The Celtics and Lakers met in the NBA Finals in six of eight years in the 1960s and in three of four in the 1980s, but never before have the same teams squared off for the NBA title in three consecutive seasons. Until now.
The Cavaliers eliminated Boston in a 135-102 blowout Thursday night to set the stage for the highly-anticipated threequel with the Warriors that thankfully promises to be more like “Rocky III” than “The Hangover Part III.”
Golden State and Cleveland have cruised through the playoffs with a combined 24-1 record and 18-7 over-under mark.
Last year, the Warriors — coming off a historic 73-9 regular season — were a 2-1 series favorite and the Cavs were a plus-175 underdog. Golden State was a 5½-point favorite in Game 1 with a total of 210.
The numbers are higher across the board this year. The Warriors, riding a historic 12-0 postseason run, opened as series favorites ranging from minus-220 at Station Casinos to minus-260 at the South Point and Westgate sports books with the Cavaliers a plus-180 ‘dog at Stations and plus-220 at the South Point and Westgate.
“The Warriors deserve to be a pretty good favorite, but it’s no gimme,” South Point sports book director Chris Andrews said. “Cleveland will be very, very tough to beat.”
Shortly after the Cavs dismissed the Celtics, the Westgate installed Golden State as a 7-point home favorite over Cleveland in Thursday’s Game 1 with a total of 225½. None of the 2016 Finals games hit 220 points.
“Last year, it sort of turned into defensive struggles,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “But it’s a different year. It’s been a high-scoring year throughout.”
Handicapper Doug Fitz (Systemplays.com), a Cleveland native, expects the Warriors to win the title, mostly because of the way they blew a 3-1 lead over the Cavaliers last season.
“I hate to say this, being a Cleveland guy, but the way Golden State lost the Finals last year, after being up 3-1 and losing two games at home, no less, I just don’t see them losing two years in a row,” he said. “You can flip a coin with the talent, but I just can’t see the Warriors letting it slip away again. It’s very, very difficult for a team these days to win two years in a row.
“Plus, having (Kevin) Durant now and being a little bit fresher because they swept all their series.”
The Cavaliers’ 93-89 win in Game 7 last season was the only one in the series decided by single digits. Fitz expects closer games this time around, and so do we. We’re taking Cleveland and the points in Game 1.
With apologies to Durant’s mother, LeBron James is on a mission to prove he’s the real MVP. Kyrie Irving can take over a game at any time, and Kevin Love is playing his best basketball since joining Cleveland. Tristan Thompson is a beast on the boards, and there actually were Deron Williams and Kyle Korver sightings Thursday.
Golden State failed to cover in Game 1s against the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs, and Cleveland is 5-0-2 against the spread on the road this postseason.
“Despite everything I said (about the series), that’s not to say that the Cavaliers are going to go down easy,” Fitz said. “Golden State will win, but they’re going to earn it. I don’t think you’ll see any 20-point blowouts in this series. I think every one of these games will pretty much go right to the end.”
The Cubs’ 5-4 win over the Giants on Wednesday was a painful reminder to bettors that backing big favorites on the run line is a treacherous proposition.
Chicago, which was a minus-190 favorite on the money line and a plus-110 underdog on the run line (-1.5), was ahead 5-2 when perfect closer Wade Davis took the mound in the ninth inning. Davis had allowed only one unearned run in his first 18 appearances this season before giving up a two-run homer to the immortal Mac Williamson. The No. 8 hitter was batting only .146 before fouling off eight pitches during a 12-pitch at-bat that ended San Francisco’s string of 19 consecutive solo shots.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-266-6080. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.