NBA Playoffs: Betting History of Teams Up 3-1 in Conference Finals & NBA Finals

NBA Playoffs: Betting History of Teams Up 3-1 in Conference Finals & NBA Finals article feature image
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Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James.

If a team is down 3-0, the series is over. The Celtics just proved that in the Eastern Conference Finals.

If a team is down 3-1 in the Finals and does not have LeBron James, the series is also over. Those teams are 0-26 all time, via WhoWins.com.

But what about in Game 5 specifically?

Teams up 3-1 in a series are 10-5 straight up (SU) and 9-6 against the spread (ATS) since 2003 at home in Game 5 of the Conference Finals or Finals. That becomes 5-4 over the last 10 years — (SU) and ATS — and 2-3 since 2019.

Let's take a look at the last 10 years of the NBA Playoffs to see what we can learn about those spots.

2014: Spurs lead Heat 3-1.

The last ride of The Heatles.

With constant murmuring around the team of LeBron considering a return to Cleveland that summer, an old and tired Heat squad ran into a buzzsaw version of the team they beat the previous season in one of the all-time great NBA Finals. The Spurs played flawless basketball and dominated Game 5, winning and covering as a six-point favorite. The under cashed easily.

The Spurs were much better — although I will always wonder what would have happened if LeBron doesn't cramp up in Game 1 when the AC randomly stopped working.

2015: Warriors lead Rockets 3-1.

This is a pretty good comp. The Rockets were in both games at Oracle, but the Warriors edged them out.

The Rockets felt like they were in the series, only to see the Warriors hit them with a Hadouken fireball in Game 3 to effectively end the series with a win in Houston.

Golden State backed off in Game 4 as the Rockets got their win for pride, but the Warriors closed out Game 5 to advance to their first Finals of the Stephen Curry era, covering the 10-point spread and holding Houston to 90 points for the under.

The Warriors weren't that much better, but they were good enough.

2016: Warriors lead Cavaliers 3-1.

I don't feel like we need to go over this, but with no Draymond Green for the Warriors due to a suspension, the Cavaliers absolutely dominated Game 5 to begin the greatest comeback in NBA history.

The over hits behind Cleveland's 112 points despite Golden State only scoring 97.

The Warriors were better, but, well, LeBron (and Kyrie Irving).

2017: Warriors lead Cavaliers 3-1.

Kevin Durant's Warriors. No mercy. No hope.

Golden State covers the 8.5 spread and the over hits with the Warriors putting up 129 to the Cavs' 120.

The Warriors were better than everyone, arguably, in the history of the league.

2019: Raptors lead Warriors 3-1.

The Raptors somehow lose this game at home, by one, to send the series to Game 6 despite the Kevin Durant injury.

The 2019 Raptors are a pretty good comp for this Heat team that just finds a way to win with timely buckets — but Jimmy Butler isn't what Kawhi Leonard was that season.

The Raptors were better, thanks to injury. But fully healthy, the Warriors were better.

2020: Lakers lead Heat 3-1.

It's the bubble, so no real home-court advantage.

The Heat were really only prolonging the inevitable — the Lakers were better.

2021: Suns lead Clippers 3-1.

No Kawhi Leonard in this series for the Clippers, and somehow the Suns let this go to a sixth game back in L.A. For as good as the Suns were that season, that was a random — and bad — loss.

The Suns were only better due to Leonard's injury. If Leonard had been healthy, I liked the Clippers in that matchup.

2022: Warriors lead the Mavericks 3-1.

The Warriors were way better. The Mavericks were there largely due to the failures of the Suns in the second round and especially Game 7.

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Final tally: We have the better team in the series, up 3-1 each time, going 5-4 in Game 5 for various reasons. But there are important contexts in the four losses.

  • 2016: Draymond Green was suspended.
  • 2019: Kevin Durant was injured.
  • 2020: Bubble Season.
  • 2021: Kawhi Leonard was injured.

This is what happens in small sample contexts.

The Heat will undoubtedly try and hinge their belief on the fact that their best performance of the series — and only win — came in Denver.

But the Nuggets have lost only once at home in the playoffs, winning in nine of 10 by an average of 10.4 points.

It doesn't feel fair to suggest that Denver let up in Game 2, and that's why Miami won. It feels dismissive of a very good Heat team that battled their way to the Finals.

But Denver was clear in response to Game 2, saying it did not play hard enough. There was an internal belief the Nuggets might have started to "read their own press" a little bit after a Game 1 win that wasn't necessarily impressive. They refocused almost immediately and the response in Game 3 was proof.

Most of this is revealed in the line. If we remove the home-court factor, teams in the Conference Finals or Finals over the past 10 years up 3-1 and favored in Game 5 are 6-4 SU and ATS

A few more notes on 3-1 games in the Conference Finals and Finals:

  • Home favorites up 3-1 are only +0.2 in point differential in the first quarter, but +5.5 in the second quarter. If you want to bet on Denver, make it the first half. Home teams have led at the half in nine of the 15 games.
  • The Heat are 3-3 SU and ATS when facing elimination since 2019.
  • Jimmy Butler averages 22.8 points in elimination games since working into the rotation in 2015 — 28.1 PPG with the Heat.
  • Nikola Jokic averages 30.6 PPG with a chance to close out a series.
  • Top-two seeds up 3-1 are dominant in Game 5s, but that usually happens in the first round. Beyond the second round, top-two seeds are just 10-9 SU and 11-8 ATS.

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