No NBA team ever has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
That statistic puts teams that lose the first two games of a series — such as the Houston Rockets against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday — in a virtual must-win situation in Game 3.
It also laid the foundation for one of the most popular and profitable sports betting trends in recent years: Wagering on a home team down 2-0 in a series in the first half of Game 3.
The trend went an incredible 28-3 ATS from 2015 to 2017 and is 71-39-7 ATS (64.5 percent) since 2007, according to Covers.
“You know the team that’s down 0-2 is going to come out with more focus and more energy than they ever had because it’s ultimately needed now,” Westgate sportsbook manager Jeff Sherman said. “And, at the same time, sometimes the team up 2-0 will come out a little more relaxed because there’s no sense of urgency on their end.”
The trend also applies to hockey, but Caesars Entertainment sportsbook risk manager Jeff Davis recommends playing it only in certain situations.
“In my opinion, it only applies if you lose the first two on the road but you’re in the games,” he said. “If you get crushed twice, I don’t think it applies.
“It’s the same in the NBA. But the market has caught up to this trend.”
Las Vegas oddsmakers have certainly adjusted their numbers to combat this trend. For example, the Rockets are 3½-point favorites over the Warriors in Game 3, and they’re also 3½-point favorites in the first half and 3-point favorites in the first quarter.
“In the regular season, if Houston was a 3½-point favorite, the first half would be 2 and the first quarter would be 1,” Sherman said. “The game is also adjusted with Houston favored by 3½ because of the situation. In the regular season, it would probably be pick.
“You’re not going to find value now in that situational aspect.”
The trend went 5-5 ATS last year and is 2-2 ATS this year, when bettors were burned by the adjustment in the first-half line on the Indiana Pacers’ Game 3 loss to the Boston Celtics in the first round. The Pacers were favored by 2½ in the game and by 3 in the first half and led by 2 at halftime in an ATS loss.
Despite the trend’s recent downturn, handicapper Doug Fitz still believes in the system and is playing the Rockets in the first half Saturday.
“The oddsmakers have certainly caught up with this trend and are really overpricing these numbers,” Fitz said. “However, that being said, just because it hasn’t swept the board this year, there’s still a lot of good value on that system.”
Fitz, a retired Las Vegas police officer whose plays are free at Systemplays.com, has uncovered a similar system on which oddsmakers haven’t adjusted the numbers.
The play is to bet on any home team that has lost two games in a row in a series in the first half of the next game. The system is 108-76-5 ATS (59 percent) since 2005, 3-3 ATS this year.
“It’s not just that first game back home being down 0-2,” Fitz said. “If they fall into that category, you’re not going to see that big adjustment, because everybody is so focused on the situation the Rockets are in, being down 0-2 and that first game back home.”
First quarter fading
Years ago, bettors simply backed the team down 2-0 against the Game 3 line before narrowing the focus to the first half and first quarter.
But the first quarter is 1-3 ATS this season and has a losing record in the past two years.
“I think it’s time to put that one to bed,” Fitz said. “But the first half has still got a lot of traction on it.”
Rockets (-3½) over Warriors, first half
The Rockets qualify for a play under Davis’ caveat, as they were in both games at Golden State. Houston covered as a 6-point underdog in a 104-100 loss in Game 1, and its backers were burned by a backdoor cover in Game 2 when Kevin Durant made two free throws with 2.1 seconds left to give the Warriors a 115-109 win as 5-point favorites.
“I absolutely think the Rockets are a great first-half play,” Fitz said. “You’re looking at a pretty damn good team, and it’s not like Golden State is just rolling over people this year.
“You just have to be aware that the oddsmakers are on to this system, and they’re going to make you pay to play it.”