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The Defense Never Rests
by Bryan Leonard - 05/18/2010
One thing to keep in mind during the NBA playoffs is the attention to defense by many teams. During the regular season, teams can coast at times when it comes to defensive intensity. Some games are blowouts, so the players will take more of an interest in running and shooting, while other times coaches will go to their bench and rest their starters. Statistically, this can skew offensive numbers slightly.
However, in the playoffs, games are expected to be closer overall as these are the Top 4 teams remaining in each conference. And many got here because they know the importance of defense. Teams are more likely to play all-out defense in the playoffs and there are fewer opportunities to ignore Big D. This can create wagering value with unders. We saw this in Game 6 of the Celtics/Cavaliers series, with the game sailing under the total. That’s because so much was at stake: The Celtics didn’t want to return to Cleveland for a Game 7, while the Cavs were fighting for their playoff lives. The defense was physical and intense and it didn’t come close to going over the total.
I recall when the Indiana Pacers had a reputation of a tough defensive team under then coach Rick Carlisle. In that year’s opening playoff round, the Pacers played the Celtics. In Game 1, the total was 188 and the game sailed under as Boston won 102-82. In Game 2, the total dropped to 185 and went under again in an 82-79 Indiana win. For Game 3 the total dropped again to 182 and went under a third time as the Pacers won at home, holding Boston to 76 points. By Game 4, the total was 180. That’s a drop from 188 to 180 in just four games! If you like to look at playing unders in the NBA playoffs, there are often good opportunities early in a series, before oddsmakers adjust lines.
Granted, all series aren’t like this. The Suns will be playing the Lakers this week and the Suns are not much of a defensive team, though the Lakers can be. It’s not clear whether that will be a wide-open series or if the Suns step up defensively. However, the Celtics and Magic have great defensive reputations.
Coaching is a big part of this. Coaches can demand intense defense, ones like Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers and Stan Van Gundy. It may surprise you, but Orlando was tops in the NBA defensively this season, allowing .438% shooting by opponents.
Remember when Memphis loved to slow things down under Mike Fratello? Fratello liked to slow the games to a crawl to try and keep the games low scoring and close.
Since the NBA expanded to a 16-team playoff format in 1984, teams have won 66.2% of playoff games played on their home courts. In the first round, the success rate is 64.7%. Home court and defense are keys this time of the season, and don’t be surprised if scoring drops more than expected in some series as oddsmakers scramble to adjust.