2021 NBA Playoff Action: Siding with Jazz Over Kawhi-less Clippers in Game 5
Spread has not sufficiently adjusted for Leonard's absence: Jazz -7
If Kawhi Leonard were active, we probably would've backed the Jazz -2.5 Wednesday. But, the premier wing man left game 4 late in the fourth quarter and is out indefinitely after possibly injuring his ACL. In our thinking, this news ups the probability of the home cover, and we are laying the chalk with Utah. We detail below our rationale.
Foremost, we cite historical context in support of the Jazz Wednesday.
Fading road dogs that played at least four games in the previous eight days has proven a shrewd strategy, delivering a 16% long-term return on investment...
This system is 3-1 ATS so far this season.
Separately, we note that the Clippers 15-point home win in game 4 Monday materialized on the back of an exceptional offensive performance. LA mustered almost 129 points per 100 possessions in game 4. For context, the average NBA offense has delivered about 115 points per 100 possessions in the post-season, and the Clippers' elite offense posted an average of 122 since the end of the NBA's regular season proceedings.
Thus, there was a case to be made for regression Wednesday, even if Kawhi was available.
Absent the 36th best player in the League, per ESPN's Real Plus-Minus statistic, we think the Clippers' chance of securing the cover diminishes greatly, giving us the comfort to back the Jazz to beat the number.
To this point, we note that the spread shot higher from Clipper +2.5/3 to +7 on the news that Leonard would not go Wednesday. This adjustment is not enough in our estimation, based on ESPN's Real Plus-Minus statistic. ESPN's RPM estimates Leonard's worth to be +2.55 points per 100 offensive and defensive possessions, while Luke Kennard, Kawhi's back-up, sports an RPM of -1.53. Thus, subbing Kennard for in for Leonard costs better than four spread points per 100 possessions (-1.53 - +2.55 = -4.08). But to effectively quantify Leonard's game 5 impact, we need to adjust for expected usage and pace:
Leonard plays an average of 34.1 minutes per 48-minute contest, and the Jazz and Clippers have each averaged about 97 possessions per game this series. Thus, we estimate Kawhi's absence is worth roughly 5.5 points. In turn, this math implies Clippers +8/8.5 is a fair spread (the +2.5/3 opening level, plus a +5.5 point adjustment for the Leonard announcement).