Betting the 2022 NBA Finals: Will the Warriors or Celtics Prevail?
The earliest days of my childhood -- and probably yours -- harken back to this being such a great time of year.
Just out of school and past Memorial Day, the NBA Finals have pitted greats of the game of basketball against each other for decades. While my childhood centered around the Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, yours may have even featured the 1980s Lakers-Celtics rivalries or the legacy of Michael Jordan in the 1990s.
Some younger readers may have grown up with the titanic clashes between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers through the mid-2010s. In a melting pot of generations, those Warriors have cobbled together an unexpected return to this year's edition, and they're taking on a homegrown, gritty version of the Celtics that would make Red Auerbach smile.
Let's take a dive into the numbers and see which bets stand out on NBA odds for this year's Finals.
Boston Celtics to Win (+130)
With additional rest, homecourt advantage, and, frankly, showing fewer vulnerabilities in their last series, the Golden State Warriors are -160 favorites (61.5% implied odds) to capture this year's crown.
That's pretty much matching public sentiment -- 62.3% of users currently believe the Dubs will capture the title, per that poll.
A quick dive into the analytics just has me believing the wrong team is favored, though.
Before diving into the numbers, think about the context of the journey of these two teams. Boston was a popular pick to be upset by the star-studded Nets. Then, they had to pass through defending champion Milwaukee -- albeit a Bucks squad without Khris Middleton. Finally, they met top-seeded Miami and had to win Game 7 on the road.
On the other hand, Golden State did bounce MVP Nikola Jokic in Round 1, but that Nuggets squad was otherwise seen as toothless. Memphis was without Ja Morant for half of the Dubs' second-round series, but the Grizzlies still managed a +7.2 net rating in those three games sans Ja before being bounced. Then, the Warriors faced a Dallas squad with just the 14th-highest offensive rating in the NBA and significantly lacking firepower beyond Luka Doncic.
Even with that context in mind, Boston (+6.7 net rating) has the best net rating in the playoffs thus far, and they're comfortably ahead of Golden State's (+5.1).
Defense (and Rebounding) Wins Championships
Golden State's defensive rating in the postseason (111.0) has lagged well behind their 106.6 mark from the regular season.
On the other hand, Boston's tenacious defense has a 105.1 defensive rating that's even better than their league-best mark (106.2) from the regular season. One defense has elevated recently, and the other has been exposed a bit.
It will be absolutely crucial which one of these teams has a rebounding advantage in this series. The Celtics were 42-14 in games with a rebounding edge this season, and the Warriors were 41-14.
However, it couldn't be closer between these teams in that category thus far. Golden State is fifth in the playoffs in rebounding rate (52.4%) and Boston is seventh (49.7%). However, 34.5% of Boston's rebounds have been contested, compared to just 32.5% for Golden State, so opponents have made the C's work a bit harder thus far.
Anecdotally, some experts and I agree Boston is the longer team with better individual rebounders like Robert Williams and Grant Williams. If that ends up coming to fruition, that's another massive arrow pointing in the Celtics' direction.
How Many Games?
History would indicate Boston is likelier to win in six games than seven.
Homecourt advantage is tremendously impactful in the NBA. Samford University did a study that yielded a 74% win rate for NBA teams with homecourt advantage in their sample. That includes a 75% win rate in Game 7 at home.
Of course, this is obviously skewed because the better team usually has a homecourt advantage. They're obviously going to win a majority of the time.
But, in this instance, if we reject the notion Golden State is better than Boston, it's still a fair bet to believe more of their wins come inside TD Garden than out in San Francisco.
The Warriors have a +16.6 net rating at home this postseason -- best in the NBA. That drops to a -6.6 net rating on the road, which has resulted in a 3-4 record away from Chase Center.
Boston -- oddly -- has an identical +6.7 net rating both home and away. They'll be competitive on the road, but they figure to have a gigantic advantage at home.
Rather than tempt fate (and history) by picking a third straight Game 7 win for Boston, it appears to be sharper to back them in six for an identical outcome bet.
Prop to Target -- Stephen Curry 4+ Rebounds in Each Game (+550)
FanDuel Sportsbook has plenty of fun series props for those interested. A few fun low-unit darts stood out to me.
In terms of the "popular parlays" category, my eye immediately gravitated toward Stephen Curry 4+ Rebounds in Each Game (+550).
Stephen Curry is quietly a consistent force on the glass. He's averaging 5.3 rebounds per 36 minutes in the playoffs, which is a crucial note considering the part-time role he had to start this postseason. In the last series against the Mavs, he bested this mark in all games but the final one -- which the Dubs led comfortably.
He averages 9.4 rebounding chances per game, and just 0.8 of those are contested. He should be converting at an even higher clip than the 52.4% he has in the playoffs.
Boston has been pretty inefficient when scoring the ball, and they've ceded the sixth-most rebounds per game (42.6) in the playoffs. Curry should have more opportunities from missed shots, too.
Prop to Target -- Robert Williams to Post the Highest Rebounding Average (+1100)
Is Robert Williams to Post the Highest Rebounding Average (+1100) incredibly likely to hit? No. I just see immense value here beyond the 8.3% implied odds it happens.
Williams comfortably led Boston with 9.6 rebounds per game in the regular season. That begs the question -- how can he possibly be 11-to-1 to lead the series in rebounding?
Well, he just hasn't played much this postseason due to a knee issue stemming back to late in the year. But, when Al Horford sat Game 1 in Miami in COVID-19 protocols, Williams bounced into the starting lineup with 18 points and 9 rebounds. He just didn't have a place on the court next to Horford since Grant Williams was such an organic fit off the bench to match up with P.J. Tucker.
However, I think the C's will need "Time Lord" and his size in this series. Golden State has wielded two defacto centers with Kevon Looney and Draymond Green for much of the postseason, especially the series versus Dallas. Steven Adams averaged 17.3 rebounds per 36 minutes for Memphis against the Dubs, and Williams' per-game average was right in line with Adams' (10.0).
If Williams can play at least 25 minutes per contest, I feel tremendous about him outrebounding Horford, who is priced as the favorite for this bet (+130). He averaged 12.01 rebounds per 36 minutes when the two shared the floor this year, compared to just 8.80 for "Big Al."