No matter how much the NBA wants to promote high-scoring games and plenty of points, the old adage “Defense wins championships” still holds up.
Defense has also won its fair share of under bets this postseason, with the NBA Playoffs producing a 13-19 over/under mark heading into Tuesday’s action – a 59.3 percent clip.
Defensive stalwarts like Boston, Miami, Indiana and San Antonio, which make up the top four playoff teams in defensive efficiency (according to ESPN’s John Hollinger), have either won or hold a commanding 3-1 series lead in their first-round matchups. They’ve also combined for a bountiful 4-12 over/under record heading into Tuesday.
In fact, just two opening-round series have produced a profit for over bettors this postseason – L.A. Clippers-Memphis (3-1 o/u) and Oklahoma City-Dallas (3-1 o/u).
Boston-Atlanta, which is 2-2 over/under, could easily be 3-1 if it wasn’t for overtime in Game 3 and Chicago-Philadelphia (2-2 o/u) became a crapshoot for total bettors once Derrick Rose went down, but has played below the number in the last two games.
“Teams play more of a halfcourt game in the postseason and the totals usually come down,” says Jeff Stoneback, sportsbook manager for the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas. “But we’re still taking action on the under. The public generally sides with the over but the wise guys continue to like the under and we’ve taken a bit of a hit because of it.”
The totals have slowly been trimmed since the NBA Playoffs began on April 28. The average number for the postseason, not including Tuesday’s schedule, is about 188 points. The four games tipping off Tuesday night combine for an average total of just 180.6 points, including 171.5-point number for Game 5 between the 76ers and the Bulls.
Like everything in sports betting, adjustments by the public and the oddsmakers should have this under trend leveling out as the playoffs march on. However, there are a few teams that will continue to hold their value on the under – if and when they advance.
Boston Celtics (28-35-3 o/u regular season / 2-2 o/u postseason)
Boston ranks first in Hollinger’s defensive efficiency stats, boasting a rating of 86.4 – the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions. The Celtics’ defensive stats have gotten some help from an offensively-challenged Hawks team, but Boston is slowing the pace and is most comfortable in a halfcourt offense.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks and, while Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley give the Celtics some much-needed speed, Boston will lean on what got it here – working the ball around for the best shot. Coach Doc Rivers is trying to conserve energy, rolling out hockey-like shifts of five minutes on, five minutes off. It’s tough to get into an offensive rhythm when the musicians keep changing instruments.
Los Angeles Lakers (37-28-1 o/u regular season / 1-3 o/u postseason)
Kobe Bryant’s high-scoring style will always steal headlines in L.A., but the Lakers know that defense is the key to getting back to the NBA Finals. And no one in the postseason is playing better defense than center Andrew Bynum. He tied an NBA Playoffs record with 10 swats versus Denver in Game 1 and has recorded seven more blocked shots and changed constant others in the three following contests.
Los Angeles and Denver have gone 1-3 over/under heading into Tuesday, with the average total for the series coming in around 203 points. Tuesday’s Game 5 number is a modest 198 points. The Lakers hold a 3-1 edge in the series and will take on Oklahoma City if they advance. The Thunder, who went 3-1 over/under versus the Mavs, actually have a better defensive efficiency than L.A. (101.4), at 99.4. But OKC will have a much tougher time getting to the hoop against the Lakers than it did against Dallas and let's not forget defensive-stopper Metta World Peace's return from suspension, which should add to the drama of this pending series.
Indiana Pacers (34-30-2 o/u regular season/1-3 o/u postseason)
Blame overtime in Game 4 for spoiling the red-hot roll for under bettors, who have cashed in three times during the Pacers’ opening-round showdown with the Magic. Without Dwight Howard in the middle, books thought this series was going to see a boost in scoring, opening Game 1 with a 192-point number. Those totals have gradually gotten shorter, leading to Tuesday’s 179.5-point total.
Indiana ranks third in defensive efficiency (90.8) in the playoffs and has been one of the better defensive clubs all season. The Pacers' biggest issue has been coming out of the halftime flat. Heading into Tuesday, they’ve been outscored 108-60 in the third. Indiana is set up for a matchup with Miami in the second round, which would garner some pretty low totals. Neither team is particularly lighting up the scoreboard, especially from beyond the arc, in the postseason. They played to a 2-2 over/under mark in their four meetings his year.