Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM

Finals Game 4 Essentials

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NBA Finals - Game 3 - Warriors lead 3-0
Golden State (-5, 215.5) at Cleveland, ABC, 9:05 ET

No one had blown a 3-1 Finals lead before the LeBron James-led Cavaliers stunned Golden State two years ago to deliver Cleveland’s first NBA title.

In order to win a second championship before James tests free agency next month, the Cavs will have to win four straight, becoming the first team to erase an 0-3 deficit. It’s so unlikely that the Westgate LV Superbook lists the Warriors as a -20000 favorite for a series price while offering up the Cavs at +4000.

Betting $100 bucks will get you 50 cents, which you can’t really do much with these days.

If there’s anyone who you might want to let a C-note ride on for a return of four grand, it would probably be LeBron, but you should probably know that only three teams in league history have managed to even a series and reach a Game 7. Only nine have even forced a sixth game.

The last time a team came back to win even two playoff games after falling behind 3-0 came back in ’07, when the Ben Wallace-led Bulls attempted to come back against his old Pistons teammates. Detroit then went on to lose to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals, resulting in Cleveland’s first-ever NBA Finals appearance.

That LeBron-led team ultimately got swept by San Antonio, which remains the only time in his illustrious career that he’s tasted the broom treatment in a playoff series. As VegasInsider’s Chris David points out, the Spurs clinched the championship with an 83-82 win in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena but current Cavs assistant coach Damon Jones hit a meaningless 3-pointer to help the club cover as a 2 ½-point home underdog.

James’ teams have a tendency to show backbone. Even last season, after falling down 3-0 to the Warriors, Cleveland avoided a sweep with a 137-116 rout behind a James’ triple-double and 40 points from Kyrie Irving.

Of course, if the Cavs had a guard like Irving capable of exploding for even half that, they likely wouldn’t be in the mess that they find themselves in. Cleveland scored 49 points in the first quarter and 86 for the half in last year’s Game 4, both Finals records.

Considering how effective the Warriors have been in third quarters, owning a 141-point edge throughout this postseason, the Cavs would be best served by another fast start in order to have a chance to avoid elimination at home. Cleveland is collectively -12 in the third quarter in these playoffs and has been outscored 59-44 in the second half of its last two losses.

If you’re of the opinion that the Cavs will show up, it may be worth it to take a half-point in the first quarter or 1.5 points (odds courtesy of [...]) for the opening 24 minutes. The Cavs cashed both sets of wagers, first-quarter, first-half, in both Games 1 and 3.

The ‘over’ in the first quarter has gone 3-0, with Cleveland doing its part to help those tickets by averaging 29 points per game in the first 12 minutes of each contest. The number for Game 4’s opening quarter is set at 55.

James sprained his ankle in the second quarter of Game 3 and appeared to run out of gas down the stretch, failing to take advantage of Golden State winding up in the penalty for the game’s final 4:24 because he opted not to put his head down and go to the basket. That could certainly be a sign that his competitive spirit has taken a hit, but he was adamant that wasn’t the case in addressing the issue during Thursday’s media availability session.

“I still feel good, even with turning my ankle last night or getting a finger jammed into my eye and taking the bumps and bruises and grinds throughout this playoff series,” said James, who is averaging 37.7 points, 9 rebounds and 10.7 assists despite the deficit. “I feel like I’m excited to put on the uniform.”

There is still a chance that James will be named the NBA Finals MVP, although that’s far less likely if Golden State wraps up a sweep on Friday night. He was 20/1 according to odds set by [...] entering this game, which might be worth a look since Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are currently vying for the honors after each playing large roles in building this lead.

In the latest Finals MVP odds, Durant is favored at 1-to-4 following his 43-point outburst on Wednesday night, which was necessary in part because Curry suffered through one of his worst shooting games ever, finishing 3-for-16 with just one 3-point make.

It was a huge one, which coupled with a crucial late layup, keeps him in the conversation since he’s averaging 24.3 points, 6.0 boards and 7.7 assists in the series. Durant has poured in 31.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists, shooting 25-for-37 (67.6 percent) over the last two wins following an inefficient Game 1. Finals MVP voting is based on only a handful of ballots polling a number of media members from both the print and broadcast side, so there may be some sentiment to reward James’ for his incredible run as a one-man band. Durant, asked about the possibility of LeBron winning that hardware despite losing the series, said “I don’t look at him at a guy that would be OK with that. He’s a winner.”

