2016 NBA Finals Retrospective: How the Cavaliers’ LeBron James-Led Comeback Played Out for Bettors

2016 NBA Finals Retrospective: How the Cavaliers’ LeBron James-Led Comeback Played Out for Bettors article feature image
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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James.

On June 13, 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers with the best player in the world on roster, LeBron James, and no significant injuries to speak of, were +185 to win Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

The Cavaliers were down 3-1 and the greatest comeback in NBA history was about to commence.

At that point, the series price was Cavaliers +1100, per ESPN, Warriors -2500.  This is after the series opened at Cavs +180. But down 3-1 to the 73-win Warriors, looking to become the greatest team in NBA history, the Cavaliers seemed doomed.

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What gets lost in that series is how it began. In Game 1, Stephen Curry scored just 11 points, Klay Thompson just nine. If I told you that the Splash Brothers scored 20 combined points in Game 1, you would have assumed the Cavaliers won by a healthy margin. But instead, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala combined for 22 points, the Cavaliers shot 7-of-21 from 3-point range, and LeBron shot 9-of-21 from the field.

In the first two games of the Finals, the Cavs shots 12-of-44 from 3-point range. In Game 4, they shot 6-of-25. In retrospect, that was probably an indicator the Cavaliers had gotten bad shooting luck and were due for some regression. However, at the time it just seemed like the most dominant team in the league being dominant.

In Games 2 and 4, the Warriors put up offensive ratings north of 115. The Cavs offense was scoring less than 90 points per 100 possessions in those games. It looked like a mismatch. But Game 1 was probably a game the Cavaliers should have won, given that Steph Curry was -1 in a game Golden State won by 15.

It just seemed like it was too late.

However, the odds on that series show how quickly everything changed.

When the Cavaliers won Game 5, the series odds went from Cavs +1100 (8% implied) to +375 (21%). Everyone remembers Draymond Green being suspended for Game 5 for his hit to LeBron James’ royal jewels in Game 4.

The Cavaliers were 5.5-point dogs in Game 5, +185 on the moneyline in Oracle. Interestingly, just 36% of the spread tickets were on the Cavaliers in that game, 59% of the moneyline tickets, and 68% of the money were on the Cavs.  LeBron James and Kyrie Irving responded with 82 combined points.

Another element lost to time is  that Andrew Bogut was injured in Game 5. Now, Bogut had an on-court net rating of -21 before his injury. But his absence meant that Steve Kerr went to Anderson Varejao and Festus Ezeli in Games 6 and 7. The Warriors were outscored by .5 points per every possession with Ezeli on-court in those games.

The Cavaliers were actually favored in Game 6 by 2-points, -128 on the moneyline. This time, the public and the money stayed away, as the Cavs got just 36% of the spread tickets and just 38% of the moneyline tickets.

Instead, this was the Cavaliers’ blowout you could expect at some point in the series. The Cavaliers held the mighty Warriors to a 107.5 offensive rating, and Steph Curry got ejected for throwing his mouth piece.

It’s important to point out here that the Warriors were outscored by 12 with Draymond Green on the floor in Game 6. For all the talk about Green’s absence, Irving and James were unstoppable in Game 5 and Green was unable to stop them in Game 6.

After Game 6 the series price moved to +185 (also the moneyline in Game 7), a 35% chance.

The Warriors then faced a Game 7 with their legacies on the line.

Golden State was a 5-point favorite in Game 7. However, while Golden State held 53% of the spread tickets in Game 7 and 44% of the money, the Cavaliers held 58% of the tickets and 61% of the money on the moneyline.

The game was a slugfest as all Game 7’s are, with the two teams going several minutes late without scoring. Ultimately, the most dramatic final three minutes in NBA history played out.

The Cavaliers, who went from +280 in preseason, to +475 to begin Round 1, to +185 to start the series, and then were +1100 after losing Game 4, won Cleveland’s first NBA title and completed the greatest comeback in league history.

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