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Playoff Notebook: NBA Finals, Celtics Up 3-1

   by Larry Ness - 06/13/2008

Could the highly anticipated Celtics/Lakers showdown in this year's NBA Finals end with the Celtics taking the Lakers in just five games? The Lakers rolled through the Western Conference dispatching of the Nuggets (50 wins), Jazz (54 wins) and Spurs (56 wins and the defending champs), winning 12 of 15 games. Meanwhile, the Celtics needed seven games to get past the 37-win Hawks, seven more to edge the Cavs (who owned a minus-0.4 point-differential this regular season) and then six games to beat the Pistons (who have thought about 'patenting' the art of losing conference finals).

That playoff 'landscape' set the tone and LA opened as a minus-$1.60 favorite to beat the Celtics in The Finals, despite the fact that Boston won 66 regular season games to LA's 57 (including both meetings during the year) and more importantly, that Boston owned the homecourt advantage. What's more, all the action came in on the Lakers, moving the price to about two-to-one prior to Game 1 of the series.

So what happened? Well, I don't have to go into too much detail, as I'm sure if you are reading this, you've all seen it for yourselves. The Celtics lead the series 3-1 and are a perfect 4-0 ATS, as well. The Lakers actually went off as a 1 1/2 or two-point favorite in Boston for Game 2 and were favored by 9 1/2-points in Game 3, when they returned home down 0-2 (note: the Lakers were favored by only 8 1/2-points in their two first-round home games against the "lose in the first round every year" Nuggets).

After a 10-point win in Game 1, Boston won 108-102 in Game 2, making Game 1 winners an incredible 13-2 SU and 12-3 ATS in this postseason (I have to check if that has ever happened before?). The Lakers did win Game 3 but failed to cover the "inflated number," winning 87-81. That result left teams down 0-2 in a series this postseason with a record of 11-2 SU and 9-3-1 ATS in their collective Game 3s.

LA's complete collapse in Game 4 was truly amazing. The Lakers led 35-14 after the first quarter, by as much as 24 points in the second quarter and by 18 points at the half (despite the fact that Kobe was 0-for-4 from the floor!). LA was still up by 20 points in the mid-third quarter but Boston ended the period on a 21-3 run and the Lakers never recovered. According to Elias, Boston's comeback win from an 18-point halftime deficit was the second-biggest in Finals' history.

The biggest comeback win in NBA Finals' history was when the Baltimore Bullets overcame a 21-point halftime deficit against the Philadelphia Warriors back in 1948. With all due respect to the Celtics, the Bullets comeback may have been more impressive, as the NBA circa 1948 was nothing but a "league of white guys" (am I allowed to say that?) taking set shots. Coming back from 21 points down under those playing conditions was truly remarkable.

Anyway, back to 2008. To win, the Lakers must now do what no team has ever done before in the NBA Finals. In the 28 previous NBA Finals in which one team has taken a 3-1 lead, 14 series have ended in five games, 12 more in six games and just two series have been extended to a seventh game. The most recent example of a team forcing a seventh game (after trailing 3-1) came all the way back in 1966.

Now regular readers know I like to point out things like this, especially when it offers some symmetry. So it should come as no surprise to learn that the NBA Finals of 1966 was also a Lakers/Celtics matchup. The Lakers won Game 5 in Boston that year, Game 6 back in LA but then lost Game 7 in Boston, 95-93. Since no team has ever won three straight in this situation before, it's safe to say the Lakers are not exactly "the favorites" to do it this year.

The "mountain surely seems to high to climb," especially since the Lakers would have to win Games 6 and 7 in Boston, which no team has ever done in this 2-3-2 format. That being said, they are favored by seven points in Game 5 (as of Saturday morning) and if they win, it will be very interesting to see the 'number' in Game 6. Remember, Boston was just a three-point favorite in Game 1 and a 1 1/2-point dog in Game 2!

Updating the postseason numbers show home teams at 62-22 SU and 48-34-2 ATS. With three of the four games going under in The Finals so far (after nine of 11 games went under in the conference finals), under bettors are 49-32-2 ATS in the postseason to-date!

For those following the Zig-Zag theory (playing 'on' the SU loser of the previous game), they've now lost all three games in the NBA Finals, after losing the final three games of the conference finals. That six-game losing streak leaves them just 33-34-2 ATS over the entire postseason, or minus-4.4 net games.

Good luck, Larry

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