Why Unders Have Been (And Should Continue to Be) Profitable in Rockets-Warriors

Why Unders Have Been (And Should Continue to Be) Profitable in Rockets-Warriors article feature image

Photo credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: James Harden

  • Unders in Rockets-Warriors games have historically crushed in the Steve Kerr era.
  • But is that due to randomness, or is there an underlying reason leading to under value?
  • More importantly: How should you bet them moving forward? Bryan Mears takes a closer look.

If you’ve been reading our content, you probably know by now that unders in Rockets-Warriors games have been about the most profitable bets you can make. Per our own Evan Abrams: “In 36 meetings between the Rockets and Warriors in the Steve Kerr era, the under has gone 25-11, including 15-3 in the playoffs.” The Game 1 total flew under.

But with every trend, it’s wise to figure out whether there’s signal or just noise, especially when there’s a small sample size. So what’s pushing these Rockets-Warriors totals under, and should it continue?

The simple answer is that the public is really overvaluing these offenses. It’s understandable: These are historically elite offenses; the overs have to hit!

The public has been all about the overs: In those 36 games, the over has gotten a majority of the tickets wagered in 33 of them, hitting at a 27.3% rate and missing the over by a ridiculous 7.55 points per game. As a result of the public bets, the total has moved up in 18 of the 36 games.

But let’s dive a bit deeper into the matchup between these two teams and why they go under so much.

Why Unders Should Continue Hitting

The biggest part of it is the pace of play. Take last year, for example: The Rockets averaged 99.7 possessions per 48 minutes in the regular season. Against the Warriors in the playoffs, however, that number dipped to just 91.3. In Game 1 this year, the Rockets finished at 96 possessions.

Because of increased defensive pressure, plus the willingness to switch, it’s causing a lot more slow, halfcourt possessions. In fact, the Rockets — who played in the half court on 81.5% of their possessions in the regular season — saw that number increase in Game 1 to 90.0%.

And it’s not just about halfcourt vs. transition; it’s also about how slow these halfcourt possessions take because of the defensive schemes. My colleague Matt Moore mentioned a couple days ago that Kevin Durant averaged 3.5 ISO possessions per game in the first round against the Clippers. Against the Rockets last year? That number was 10 PER GAME.

Below I charted when the Rockets and Warriors finished possessions by different stages of the shot clock:

On 10.9% of their possessions in the regular season, the Rockets finished with four or fewer seconds remaining on the clock. Against the Warriors in Game 1, that number was 17.6%. Even early in the game, in the first quarter, the Rockets routinely milked the shot clock down and finished with an ISO shot attempt:

James Harden is still nearly at the halfcourt line with eight seconds left on the shot clock on this now controversial possession:

It isn’t just Harden, either. On one of the first possessions of the game, the Rockets don’t even start their set, which takes a while, until the clock is at 12 seconds.

The Warriors were a little better, but they still had plenty of possessions on which they didn’t start until single digits:

Part of that was by design since they were leading, but the overall point still stands: These teams are largely operating in the half court against each other and taking a long time to run through plays. Even if they remain efficient offensively on those plays, the sheer decrease in possessions during the game is something the betting market is seemingly missing.

But it’s important to note that the offensive efficiency isn’t going to be there like it was in the regular season. For one, these defenses are very good. And second, it’s much more difficult to score against a set halfcourt defense.

The Rockets’ implied point total in Game 1 was at 109.5. That might seem low for the Rockets, which is probably why bettors continue to bet overs between these teams. But again, note the pace. In order to hit that number with a possession mark of 96, they’d have to post an Offensive Rating of 114.1.

In the regular season, they were at 115.5. Expecting the Rockets in a playoff setting against a great halfcourt defense to have almost no drop-off in efficiency is silly.

As such, I think there’s more signal than noise in these Rockets-Warriors unders. Game 2’s total is sitting at 221 thanks to 64% of bets and 63% of total money wagered on the over as of writing (see live odds and public betting data here). Given the pace of play and defensive schemes, I’ll continue to bet the unders on this series as long as they’re in that 220 range.