NBA betting: Best bets for Game 1 of the Finals
Chris Sheridan picks out his favorite wagers for the first game of the Finals between the Celtics and Warriors.
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Game 1 of the NBA Finals is tonight, and there is money to be made. And if you want to boil this series down to one word, here it is: Experience.
Not only do the players on Golden State have more experience in the championship round than those on the Celtics (who have none), Warriors coach Steve Kerr actually coached Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart with Team USA, once at the World Cup in China and again last summer at the Olympics.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that Kerr learned something that he is going to use to try to defeat those three beginning tonight when the Warriors open at home against the Boston Celtics.
“I coached Marcus in the World Cup a few summers ago, along with Jayson and Jaylen and Kemba (Walker). At the time, we had four Celtics on the team. I've gotten to know these guys a little bit; Jayson last year during the Olympics. So it's been fun to get to know them. But Marcus, I described him yesterday as kind of the guard version of Draymond. He's just all over the place defensively. Really, really smart. Anticipates plays. Understands angles. The versatility to guard 1 through 5. It's all there.
“So there's a reason he won Defensive Player of the Year. He's a great, great defender and probably an underrated offensive player as well,” Kerr said Thursday as both teams practiced at the Chase Center to get ready for tonight’s 9 p.m. EDT tipoff.
This is important to remember both from a strategy standpoint when considering which team to wager on, and from a player prop standpoint because Kerr is going to scheme to not let Tatum, Smart and Brown beat him, probably in that order. There is much less experience when it comes to Ime Udoka’s time spent scheming against Golden State, but we can look back at the videotapes from their meeting this season and discern that the Celtics are going to attack Jordan Poole hard every time he is on the court because he is a weak defender.
And since Boston is a great defensive team, and also because Otto Porter Jr., Andre Iguodala and Gary Payton II are all good defenders and have all been upgraded to questionable, that likely means Poole is going to see a lot less playing time that what we got used to seeing over the first three rounds of the playoffs. His point total over/under of 15.5 appears too high as a result.
Golden State is favored by 3.5, and gamblers are pounding the Warriors as we speak.
The thinking here is that all of those people are making a smart wager, mostly because of the Warriors’ advantage in experience at this level. This will be the sixth time Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are competing at this level, and while this version of Golden State may not be as good as the one that included Kevin Durant, they are still extraordinarily more seasoned at playing on this big of a stage in the NBA.
The Warriors have a total of 123 games of NBA Finals experience among five players (Curry, Thompson, Green, Iguodala and Kevon Looney). Four of those players - Curry, Thompson, Green and Iguodala - each have over 25 games of Finals experience. In contrast, the Celtics do not have a single player with Finals experience.
“What I see in Boston is a great defensive team, super athletic. A team that has continuity. They have been in the playoffs year after year with the same core. So it's a team that has worked its way to this point in a very natural, organic way. Traditionally, this is how it's supposed to work in the NBA. If you look over the years, you grow a team through the draft, you take your lumps through the playoffs, you climb up and then you get to the Finals,” Kerr said
“Our team was built somewhat the same way. A couple trips to the playoffs and with some young guys, and gain more and more experience and break through. I think what I like is it's two teams that are mostly built with patience and through the draft and development, player development and continuity.”
And now they meet for the championship, with the Warriors priced at -150 to win (and now listed as the +400 favorites to win next season’s championship, too, supplanting the Brooklyn Nets atop that futures market).
The over has been set at 214 – a full 16 points higher than the number the Celtics had on the board for their Game 7 victory over Miami. That is an indication of the higher respect the oddsmakers have for Golden State’s offense than Miami’s, as well as an indication that they believe Boston’s top-rated defense is not going to be anywhere near as effective against Golden State as it was against Miami. We counsel laying off that one until we see which team asserts itself.
The Celtics and Warriors combined for 218 and 198 points in their two regular-season meetings, the higher-scoring game taking place in Boston in December before the Celtics defeated the Warriors in San Francisco on March 16 in the game in which Curry injured his foot when he collided with Smart. Kerr called out Smart for the “dangerous” play that sidelined Curry for the remainder of the regular season and the first game of the playoffs.
How much that particular play remains on Curry’s mind will be one of the first things we learn tonight, as Smart figures to guard him from the outset and we will quickly see whether the Warriors have anything dastardly planned for Smart. What we should expect to see from the officiating crew of Marc Davis, John Goble and James Williams is a very close eye being kept on Smart, which in the NBA often translates into a quick whistle.
So the expectation here is that Smart gets into early foul trouble, which is why we are counseling going under on his points line of 14.5 (-105) and his assists over/under of 5.5 (+110). If that foul trouble plays out, the Warriors will look to attack backup point guard Derrick White, also a poor defender, which is why it makes sense to also go with Curry going over his points line of 27.5 (-105). Curry last played in the finals in 2019 when the Warriors lost to the Toronto Raptors, so he has been waiting three years to reassert himself as the league’s pre-eminent superstar. Remember the All-Star game when he made 16 3-pointers? That is the same Curry we should expect to see tonight.
We also should expect the unexpected out of Draymond Green, who needs to be on his best behavior after accumulating three technical fouls over the first three rounds of the playoffs. Four more will earn him an automatic one-game suspension, but that does not mean Green will not push the envelope. Green had a triple-double of 11 points, 13 assists and 19 rebounds the last time he played in a finals game, and he had his hands full in that matchup with Kawhi Leonard every bit as much as he will tonight with Tatum. Green is not the triple-double machine that he once was, but he is more than capable of producing a double-double (+500), so add that into your parlay.
Because Golden State is 9-0 at home and has won 13 consecutive Game 1s at home, we like them to win.
So your parlay is Golden State on the moneyline (-165), Green to double-double, Smart under on points and assists, Poole under on points (-120) along with Al Horford going over 8.5 rebounds (-140). That should fix you up nicely for the weekend, when we should all be warming up for Sunday night’s Game 2 by watching the Wales-Ukraine soccer match to determine the final spot in the World Cup.
That game might be a heck of a lot more competitive than tonight’s basketball game if the lopsided nature of the wagering holds up and Golden State trounces the Celtics, but Boston’s defense is damn good and its size advantage is real. That is why we counsel Warriors moneyline rather than giving the points. Tonight should be a close one. And after the spate of noncompetitive games we have endured through the last couple weeks, let’s hope for something riveting. Good luck, y’all!