Defense wins championships. Good defense also takes a whole lot more effort than good offense. Which, in hindsight, is exactly what happened in the conference finals. Both older teams just couldn't keep up with their respective opponents. When the shots were falling, they were right in it. If you look back at the stats for both series, both the Spurs and Celtics only won quarters where they scored a lot of points. But these two teams, well known for their defense during their title runs, could not shut down their opponents when they needed to. They simply ran out of gas.
I don't foresee that happening when the Thunder and the Heat go at it in the NBA Finals. With fresh young legs, I expect stellar defense from both sides. Miami had one of the best defenses in the league all season, and an underrated Thunder defense matches up well against the Heat.
NBA Finals Bet 1: Bet the under, especially the games in Miami.
Everyone saw the impressive numbers that Rondo put up in the Boston-Miami series, but in many sports analysts' eyes, he was still not Boston's MVP. That's because of the pivotal role Kevin Garnett played on defense. I still believe that Bosh's return was the main reason for Miami's advance because he was able to keep Garnett from just defending the middle and helping. However, the Thunder have two big defensive players down low in Perkins and Ibaka, and I don't think Miami will be able to score enough over the course of the series.
NBA Finals Bet 2: Bet OKC to win the series, most odds are around -175.
Once I decided that OKC was my pick to win the whole thing, I began to think about how the series would play out. So I looked up the exact games odds and found these:
MIA Heat win 4 - 0 +1850
MIA Heat win 4 - 1 +615
MIA Heat win 4 - 2 +750
MIA Heat win 4 - 3 +725
OKC Thunder win 4 - 0 +1050
OKC Thunder win 4 - 1 +685
OKC Thunder win 4 - 2 +305
OKC Thunder win 4 - 3 +285
I was at first caught off guard by the big disparity between the Thunder winning 4-1 and 4-2, but then I realized that the NBA Finals are 2-3-2 instead of 2-2-1-1-1. This format change is really significant in a sport where home court matters so much. It's often said that this format favors the team with home court more than the usual format, because it is harder to win 3 in a row, even if they're all at home. This sounds reasonable to me, so my first thought was why they make this format change for the finals. After some thought, I think I have the answer. This format makes it much more likely that the series will go 6 games or more (and therefore more revenue for the league). Just as it is hard for even a home team to win 3 in a row, it is also very hard for a team to win 2 out of 3 road games. This makes it very difficult for the series to end in 5.
But there was something else about those odds that didn't seem to make sense to me. It felt to me that a 4-2 win was more likely than a 4-3 win in an uneven series. Looking back at past finals results, there are indeed more 4-2 series results than 4-3 series results. Given this and the previous information about it being difficult for series to end in 5 games or less, my final pick is:
NBA Finals Bet 3: Bet OKC to win exactly 4-2. Anything above +250 seems like great value to me, but lines like these vary a lot by sportsbook.
Either way, I expect a very entertaining series. One that I can enjoy even without any wagers.