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NBA Finals Game 6 Preview

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NBA Finals - Game 6 - Warriors lead 3-2
Golden State at Cleveland (-2/207.5), 9:00 p.m. ET - ABC

The NBA Finals are back in Cleveland. Considering where things stood last time they were in town last Friday night, that’s a mild upset, but don’t believe for a second the Cavs are playing with house money.

No, there’s genuine pressure. Not only are they two-point favorites to get the series back to Oakland for a Game 7, but a loss would mean that the Warriors would be celebrating another title one year to the date of last year’s conquest.

A loss would not only make LeBron James 0-for-3 in NBA Finals with his hometown team, but it would also mean that all three times, the visitors celebrated winning the title in a city that hasn’t claimed one of their own in any major sport since 1964. That’s cold, but very Cleveland-like.

Worse yet, Stephen Curry would claim a second straight title in a year where he was named regular-season MVP, dancing and partying it up at LeBron’s house while joining him, Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the only players in league history to accomplish that feat in consecutive seasons.


James and Kyrie Irving come in after carving out their own piece of history, becoming the first teammates to each top the 40-point mark in the NBA’s championship round. They combined to shoot 33-for-54 (61 pct) against the Draymond Green-less Warriors, doing so while helping the Cavs buckle down defensively in allowing just 13 fourth-quarter points in the 112-97 win.

“They’re special players. They’re capable of having special nights,” said Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue. “We know that, we’ve seen it before. If they didn’t have it going then we’d have run other things to get other guys involved, but with those two guys having a special night, we rode them and they came through for us.”

Although returning home should help them maintain a rhythm, Green’s return from suspension means the Warriors will have their defensive driving force back in the fold. Without his presence helping Andre Iguodala guard James and communicating on switches, the Warriors were unable to get the stops they needed to maintain a rhythm at both ends. Head coach Steve Kerr made no secret of his disappointment with how Golden State responded without him in Game 5, but conceded everyone is obviously better with Green on the floor.

Green felt he let teammates down regardless of whether he agreed with the decision, calling it “awful” that he missed the game and referring to himself as a “terrible teammate” for putting his guys in that situation.

“I owe it to my teammates to come back and give all that I have, all that I can do to better the situation,” Green said. “I have a strong belief that if I played Game 5 we win, but I didn’t because I put myself in a situation where I wasn’t able to play.”

Curry’s rough shooting night (8-for-21) compounded the issue, as did Harrison Barnes finishing 2-for-14 while playing 38 minutes, the most he’s played all series due to Green’s absence. Losing Andrew Bogut to a knee injury after just eight minutes of action didn’t help matters, throwing Kerr’s rotations further out of whack. Little went right for Golden State, spoiling what Curry felt would’ve been a dream ending where cameras would’ve memorably followed Green as he ran over from the Oakland Coliseum to celebrate a championship. Instead, the Warriors’ emotional leader will have to try and make up for the missed opportunity while reining in his temper since there would be dire circumstances if he’s whistled for another flagrant foul or two technicals.

“He knows that if he gets another flagrant he misses Game 7. He’s well aware of that so I’d be shocked if anything happened on that front,” said Kerr. “He feels bad enough as it is about missing Game 5. He’s not going to put himself at risk of missing another game.”

It’s imperative that he remains on the floor since Bogut has been ruled out for the next 6-to-8 weeks with a left knee sprain. It remains to be seen how Kerr chooses to start the game without his center, staying close to status quo by bumping up Festus Ezeli or going small right from the jump by leaving Iguodala in the starting lineup and putting Green as his primary big.

Whether they see it right from the onset or not, the Cavs are prepared to see Green at center when it matters most.

“Their money lineup is going small with Green at the five,” said Lue, “so there’s not really a big difference in preparing for that.

Although that lineup isn’t necessarily a lock to produce a fast pace since it’s among their top defensive group, the Warriors are 1-4 this postseason when held under 100 points, so they won’t shy away if the Cavs opt to get up and down on their home floor.

Depending on when and where you bet the total in Game 5, you could’ve won, lost or pushed. Most betting shops closed at 209 and that’s exactly where the score finished. The ‘over’ was definitely the right side since the score was knotted 61-61 at halftime, but 32 combined fourth-quarter points turned some expected winning tickets into losers.

Game 6 opened at 207 ½ and that number has held steady as of Wednesday, climbing to 208 at some spots. NBA Totals expert Chris David weighs in on Thursday’s matchup with his quick handicap.

“The Draymond Green effect not only played a factor defensively in Game 5 but his absence really screwed up Golden State offensively as they settled for too many jumpers. The Warriors took a series-high 42 attempts from 3-point land in Game 5 and only made 14 of them. As a team, Golden State shot 36 percent from the field and only scored 13 in the final quarter yet they still finished with 97 points,” said David. “Holding the Warriors under 100 points in a game doesn’t happen often. Including Game 5, the feat has only been accomplished 12 times this season.

“Looking back at the 11 situations, Golden State rebounded with an average score 118.4 points per game. In this year’s playoffs, the Warriors were held under the century mark three times and they posted 120, 104 and 108 in the next game, all victories as well. In case you’re wondering, Golden State has gone 11-0 straight up and 9-2 against the spread after being held under 100 and the ‘over’ went 7-4 in those games. It’s hard to go against these seasonal trends and I’m going to buy Golden State’s team total ‘over’ 102 ½ in Game 6. I would lean to the game total going ‘over’ as well with the series wrapping up.”

The Cavs will likely do everything in their power to avoid getting bogged down, since they’re 0-3 in the series when failing to top the century mark. They’re 8-0 at home this postseason when topping 100 points and lost Game 4 108-97 the only time they didn’t.

On that note, Golden State has made an NBA-record 276 3-pointers during these playoffs, while Cleveland has made 242, now good for second all-time. This may very well be a situation where the team that strokes it best from beyond the arc survives. Normally you wouldn’t want to challenge the Warriors at their own game, but the Cavs have seen role players Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Channing Frye find the range at home enough to trust they’ll hold their own.

Live by the 3, die by 3. Wish there was a total set on how many times you might here that old adage uttered on Thursday night because the over would be a lock.

The Cavs are looking to become the third team among the last 33 to have fallen behind 3-1 in an NBA Finals to force a Game 7. The 1951 Knicks and ’66 Lakers managed to force a deciding game. It hasn’t been done in 50 years. No NBA team has ever rallied to win it all after backing themselves into that corner.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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