Durant won Finals MVP last season and has led Golden State to a 31-6 postseason record since arriving as a free agent in 2016. Bettors should make a note that since Durant arrived, the Warriors swept their first three playoff series in the Western Conference last year but were forced to a Game 5 in the NBA Finals and failed to break out the brooms in this year’s first round when the Spurs pulled off a 103-90 win at home in Game 4 of the first round.

“Dating back to the opening round of the 2015 playoffs, the Warriors have won 21 road games in the postseason,” said VegasInsider NBA expert Kevin Rogers. “Amazingly, Golden State has covered the number in all 21 instances, including in Game 3’s victory at Cleveland as 3 ½-point favorites. Sure that trend could end at any time, but laying the points with the Warriors or backing the Cavaliers on the money-line may be the way to go since Golden State hasn’t pulled off the SU win/ATS loss on the road in the playoffs in over three years.”

Golden State clinched last season’s crown in Oakland, but did win the ’15 title in Cleveland, overcoming a 32-point, 18-rebound, nine-assist night in a Game 6. Andre Iguodala was named the Finals MVP that year despite being the second-leading scorer behind Curry for the series, getting rewarded for his brilliant defense on James.

Although hobbled by a knee injury that’s clearly affecting his mobility, Iguodala made his 2017 Finals debut on Wednesday and was on the floor to help the Warriors persevere down the stretch. He ended up a plus-14 for the contest, second behind only Durant.

His ability to slow down James down the stretch was a factor in the win, especially since he slowed him down in transition, making him think twice about going straight to the basket to try and finish at the rim or draw fouls. His return was essential to offsetting a 7-for-27 shooting display from the Splash Brothers, who finished 3-for-15 on 3-point field goals.

Between their poor shooting game and the continued struggles of JR Smith, George Hill, Jeff Green and Kyle Korver, who finished 5-for-17 from beyond the arc and are now 15-for-49 for the series, Game 3 let down those who rode the high side as the series shifted to the Q. Even though Game 3 had a nice pace, the Cavaliers couldn’t extend the game late and that helped the ‘under’ (216) connect on Wednesday. Oddsmakers opened Game 4’s number at 216 and most books have dropped the number to 215 ½ as of Thursday.

VI’s Chris David offered up his total thoughts on Game 4.

“We’ve only seen one clear-cut total result in this series, which took place in Game 2. Most ‘under’ bettors got squeezed in Game 1 but those same low-side players caught a nice break in Game 3 as the game came to a halt in the fourth quarter. Fast forward to Game 4 and my initial lean would be to the ‘over’ again because Cleveland has no answer for Golden State’s offense. Plus, the Warriors defense hasn’t had a good series by their standards but they did keep Cleveland off the free throw line in Game 3. I highly doubt that the Cavaliers get no free throws in the first-half again on Friday and those freebies should only help them stay within distance of Golden State.”

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert protested the lack of first-half free-throws on Twitter by posting the box score on his feed before deleting the entry, but his team had no one to blame to for not racking up more trips to the charity stripe considering they had the Warriors in the penalty for over 10 second-half minutes and winding up just 7-for-8.

“From a handicapping perspective, I’m going to factor in history for this total and focus on sweeps,” said David. “Since the 2014 playoffs, we’ve seen 15 teams win series by a 4-0 margin and that includes two this postseason by the Cavaliers and Pelicans. Looking back at the victories in Game 4, the offensive production by the winning team were off the charts.

“In those games, the team that swept has averaged 115.3 points per game and that’s helped the ‘over’ go 11-4 in those contests. Since Golden State began its championship run in the 2015 playoffs, it has averaged 121.8 PPG in series that it has swept. If you believe the Warriors break out the broom on Friday, which I do, then I would expect a statement game from their offense and press their team total high.”

Coming off a night where they shot so poorly, both Curry and Thompson figure to be engaged, especially with the Akron-born point guard still having a chance at a first Finals MVP. There’s still intrigue on that end, not to mention seeing whether James is capable of avoiding being swept out of the playoffs for the second time in his career. In what could wind up being his final career game wearing a Cavs uniform in Cleveland, his effort here should be extraordinary or will otherwise forever be questioned.

For all the noise about this series being non-competitive, Cleveland has led two of the three games deep into the fourth quarter. They led Game 1 inside the final 10 seconds and Game 3 at the 3:00 mark. As of late Thursday night, 70 percent of the action was on the Warriors to close it out while also backing the over. If a Game 5 is necessary, it will be played Monday evening in Oakland.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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