IS this the beginning of the end for the Cleveland Cavaliers or the start of the something remarkable they require?
Down 2-0 in their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Boston Celtics, the NBA Finalists of the past three years have gone from favourites to 2.75 to advance as the best-of-seven duel shifts to Ohio for Saturday’s Game 3.
It’s not just that the Celtics have out-performed, out-thought and out-manned LeBron James and his cast of ghosts. It’s that Cleveland have – their superstar apart – been exactly the team they’ve been for most of this season, incoherent and ineffective in elongated spell.
Boston have won the two contests so far by 25 and 13 points while holding the Cavs – a side built entirely for offense – to an average of 88.5, way below the 118.5 they maintained during their sweep of Toronto in the semi-final round. Brad Stevens coaching has rightly been lauded but his young stars have shone.
It’s left the Cs at 10.00 for a 4-0 advance but, as we’ve often seen, James brilliance on its own will carry the occasional day. But not four, which is why a punt on Boston at 4-2, now at 6.50, still looks a prime offer.
By contrast, the Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets series in the Western Conference Finals is hanging at 1-1 following the latter’s Game 2 retort.
However, with the next two in Oakland, starting with Sunday’s Game 3, the reigning champions are 1.33 favourites to progress and a mere 3.50 to run the table to a 4-1 triumph.
Yet victory by 22 in Game 2 suggests Houston will not be easily grounded. The Dubs have the experience and some momentum and while they are underdogs, the Warriors at 4-3 remains a lure.
Back on their home court, have a look at Golden State at -6.5 at 1.84 but this clash will have some punches to come before it is decided.
Looking ahead though, there seems little prospect of Boston or Cleveland troubling the champs, given the multiple consistent scoring weapons available from Kevin Durant to Steph Curry to everyone else.
1.50 on the Dubs for a two-peat might be as good as it gets.