The Golden State Warriors start their title defense in Toronto to take on the Raptors in game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Warriors are -300 favorites in the series and they line on this game is even in most spots. I expect this line to fluctuate a little more before the series starts, as the line started as the Warriors being favored by 1 to now being even or even the Raptors -1.
I think that there are two ways to approach this series from a betting standpoint, and I want to lay them both out there. I think that a pick’em line is not really indicative of being -300 favorites in the series when 4 of the 7 games are in Toronto. Obviously, the Warriors will be favorites at home by a significant margin, but IF the Raps can pull out both of the first games that are seemingly 50/50, then I think your odds on the series change really drastically. A Golden State win would really make these odds hold true and likely only increase for the Warriors as the series goes on, assuming that they can hold their home court as large favorites. I think that the line is pricing in the possible upgrades that the Warriors could get with Durant and Cousins, which is fair. However, I think the early results would shift the outcome too far the other way for these additions to matter until they actually play. I initially thought that KD’s injury was really minor and that they were being precautionary in holding him out. Now that we know that he has not even started on-court work yet, I am pretty drastically changing my tune on that take, as it seems like he won’t be back for at least the next week and a half. I think that it is probably safe to say that the Warriors would prefer to not use KD until an elimination game, or possibly a 2-2 series going back to Toronto.
The biggest question is how much does KD matter if he does return and how much does DeMarcus Cousins matter? I expect Cousins to return sooner than Durant, and I think that Cousins is MUCH more valuable in this series than people are giving him credit for. The Raptors aren’t a super switch-heavy team, and I think that Cousins’ ability to set screens and his ability to win on the block will be more important in this series than it has been for most games that Cousins has played with the Warriors. The Raptors also slow the pace down pretty well, which will force more half-court sets than the Warriors would like. Cousins is still a dominant scorer that could bail out the Warriors if they are struggling to get open against a really good Toronto defense. The biggest two issues with Cousins being added to the Warriors rotation is that he isn’t in good enough shape to run like the Warriors want to, and he isn’t good at switching on defense. The good news is that Toronto slows the game down and the Raptors have shown a strange inability to force mismatches. We rarely saw them exploit poor defenders like Redick and Mirotic like they should have, which is something that can help Cousins stay on the court.
I think the other approach is to sprinkle the Warriors in the series and then really attack them in games one and two if you think they are going to win this series. I really like the Warriors here because they should be able to score at a much higher clip than other teams that the Raptors have seen. The Bucks and the 76ers were both great offensive teams, but both had key players that seemed to struggle in the half-court and muted their offense to some degree. I think that this will not be the case with the Warriors and we saw Toronto really struggle in games that their opponent was able to make shot consistently like I expect the Warriors to.