The Warriors enter Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Boston with a 3-2 lead in the series. Stephen Curry is probably going to win NBA Finals MVP. Almost definitely, given the range of outcomes.
He was the favorite to start the series at -110, and he’s the heavy favorite now at -350. Is there value in betting Curry or any other player in the series at this point?
Let’s take a look at how we got here.
It’s a pretty boring result and one I faded before the series. I thought there was no way that the Celtics, who have defended Curry as well as anyone over the past four years, would just let Curry score. Yet that’s exactly what they did.
They dared Curry to beat them solo and tried to shut down the rest of the Warriors. It might have worked, too, had it not been for the Celtics soiling themselves repeatedly on offense.
But there isn’t a Warrior you can really attribute their defensive success to, and so the default comes back to “The Warriors are likely to win, and Curry’s scored a ton of points (because that was the Celtics’ game plan),” and so Curry is likely going to win.
What’s interesting is that even if the Celtics answer the siren call and fight back from down 3-2 to become one of just 29% of all Finals teams to win the series in that scenario, Curry might still win Finals MVP.
Part of my (wrong) argument for why Curry would not win Finals MVP was built on (wrongly) absolutely rejecting the idea that a player on the losing team could win the series. It’s only happened once in NBA history.
Additionally, the idea that Curry could have a monster series and not win the series didn’t feel plausible. Sure, Curry might have a dominant scoring series (which he has) if the Celtics did something crazy like play drop coverage against him (which they did), but then the Warriors would almost definitely win the series. And indeed, entering Game 6 the Warriors are -400 to win the series at BetMGM thanks to Curry’s performance.
But if the Celtics were to win two more games and return to the structure that helped them win two of four, including a lead with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter of Game 4, that allows Curry to go nuclear, and it’s entirely plausible for Curry to win it.
Celtics Stars Leaving the Door Open for Curry
Jayson Tatum has set an NBA playoff record for turnovers, and despite a solid Game 5, he hasn’t been great in any of the Celtics’ wins. Jaylen Brown has been bad in the Celtics losses.
So you have Tatum, who hasn’t had great numbers in Boston’s wins, and Brown, who hasn’t been good in the losses. Then you have Curry with just one bad game in the entire series who has the chance to finish off his best Finals appearance with a masterpiece in Game 6 or 7.
And even if the Warriors don’t win that game, it’ll likely be because of the Celtics’ defense on the other players, similar to how they won Games 2 and 4.
The market doesn’t allow for a lot of room to maneuver at this point. If you grabbed Curry at a plus-number before the series or after Game 1, congrats to you, you made a great bet, and it will probably cash.
If you’re trying to get in on it now, you’re in a tough spot. If you want to bet Curry, you’re still betting him at a minus-number, but you can wait until after Game 6. Then it’s Game 7 and the inherent uncertainty will lower the number, though you’re still paying through the nose because of the likelihood of Curry winning it in a loss.
People with voting experience polled by Action Network said they would consider Curry even in a loss given the immense gap between the teams. It’s obviously close; if the Celtics won you would have to assume that someone on Boston stepped up and played well.
Jayson Tatum (+400) and Jaylen Brown (+2200) are the obvious candidates. Brown’s number in particular is off. Brown was considered by some to be the MVP leader after Game 3 as the better player among these two in both of Boston’s wins.
Brown has been dreadful in the Celtics losses, but ultimately the voters will remember Brown’s performance and not just take the overall stats where Tatum leads.
So if you want to bet the Celtics, just bet Brown.
Is There Any Longshot Value?
My colleague Brandon Anderson on the Buckets podcast suggested a small play on Robert Williams, whom you can get at +100000 or better.
It’s not totally crazy. If the Celtics win the final two games on the back of their defense, Williams will have been a player that changed Games 3, 6 and 7.
It would take heavy minutes from a player still recovering from an MCL sprain, but if Tatum continues to languish, Brown doesn’t have a big game, and instead Boston wins a low-scoring affair on their defense with role player contributions (Grant Williams, Marcus Smart, Al Horford), then Williams is conceivable.
However, would voters really bet Williams over Curry in a loss? Curry’s honestly more likely in that scenario.
A great lesson to take away from these Finals is not to expect defensive coverages. Boston made what is on the surface an insane decision to basically let Curry shoot in this series. They’re still playing high, and they’re still trying desperately to get around screens and contest.
However, their defensive coverage isn’t designed to shut the water off from Curry and make him a playmaker like so many other teams have tried.
I expected that to be Boston’s tactic, and it burned me. Sometimes it really comes down to Keep It Simple, Stupid method, and taking the best player in the series to win Finals MVP.