Unpredictable series holds bettors’ interest

Premature celebrations are nothing new to the Miami Heat. Another one erupted Thursday, minus the fireworks and smoke, after Dwyane Wade dropped in a 3-pointer from the corner.

A little more than seven minutes remained. The Heat led by 15 as Wade and LeBron James danced together, again. It sure appeared the Dallas Mavericks were done and down two games in the NBA Finals.

But that’s when Dirk Nowitzki figuratively flipped a middle finger to the Heat.

Stop the music and break up the party. This postseason continues to follow a stunningly unpredictable script, one full of comebacks, magic acts and illusions.

“Numerous people are saying it’s the best NBA playoffs they have seen in quite some time,” said Cantor Gaming sports book director Mike Colbert, who picked Miami to win the series a week ago.

I predicted the Heat would win the title, too. But I also bet the Mavericks plus-4½ and plus-180 on the money line in Game 2 because it was the do-or-die game for Dallas. Both bets looked to be all but dead.

On the wrong end of several ridiculous comebacks in recent weeks, I finally and luckily landed on the right side. The difference between feeling deflated and elated is what the Heat must deal with now after Nowitzki rallied the Mavericks to a 95-93 victory.

Miami remains a minus-135 favorite in the best-of-7 series. Colbert’s opinion is the underdog just stole the show.

“This was obviously a bad loss for the Heat,” he said. “From what I just saw, I really don’t think the series goes back to Miami. I think the Mavericks will sweep the next three games in Dallas.

“Dirk came up big again. That was incredible. I just find myself rooting for Dirk. How could you not root for Dallas in the series as a fan?”

The forecast for the Mavericks was gloomy after Game 1, when the Heat pulled away to an eight-point win and the other big story was an injury to Nowitzki. He tore a tendon in his left middle finger.

Miami went up 88-73 after Wade’s 3 with 7:15 to go. Dallas answered with a 22-5 run, triggered by Shawn Marion and Jason Terry and finished by Nowitzki, who spun around Chris Bosh and flipped in the winning layup with his left hand.

If you bet the Heat, it was the latest chapter in a playoffs rampant with bad beats and a playoffs that has created all kinds of aggravation and excitement in the sports books.

“It’s the biggest handle we’ve done on any NBA game all year,” said Colbert, who runs Cantor Gaming’s books at the M Resort and Hard Rock, among others. “We took quite a bit of money on the game. There’s definitely a lot of interest in this series. It’s not that the crowd was overflowing. We didn’t have a million people in the book.”

But, Colbert said, he did have some “big players” who backed Dallas in Game 2. He closed Miami as a 3½-point favorite and dropped the money line to minus-165 to draw action on the favorite.

The total opened at 187 and closed 188 at Cantor’s books, and it closed as high as 189 at other spots. The score was tied at 28 after the first quarter and at 51 at halftime.

“It looked like it was going to sail over the total,” Colbert said.

But the Heat went away from Wade, who finished with 36 points and didn’t score in the final seven minutes, and James failed to close the door for the first time in the postseason.

“LeBron took two 25-footers, and he’s been making those shots in some other big games, but they’re miracle shots,” Colbert said. “The defense Dallas played in the last five minutes, those were some incredible possessions.”

Despite a splint on his finger, Nowitzki finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Marion, a UNLV product, added 20 points as the Mavs pulled out a crucial split.

Dallas opened as a 3-point home favorite for Game 3 on Sunday. In the 2-3-2 Finals format, 11 times the series has been tied after two games, and the winner of Game 3 has won every series.

This is a soap opera for men, and the most recent episode of “As the NBA World Turns” moved the momentum in the Mavericks’ favor.

James, irked by celebration questions in the postgame news conference, said, “There was no celebration at all. As far as celebration, that word has been used with us all year.”

When the music died after Game 2, Nowitzki had all those who wagered on Dallas doing the dancing.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the “Las Vegas Sportsline” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.

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