Are the Mavericks Worth Betting on Down 0-2 in NBA Finals?

Are the Mavericks Worth Betting on Down 0-2 in NBA Finals? article feature image
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Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kyrie Irving (Mavericks)

The Mavericks are running out of chances to reward everyone's trust in them.

Dallas entered the Finals as underdogs — as you would expect for a five-seed facing a 64-win one-seed.

But it was never as big of underdogs as that gap would suggest.

The Mavs' series price, and by extension, Game 1 lines, were notably shorter than you'd expect. It was a combination of the public's doubt in the Celtics after an easy path that they handled unimpressively and Dallas taking on three 50-plus-win teams on its way to the West title.

The books reported the public was all over Dallas, to the point where Boston winning would be a good outcome for them.

Now, despite being down 0-2 in the Finals headed to Texas, the market is still giving the Mavericks the same respect it would give a true contender. Dallas opened as a 1.5-point favorite in Game 3 at multiple US books.

If we assume a one-point move towards Boston in power rating based on the first two games of the series, that would make home court in this series worth 8.5 points from Boston to Dallas.

That sounds heavy, even if some of the push back towards Dallas comes from the unknown injury status of Kristaps Porzingis for Game 3. (Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla and Porzingis himself said he'd be ready and available for Game 3, but Porzingis did acknowledge he'll have imaging done on Monday.)

If Dallas closes as a favorite, it'll be the first time that a bottom-four seed has ever been favored in Game 3 of the Finals, the first time in these playoffs that the Celtics have been underdogs and just the second time that a seed lower than three has been a home favorite in Game 3.

The market continues to view the Mavericks as slightly better than season figures would suggest (or, conversely, the Celtics slightly worse, or some combination of the two).

To wit, the Mavericks were 2.5-point underdogs in the March meeting between these teams in Dallas (following the trades that revamped the Mavericks' roster).

Teams down 0-2 are 172-128 overall in the playoffs, via WhoWins.com, and 21-12 straight-up in the playoffs.

But since 2003, those teams have gone 7-3 straight up and just 4-5-1 ATS. Furthermore, teams in Game 3 that are favored by less than three points or are 'dogs are just 2-3.

Dallas took money in each of the first two games on the spread, with the public going 0-1-1 after Boston managed a push in Game 2 against the closing seven-point spread.

So, where did that trust from the public go wrong?

Dallas Can't Change Its Stripes

The best playoff teams thrive because of their malleability; they can change their approach based on what the opponent calls for.

Dallas isn't that. It's pretty straightforward. It puts the ball in Luka Doncic's hands a metric ton, puts the ball in Kyrie Irving's hands the rest of the time, packs the paint and dares shooters.

Against the Clippers, Dallas was able to pack the paint and dare shooters. It did the same against the Thunder and got the edge when P.J. Washington shot great and all of OKC shot poorly.

And against the Wolves, the Mavs were a perfect counterbalance to how Minnesota wants to play, without great spacing or shooting.

Boston is something else entirely. For the second game, Doncic had over 30 points but had to exhaust himself to do so. Doncic's shotmaking was incredible in the early parts of Game 2, but as he wore out from both his high-usage mark (34% after 37% in Game 1) and the Celtics' relentless attacks of him defensively, so too did the Mavericks' offense.

The Celtics welcome everything about the Mavericks' offensive process.

You want to play isolation heavy and have huge scoring nights? Go ahead as long as you're not shooting 3s.

You want the other players to mostly stand around and wait? That's great, the Celtics are well equipped to help and recover to them.

Photo by Mercedes Oliver/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Luka Doncic (Mavs)

The Mavericks finally created a lob in Game 2, their first and only in the series. They have eight corner 3 attempts.

The Mavericks don't have a third creator to take the load off of Doncic with Irving struggling against the Celtics' length and defensive acumen. In fact, Irving has now lost 12 straight times to the Celtics.

They don't have a post-up threat to attack small-ball switches. Doncic can't operate off-ball to draw attention.

The Mavs are left trying to hammer away with the only tool in their belt at a steel door that's locked them out.

Offensively, Boston continues to get whatever it wants. As Brandon Anderson notes, this was the bad shooting variance game for Boston (10-of-39 from 3) and the Mavericks still lost.

The Mavericks can still win a game by shooting the lights out, but losing Game 2 is tough.

Just as concerning, though, is how easy everything looks for Boston. The Celtics create good looks on every possession. They routinely slide right by Doncic and Irving with the Mavericks' rim protector safety net spaced to the edges.

This hasn't been a basketball chess match, a counterbalanced tug of war between two teams' strengths. It's been a Boston beatdown disguised by pace and variance. That doesn't mean Dallas can't win a game or the series, just that you can't find a lot of optimism for Dallas' chances after the first two games.

The health of Porzingis should dominate the media discussion until Wednesday's Game 3. The Celtics are +25 with Porzingis on the floor in this series and a net neutral without him. Boston can still win the series without Porzingis, but Dallas has no answer when Boston has him on the court.

Ultimately, Dallas' biggest problem is that it reached the Finals with one answer to the test and now the questions have changed. It's no longer just multiple choice; this test requires the critical thinking of an essay question.

And the clock is ticking for it to find the answer.

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Finals MVP

I liked Jaylen Brown to win Finals MVP, and I still do.

Jrue Holiday was the leading scorer and best player for Boston in Game 2, but he won't have the usage you need.

Porzingis won't play the minutes, despite his great impact.

Jayson Tatum has done all the things you ask for the best player to do to help you win except score; he's shooting 12-of-38 in this series.

Brown has the huge block on Derrick Jones Jr. in Game 1, the huge dunks of Game 1 and the dagger bucket to end a late comeback attempt by Dallas in Game 2, all while leading the team in scoring and steals and also being the primary defender on Doncic.

Holiday has a chance with one more big game, but Brown has looked like what Jason Kidd called him this week, the Celtics' best player.

He's the best bet to win Finals MVP.

There will be discussion of whether Doncic should win it even in a loss, but it certainly can't happen in a sweep or gentlemen's sweep.

So, if you think Doncic is live to win Finals MVP in a loss, you might as well bet the Mavericks +2.5 on the series spread line and save yourself the concern, even if Doncic's +650 number is a better payout.

Brown at +185 remains the best value.

Game 3

I'll wait to see what the injury news says about Porzingis, as I don't want to be caught unaware, but it will be Boston or nothing for me in Game 3.

Home favorites down 0-2 have been great, but they've never been a seed this low. Dallas is 3-0 in Game 3s in the postseason, but so is Boston. Dallas hasn't been great at home overall, and the Celtics are 6-0 on the road in these playoffs.

There are no clear adjustments the Mavericks can make. Irving can score better, but he won't shape the game, and any offensive regression can be accounted for by better 3-point shooting from Boston.

The Mavericks' role players can give Dallas more, but so can Tatum.

I lean towards the over in Game 3, with a softer open of 212.

Dallas can win Game 2 and it can still make all sorts of history down 0-2.

But Game 1 was a wakeup call, and Game 2 was a missed opportunity.

The market and public still believe this Mavericks team can make history, but the weight of what they're facing only seems to get heavier by the minute.

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Nick Sterling
Jun 20, 2024 UTC