As I write this, the Boston Celtics are putting an absolute pounding on the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, leading by nearly 30 points at halftime (BOS 61, CLE 35). This was set up all too perfectly to be a statement game for the home squad — Boston cannot afford to give Cleveland anymore confidence than it currently has, and the Celtics certainly cannot drop the first two games at home if they expect to make the Finals.
On Monday, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors will face off in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Similarly, the Warriors will travel to Houston as the lower seed, and the Rockets will look to build off two regular season victories over Golden State.
Yet, there is a zero percent chance the Celtics and Rockets meet in the 2018 NBA Finals.
This is not to say that the Celtics have no chance at getting past the Cavaliers. In fact, I would give the Celtics a better shot at making the Finals than I would the Rockets. Yes, the Rockets had the best record in the NBA (65-17). Yes, James Harden and Chris Paul are about as good as a backcourt can be. But if the Rockets are to find themselves in the NBA Finals this year — a feat they haven’t accomplished since 1995 with Rudy Tomjanovich as head coach — whether Clint Capela can continue his postseason dominance will be the deciding factor. Capela was barely 14 months old in 1995.
Here are a few things to remember as we head into Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals:
- The Warriors and the Rockets have met twice in the postseason prior to 2018. Golden State won both series 4-1 (2015 & 2016).
- These teams have two of the five most efficient offenses in NBA history and are also the top two teams in defensive efficiency this postseason.
- The Rockets won 2 of 3 against the Warriors during the regular season, but none of those games featured all of the starters on their current rosters.
- Draymond Green nearly averaged a triple-double against the Rockets in their three meetings this season (15.7 pts, 10.6 rebs, and 9.7 ast).
- Steph Curry (19-for-19) and Klay Thompson (16-for-16) are perfect at the free throw line this postseason.
- The Rockets only scored 89 points on 94 possessions with Thompson or Curry as the primary defender on Chris Paul.
- Finally, Gerald Green (a Houston native) has the best hair of all remaining players in the NBA Playoffs.
Western Conference Finals Game 1 Lines
Golden State +1 (-110)
Houston -1 (-110)
Over 224 (-115)
Under 224 (-105)
Draymond Green’s success against Houston this season begs me to consider a player prop bet. I would look very closely at his total points per game prop, Over 12.5 (-115). Green has always been a linchpin to the success of the Warriors down the stretch, and I expect nothing less this series. With Steph Curry getting healthier every game, and the team chemistry building, we have yet to see the Warriors peak this postseason. I am a firm believer that when faced with our greatest challenges, we find ourselves performing at our highest level. Houston will bring this out of the Warriors, and we are going to witness their best basketball of the season.
There are some people out there that would argue the Warriors vs. Rockets series is “the real NBA Finals.” I would disagree. How can anyone overlook the fact that teams led by LeBron James have won three of the last six NBA Finals? Yes, we can continue to debate that the West is a more talented conference compared to the East (it is). However, that doesn’t take away the fact that we are still witnessing greatness, even at age 33. In 2011, LeBron finally beat the Celtics to make it to his second Finals appearance (first with the Heat). That season ended when the Heat were upset by the underdog Dallas Mavericks. The next two years, James led the Heat to back-to-back NBA Championships. First, defeating Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder in 2012. Then by taking down Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the 2013 Finals.
Then, in 2015, the Warriors/Cavaliers saga was born. Steph, Klay, Draymond and company brought a title to the Bay Area in 2015 (their first since 1975), but the Cavs had redemption in mind during the 2016 Finals. They took down the Warriors in historic fashion. LeBron lead a heroic performance coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to win in Game 7. James became the third player in NBA history to record a triple-double in an NBA Finals Game 7. Most will remember that game for “The Block” — James stuffed a layup by Andre Iguodala with the score tied at 89 and just 1:50 left on the clock. Prior to the 2017 season, the Golden State Warriors added superstar Kevin Durant to their already potent offensive lineup. They were able to secure their second championship for the Bay Area in three years (the first NBA title for Durant).
The common thread in all of these NBA Finals matchups? LeBron James. As much as we want to crown the winner of the Warriors vs Rockets series as the best team in the NBA, greatness always has the last word. The challenge for the Cavs this postseason is facing an excellent young coach in Brad Stevens for the second straight year. While former Cavalier, Kyrie Irving, fills him in on all of Cleveland’s strengths and weaknesses. Stevens reportedly spent a lot of time picking Kyrie’s brain, attempting to get as much of an edge as possible heading into Game 1.
It would be foolish to count out LeBron James at this point, even with an 0-1 deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals. Let’s please remember that this is Boston, a team which LeBron has beaten 21 times in the postseason (the most in NBA history). Prior to Game 1, he averaged 24 points, 8.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game against the Celtics this season. A common rule of thumb when talking about sports betting, always expect a regression to the mean. I can almost guarantee that Game 1 (15 points on 5-16 shooting with 7 turnovers) will be his worst performance of the series.
Regardless of the result in Game 2, expect the Cavs to win both games at home. There is only so much Kyrie Irving can do from the bench. You have to believe that LeBron and coach Tyronn Lue are smart enough to use some reverse psychology. I expect them to surprise the Celtics with a look that they haven’t seen all year. I am also sticking to my original prediction, which was the Cavs in 6. Grab your popcorn and make sure to bet LeBron James Over (whatever the point total) in Game 2. See you next week.
Eastern Conference Series Prices (prior to Game 1, via Bovada)
Western Conference Series Prices (via Bovada)
Current NBA Championship Odds (via Bovada)
Golden State Warriors -135
Houston Rockets +220
Cleveland Cavaliers +800
Boston Celtics +1200
(For the Celtics, $100 bet would win you $1,200 if they win it all)