the Portland Trailblazers, the one outlier among otherwise solid entries from the West. The Warriors, as a fruit of their 1-seed, got to play Portland in the opening round.
In the second round, Golden State played Utah. The Jazz are a smart, tough team, worthy of respect. But is beating them really more impressive than beating, say the Toronto Raptors, as Cleveland did? It’s hard to make that case.
The Western Conference Finals was going to be where Golden State was really tested, and when they fell behind San Antonio by twenty points in Game 1, it looked for all the world like that we finally had a battle. Then Kawhi Leonard went down, joining Tony Parker on the sidelines. And the Warriors have been coasting ever since. If you look at the wounded cast the Spurs are actually putting on the floor right now, is it really worse than what Cleveland is playing against in Boston?
Finally, even after last night’s embarrassment, Cleveland still has a slightly superior ATS record in the playoffs to Golden State. The Cavs are 6-3-2 to the number, with last night’s loss ending a 5-0-1 string of decisive wins and pointspread covers. The Warriors are 7-4 for their bettors, a winning percentage that’s a tick lower.
Ultimately, this points to why basketball handicappers have to keep their mind clear of the media hype surrounding the coming Finals and keep focused on the number. Golden State is being priced as a clearly superior team. If the futures odds are any indication of the pointspreads we’ll see in individual Finals games, then the Warriors are going to come at a price-they’re currently 5-13 to win the championship while the Cavs still remain at 2-1.
In the eyes of Las Vegas, this impending Cleveland-Golden State showdown isn’t really a showdown at all. As handicappers, we have to decide if the Warriors are worth the price.