NBA Finals: Key trends ahead of Warriors-Celtics


In recent issues of Point Spread Weekly, I unveiled some of the best betting systems and trends for the earlier rounds of the NBA playoffs. Now, as the association moves on to the NBA Finals following a pair of intriguing conference finals series, so do I in sharing the key info you might need to bet this finals matchup.

On paper this matchup is relatively even, with the teams having finished within two games of one another in the regular season. Golden State, a No. 3 seed, is the -160 series favorite, is laying 3.5 points for Game 1 and has home-court advantage. The second-seeded Celtics are trying to become the biggest preseason underdog to win the title in 35 years, having been listed at 50-1 at the outset of the season.


Theoretically, this is being dubbed as an offense versus defense matchup, but slighting the Warriors’ defensive efforts could be a mistake — as would be discounting the scoring ability of players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for Boston.

Before getting into the specific trends, you should know that two of the last three finals have been seed upsets, breaking a streak of five straight prior wins by the better seed. Also note that outright winners are 41-2-2 ATS over the last eight seasons, a glowing endorsement for money-line wagering on underdogs. I’ll get into more of that later.

This is the final part a four-part series, I hope you’ve enjoyed and profited from it, and that our success continues over the next couple of weeks.

Series trends

As I reasoned in the first three articles of this package, being able to predict an upset in a series will give you a leg up on a game-by-game wagering basis. Accurately projecting which underdogs will push a series deep, or alternatively which favorites will end a series quickly can really boost your wagering profit in this round (and all others). Take a look at some of these series trends based upon won-lost records at various time lengths of the regular season and in the playoffs to date.

— In the last nine playoff seasons, the better seeds own a 6-2 edge in series wins and a 28-17 game wins edge during that span. In 2016, Cleveland and Golden State were both No. 1 seeds.

— This will be the eighth time in nine seasons that the West representative had a better regular-season record. However, it is only the second time in the since 2013 that the teams within five wins of each other in regular-season wins. In the only other closely matched series in that regard, Toronto upended Golden State 4-2 in 2019. In all, in the last nine playoff seasons, the team with the better regular-season record is 7-2.

— This will be the first matchup since prior to 2013 in which neither team won at least 70% of its regular-season games.

— The Warriors boast a significant finals experience advantage of late, having been in the finals five times since 2015. They are 3-2 overall in those finals and 17-11 in individual games.

— I explained in the conference finals round that there had been a massive advantage of late for the teams that had played fewer games in the first two rounds. That continued this season as Golden State easily moved past Dallas. There is no such advantage for the finals: In the eight series since 2013 in which teams played an uneven number of games in the first three rounds, the finals team that played fewer games is just 3-5 in series wins and 22-24 in individual wins.

Scoring trends

104 points is a low benchmark for NBA Finals success: The 2016 Finals was the first in which totals reached into the current levels. Since that time, teams that score 104 points or less in an NBA Finals playoff game have struggled badly, going just 3-20 SU/ATS.

Success accompanies reaching the 115-point mark: Using the same season noted above as the benchmark, teams scoring 115 points or more boast a record of 17-3 SU/14-3-3 ATS over the last six years. If you recall, the magic number for the conference finals was 116 points.

General trends

Home teams are only a slightly better wagering option: Hosts in the NBA Finals are 26-20 SU/23-22-1 ATS since 2013.

Favorites on a recent surge: NBA Finals favorites are on a surge of 6-1 SU and ATS in the last seven games; in the 10 games prior to that they were just 1-8-1 ATS.

Winners cover: Over the last eight seasons (45 games), outright winners in the NBA Finals have gone 41-2-2 ATS (95.3%).

Totals have essentially been a coin flip: In the 52 NBA Finals games since 2013, there have been 25 Overs, 25 Unders and two ties, although Under is on a 11-8-1 run in the last 20 games.

Trends by line range

Big home favorites get it done: Since the start of the 2013 playoffs, NBA Finals home favorites of 4.5 points or more are 20-6 SU and 17-8-1 ATS. This success level is similar to that from the conference finals round, if you recall.

Small home favorites have been vulnerable: Again, like the conference finals, the record of the last 12 small home favorites (-4 or less) in the NBA Finals is just 4-8 SU and ATS, including five straight outright/ATS losses.

Home underdogs’ bark is less than their bite: Home underdogs in the NBA Finals have proven to be overmatched recently, going just 1-5 SU and ATS in their last six opportunities.

