On their way to last season’s NBA championship, the Los Angeles Lakers dominated their competition. They rolled through the Western Conference playoffs with a 12-3 record, ousting each conference foe in five games en route to the NBA Finals. Looking back with this macro view, it seems like it was an easy road toward Los Angeles’ 17th championship, but we know that was not the case.
The Lakers lost the first game in the first two series they played, and the takes flowed after each loss. But betting is not about hot takes. It is about making observations, turning those into educated hypotheses as to why an event went the way it did and then acting on those in hopes that they will play out the way the data tells us it should. Bettors learned valuable lessons Monday about not overreacting to a result, and many opportunities to learn even more are coming.
When Miami lost to Milwaukee in overtime of Game 1, many believed the loss was a positive for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo had combined to go 8-for-37 for only 26 points, and the Bucks needed overtime to beat them. Surely the two stars would perform better, and Miami would win Game 2. However, that simplistic analysis is flawed. It ignored the fact Milwaukee won despite shooting 16.1 percent from deep and dominated at the rim by going 22 of 29 within 4 feet against a rim defense that ranked 17th during the season and 26th in the second half.
What would really be more likely to happen? That Butler and Adebayo would have better scoring nights and Miami could maintain shooting 40 percent on 50 3-point attempts, or that Milwaukee’s shooting would revert to the mean while it continued to exploit a weak rim defense? To me, it seemed as if the latter option would be more likely, and sure enough it was. The Bucks continued to thrive inside 4 feet by going 15 of 19, and the shooting corrected itself in a big way. Milwaukee hit 47.4 percent of its 3-pointers in non-garbage time and blew out Miami 132-98 to take a 2-0 series lead.
A similar situation unfolded in the nightcap Monday. Denver had performed admirably in its loss to Portland on Saturday night, averaging 1.198 points per possession while dismantling a soft interior defense by hitting 21 of 27 shots within 4 feet. However, the Nuggets lost 123-109 because they hit just 31.4 percent of their attempts from deep while the Trail Blazers hit 19 of 39 2-pointers in non-garbage time. Denver’s performance inside 4 feet was likely to repeat itself against an interior defense that gave up the eighth-most attempts at the rim in the regular season, so all it needed was a better shooting night. That is exactly what happened. The Nuggets posted a 138.9 offensive rating and tied the series while going a combined 35 of 54 (64.8 percent) at the rim and beyond the arc.
When evaluating these boxscores, it is important to value things that can be replicated consistently in a series, not the anomalies that took place in a single game. Identifying which performances are sustainable and acting on them is the key to any bettor’s success in the NBA playoffs.