2021 NBA Playoffs Action: History Clear on Game 1 Best Bets
Backing the favorites and the UNDER to open the NBA Finals: Phoenix -5.5 and u217
After suffering a post-season drought lasting a decade, veteran point guard Chris Paul has ushered the Phoenix Suns all the way to the 2021 NBA Finals. To get to this point, Phoenix had to knock off the defending champion LA Lakers, and then the Nuggets, and most recently the LA Clippers. Now, the Suns are favored by 5.5 at home in the July 6th NBA Finals opener, with the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo listed as "day-to-day".
As an aside, injuries to key opposing players in each of the first three series illuminated the Suns' path this season, but Paul has also experienced the other side of this phenomenon. After backing a primed Warriors team into a 2-3 corner through five games of the 2018 Conference Finals, Paul sustained a hamstring injury that took him out of the mix for the remainder of the series. The Warriors ultimately advanced and swept the Cavs in the Finals to win their last title...so perhaps Phoenix's present course merely represents a bit of cosmic justice for the controversial, but undoubtedly talented point guard.
At any rate, on the opposing court the Suns will face the Milwaukee Bucks, who have morphed into post-season regulars since acquiring Giannis in 2013. The Bucks made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, but only managed to reach the Conference Finals once, prior to the current effort.
Milwaukee's franchise player suffered a hyperextend knee in game 4 of this year's Conference Finals, forcing him out of games 5 and 6. Giannis was widely expected to be available for game 7 though, if Atlanta were able to stretch the series, which hints that Antetokoumnpo will probably grace the court Tuesday.
Either way, we like Phoenix to beat the number, as history is unequivocal in favoring chalk layers in debut Finals action.
Favorites have delivered an eye-popping 70% ROI in Finals game 1's since the 2004-05 season, and we see no reason to expect a departure from this well-established norm this year.
The Suns have played slightly more consistent offense in the post-season then have the Bucks. Phoenix's standard deviation of points per 100 possessions in the playoffs is just lower than Milwaukee's...and the Suns' average output per 100 offensive possessions is four points higher.
Also, Giannis is likely to be less than full strength by game time, if he does go. This contest will be decided a mere seven days after Antetokoumnpo endured an injury for which aggressive recovery estimates call for a 10-14 day recovery period (and more standard prognoses suggest 2-4 weeks of healing time).
Also consistent with the idea of the Suns' cover Monday, we have observed that underdogs on winning streaks have proven great fades in NBA playoff action.
In post-season play, betting against teams taking points after rattling off at least two consecutive wins has delivered a 32% return on investment since 2004-05, with only two seasons with a cover rate below 50%.
This angle is 5-2 ATS so far this year.
Separately, we also expect aggregate scoring to disappoint Tuesday.
The UNDER is 10-5-1 in the last 16 NBA Finals game 1's, for a 17% long-term return on investment.
Validating our forecast for disappointing Finals, game 1 aggregate offense, we note the following broad, historical and team-specific trends:
Since 2004-05, home teams that missed the prior post-season boast an 0-3 O/U in Finals game 1's,
The UNDER is 8-4-1 in Finals game 1's featuring road teams that did participate in the previous playoffs,
The Suns O/U finished the regular season 42-30, but is 6-9-1 in the post-season,
The Bucks O/U is 6-10-1 in the playoffs
If Giannis is not cleared to go Tuesday, we will feel even better about betting the UNDER at the current 217 level. ESPN's Real Plus-Minus statistic suggests Giannis' value on offense is more than three times his value on defense. This finding implies that for every three points per 100 possessions Milwaukee misses from Antetokoumnpo's ability with the ball when he is unavailable, the opposition scores about one point. Thus, the Greek Freak's absence might be expected to reduce total scoring by two-plus points per 100 possessions, on average.