Games with vulnerable home teams have meant Overs: Thirteen of the last 21 NBA Finals games with home teams playing as underdogs or favorites of 4 points or less have gone Over the total, with the opponent averaging 113.6 PPG in the last 10.

Last game trends

Bad shooting games have carried over negative momentum in the Finals: Teams coming off games where they shot less than 41.5% in an NBA Finals game are just 4-11 SU and ATS outright in their last 15 tries.

Good 3-point shooting games don’t carry momentum: While poor shooting games overall don’t bode well for teams in the next NBA Finals game, neither does hot 3-point shooting, as teams that shoot 47% or better from deep have gone just 5-11 SU and 4-11-1 ATS in the follow-up outing.

Embarrassing losses have galvanized teams: In the last nine NBA Finals, there have been three games decided by 30 points or more. In all three cases, the team that lost bounced back with an outright & ATS win in the next game, all by double-digit margins.

Other double-digit losses have carried over: In the trend above I noted that the last three teams beaten by 30 or more bounced back well in recent NBA Finals. That is not the case for all other double-digit defeats, as teams that suffered those have gone just 6-15 SU and 4-15-2 ATS in the follow-up contest.

Trends by game number

NBA Finals opening games have sided with the home teams/favorites of late: Including the neutral court game of 2020, home teams/favorites are on an eight-game SU winning streak (7-1 ATS) in NBA Finals Game 1s, with an average margin of victory of 13.8 PPG.

Home teams/favorites have also fared well in Game 2s of late: I just showed how well Game 1 home teams/favorites have done lately, well, they are also getting it done in Game 2, going 5-1 SU and 4-1-1 ATS in the last six seasons.

Home teams/favorites that have scored have thrived in Game 2s: The secret for hosts and/or favorites in Game 2 has been scoring, with the last five having topped the 104-point mark winning their games outright while going 4-0-1 ATS.

Game 3s have been a momentum squelcher: The team that wins Game 2 in the L9 NBA Finals has gone just 3-6 SU and ATS in Game 3. All six of the losses were by double-digit margins as well.

Home teams/favorites struggle in Game 4s: Hosts/favorites have gone just 3-6 SU and 2-7 ATS in the NBA Finals since 2013.

Home team Game 4s that won Game 3 are bad bets: Home teams that won their NBA Finals Game 3 are 1-3 SU and ATS since 2013 in Game 4, losing all three times by double-digits, despite being favored in two of the games.

Defense/fatigue has ruled Game 4s: The first three games of the L9 NBA Finals have produced 211.1 PPG on average. Game 4 has seen a significant drop to 204.2, with seven of the L8 going Under the total.

Game 5 home teams/favorites have not covered a spread since 2015: The last five Game 5 home teams/favorites have failed to cover their point spreads, going 1-4 SU and 0-4-1 ATS, losing the last three by 4-points or less.

Momentum has been a big factor in Games 5-7: The later a series gets, the more important momentum has become, as teams coming off a double-digit win in a NBA Finals game are 5-4 SU and 6-2-1 ATS in Games 5-7 of a series.

Teams facing elimination in Game 6 have most often bowed out: There have been six teams that have faced elimination in Game 6 of the NBA Finals since 2013. These teams are 2-4 SU and 1-5 ATS in those contests.

Trends by seed number

This year’s Finals matches a No. 2 in Boston versus a No. 3 in Golden State

Momentum has been key when No. 2 have been the better seed: There have been two series since 2018 in which the No. 2 seeded team was the better seed, such as this year’s matchup. In those two series teams coming off a win in the series are on a 7-1 SU and ATS run in the follow up games.

Teams seeded third or worse have been great late-series options: The last two NBA Finals have featured one of the teams playing as a seed of third or worse. These teams have been good in Games 3 and later of their respective series, going 6-2 SU and 7-1 ATS.

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Steve Makinen
As one of the original founders of StatFox, Steve Makinen has been in the business of sports betting and data analysis for almost 25 years now. In his time in the industry, Steve has worked in a variety of capacities on both sides of the betting counter, from his early days of developing the StatFox business, to almost a decade of oddsmaking consulting for one of the world's leading sportsbooks, to his last seven years as Point Spread Weekly and Analytics Director with VSiN. Steve has always believed that number crunching and handicapping through foundational trends and systems is the secret to success and he shares this data with VSiN readers on a daily basis for all of the major sports.