For the fourth year in a row, the Golden State Warriors will play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. This time, LeBron James and the Cavaliers are huge underdogs.
Golden State is outscoring opponents by 10.3 net points per 100 possessions during the postseason, while Cleveland has a net rating of 1.2. Based on that, we would expect the Warriors to beat the Cavaliers 86 percent of the time at home and 66 percent of the time on the road. In a seven-game series, that translates to the Warriors winning the 2018 NBA title 96 percent of the time, with a one-in-three chance at a four-game sweep. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas agree. The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas installed Golden State as a minus-1,000 favorite to win the best-of-seven series, which means bettors have to wager $1,000 on the Warriors to win $100, making them the largest Finals favorites in at least 16 years.
“We have an opportunity to play for a championship,” James told the Associated Press after beating the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. “It doesn’t matter what the story line is going to be. It doesn’t matter if we’re picked to win or not.”
If Cleveland is going to pull off the upset, it may require Golden State beating themselves, much like how the Houston Rockets imploded in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
The Rockets missed an NBA playoff record 27 consecutive three-point attempts Monday night, including a woeful 0-for-14 stretch in the third quarter. Based on Houston’s performance in the regular season and playoffs, the odds of the team going 0 for 27 at some point on three-point attempts were approximately 10,000-to-1, similar chances to a person getting injured by a toilet.
The Cavaliers need a similar cold streak by the Warriors to win a game in addition to a torrent of three-point shots made by their squad, an almost unfathomable combination of events for one game, let alone four.
Since Steve Kerr took over as head coach in 2014, the Warriors have lost 20 playoff games; 16 of those involved their opponents shooting better from behind the three-point line. For example, in playoff wins over the past four years, the Warriors have shot 40 percent from behind the three-point line while their opponents connected on 30 percent of their long-range attempts. In losses, those shooting rates are completely reversed at 32 and 40 percent, respectively. The league average, by comparison, is 36 percent.
That’s a tall order for this year’s Cavaliers squad. There have been just two games in the 2018 NBA playoffs in which Cleveland has shot 40 percent or better from behind the arc while limiting opponents to 32 percent or worse: Game 4 against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals and Game 3 against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.
One of the reasons Cleveland struggles is its propensity to give up wide-open looks. According to Synergy Sports, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of the catch-and-shoot attempts by its opponents are unguarded, resulting in teams shooting 40 percent from behind the arc on these possessions.
The Warriors, meanwhile, are creating 12.3 unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts in the playoffs per game, the second most among playoff teams. Draymond Green (53 possessions) and Klay Thompson (47) get the most open looks on the team, followed by Stephen Curry (33), Andre Iguodala (27) and Kevin Durant (19), with those five averaging 1.3 points per possession.
Will that be the only reason the Warriors beat the Cavaliers in the Finals? No, but if Cleveland is going to have any chance at pulling off the upset, this is where it all starts.
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