NBA Playoffs Totals & Betting Trends: Game 1 Angles for Raptors vs. 76ers, Jazz vs. Mavericks, More
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball against the Toronto Raptors.
Welcome to the NBA Playoffs!
The postseason grind can be quite grueling. The game slows down, the defensive intensity ramps up, and the half-court game reigns supreme. If history repeats itself during this two-month stretch, we will see much lower scoring through the NBA Finals in June.
So let’s preview what to expect from a totals perspective and how we as bettors can gain an edge over the books.
First, here are the final averages for each remaining team in the postseason in a sortable table:
Recent Postseason Over/Under Trends
Next, here is a comparison of the pace and points scored per game between the regular season and the postseason dating back to the 2016-17 season.
Why start at the 2016-2017 season?
That’s when the NBA saw a sharp increase in Pace and 3-point shooting. The influence of Mike D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less offense, the success of the Golden State Warriors, and the increased use of analytics in basketball operations shifted the NBA toward the high-scoring, fast-paced game we see today.
As you can see, the game slowing down and becoming more physical in the playoffs are not narratives and clichés. We’ve seen the average Pace for playoff games drop by an average of 2.5% from the regular season to the postseason during this specific time period.
Fouls and free throws increase, which contribute to a slower tempo and more physical play. Also, teams tend to play a shorter rotation, and it could be prudent for teams to pace themselves, or they might get fatigued throughout the series.
During the playoffs, the crowd atmosphere is a lot louder and rowdier. More pressure and distractions for the players can also lead to lower scoring games.
The league’s best coaches and players have an entire seven-game series to study and make adjustments to counter their opponents’ moves.
You will see that unders hit at a rate of 54-55% from the ’16-17 season to the ’19-20 season before normalizing last season at 48.3%. Bookmakers have adjusted for this sharp decline in scoring during the postseason, so expect to see totals adjusted for the slower pace.
Round 1, Game 1 Angle
The first games in the first round of the playoffs have been an interesting spot for unders in the past few seasons. The players may result in jitters for the opening game, and many of these teams have been able to scout and prepare for one another for awhile. Obviously, teams understand how crucial winning Game 1 is to gain some momentum in a series, so I think they come out with defense on the mind.
In the 2018-19 playoffs, all eight Game 1s went under the total by an average margin of 16.9 points. Since that postseason, totals in Game 1 of the opening round have gone 17-7 (70.8%) to the over.
Last season, these games went 5-3 to the under, but it is interesting to note that two of the three games that went over featured teams that were in the Play-In Tournament and were the No. 8 vs. No. 1 seed. The reason could be tired legs and a lack of focus on defense, or simply playing against the best teams in their respective conferences — the sample size is too small to determine, but it’s worth keeping any eye on.
That said, I wouldn’t suggest to blindly bet unders in Game 1, but this could be a good spot between two good defensive teams, slow-paced teams or teams with a strong rivalry.
Playoff Matchups to Target
Mavericks vs. Jazz Game 1
The Mavericks play at the slowest Pace in the league at 95.6, and their over/under record is 31-51 (37.8%). The Jazz are 23rd in Pace, but they slowed down to 29th (96.0) since the All-Star break. Both were top-10 in Defensive Rating for the season.
Three of their four matchups have gone over this season, but I think the Mavericks could really have some issues scoring the ball. Luka Doncic is dealing with a calf injury, and his status is unknown for Game 1.
If he misses the game, that will be a huge blow to the Mavericks’ offense. If he plays, I don’t think he will be 100%. The Mavericks will need to rely on their strong perimeter defense against the 3-point happy Jazz.
The line opened at 219 and has been bet all the way down as low as 209 at some books. So much depends on Doncic’s status for this game, so I would be sure to monitor our FantasyLabs news page. I still think there’s some value at 209.5, though considering the matchup.
Pick: Under 209.5
Raptors vs. 76ers Game 1
This series will be a grind as it features two stout defensive teams with a slow tempo that thrive in the half court.
Since the 2017-18 season, playoff games featuring James Harden have gone 28-18-3 (60.9%) to the under, per the Sports Data Query Language at Gimme The Dog.
Philly’s games have been much higher scoring upon Harden’s arrival, but things will really slow down in the playoffs as he will revert more to isolation plays and individual creation of baskets.
I think he will get frustrated by the Raptors’ stifling defense.
In the Nick Nurse era, the Raptors have gone 23-12 (65.7%) to the under in the postseason, per our Bet Labs tool.
I understand this is a completely different roster than previous seasons, but his philosophy and style still remains the same. He has the group of strong, versatile defenders that should keep this game low-scoring.
I like the under at 216 and would play this down to 215.
Pick: Under 216 (down to 215)