Do NBA Teams Clamp Down Defensively in Playoff Game 7′s?

The San Antonio Spurs were just seconds away from winning their fifth championship in franchise history before an improbable series of events helped the Miami Heat force overtime and eventually a decisive Game 7. With anticipation reaching a fever pitch for this winner-take-all showdown, oddsmakers have listed the Heat as 5.5-point favorites with a total of 188.

Perhaps not surprisingly — especially given the extremely competitive nature of this series — the public has been pounding the road underdog. According to our NBA Finals Betting Trends, the Spurs were receiving an overwhelming 72% of spread bets and 63% of moneyline wagers at the time of publication. This falls in line with past historical trends as the home team has received more than 50% of spread bets in just 5 of the 29 Game 7′s in our historical archive.

The public’s behavior during the postseason runs in direct contrast to the regular season where bettors tend to overwhelmingly favor betting on home teams and favorites. With that in mind, we looked at past NBA Playoff Game 7′s to determine if there is any value for tonight’s clash.

The table below uses betting percentages from our seven contributing sportsbooks and utilizes our consensus line.

Date
Visitor
Home
Home Line
Home Spread %
Total
Score
June 20, 2013 San Antonio Spurs Miami Heat MIA -6 29% 188 ?
June 4, 2013 Indiana Pacers Miami Heat* MIA -7 37% 180.5 99-76 MIA
May 4, 2013 Chicago Bulls* Brooklyn Nets BKN -7 46% 183 99-93 CHI
June 9, 2012 Boston Celtics Miami Heat* MIA -8 35% 178.5 101-88 MIA
May 26, 2012 Philadelphia 76ers Boston Celtics* BOS -5.5 64% 171 85-75 BOS
May 13, 2012 L.A. Clippers* Memphis Grizzlies MEM -7.5 34% 176.5 82-72 LAC
May 12, 2012 Denver Nuggets LA Lakers* LAL -5.5 47% 193 96-87 LAL
May 15, 2011 Memphis Grizzlies Oklahoma City Thunder* OKC -6 47% 196.5 99-72 OKC
June 17, 2010 Boston Celtics* L.A. Lakers LAL -6.5 45% 186.5 83-79 LAL
May 2, 2010 Milwaukee Bucks Atlanta Hawks* ATL -8.5 38% 185 95-74 ATL
May 17, 2009 Orlando Magic* Boston Celtics BOS -2.5 68% 187 101-82 ORL
May 17, 2009 Houston Rockets L.A. Lakers* LAL -13 55% 194 89-70 LAL
May 3, 2009 Atlanta Hawks* Miami Heat ATL -5.5 46% 181 91-78 ATL
May 2, 2009 Chicago Bulls Boston Celtics* BOS -3 36% 194.5 109-99 BOS
May 19, 2008 San Antonio Spurs* New Orleans Hornets NO -4.5 49% 183 91-82 SA
May 18, 2008 Cleveland Cavaliers* Boston Celtics BOS -8 40% 173 97-92 BOS
May 4, 2008 Atlanta Hawks Boston Celtics* BOS -14.5 43% 189.5 99-65 BOS
May 5, 2007 Utah Jazz* Houston Rockets HOU -5.5 47% 184 103-99 UTA
May 22, 2006 Dallas Mavericks* San Antonio Spurs SA -3 38% 191 119-111 DAL
May 22, 2006 L.A. Clippers Phoenix Suns* PHX -4 54% 215.5 127-107 PHX
May 21, 2006 Cleveland Cavaliers Detroit Pistons* DET -8.5 26% 177.5 79-61 DET
May 6, 2006 L.A. Lakers Phoenix Suns* PHX -5.5 39% 206.5 121-90 PHX
June 23, 2005 Detroit Pistons San Antonio Spurs* SA -4.5 39% 174 81-74 SA
June 6, 2005 Detroit Pistons* Miami Heat MIA -2 47% 176.5 88-82 DET
May 7, 2005 Indiana Pacers* Boston Celtics BOS -4 56% 182.5 97-70 IND
May 7, 2005 Houston Rockets Dallas Mavericks* DAL -4 48% 196 116-76 DAL
May 20, 2004 New Jersey Nets Detroit Pistons* DET -5 36% 165 90-69 DET
May 19, 2004 Sacramento Kings Minnesota T'wolves* MIN -5 48% 186.5 83-80 MIN
May 4, 2004 New Orleans Hornets Miami Heat* MIA -5 36% 168 85-77 MIA

* Home teams were 17-11 ATS in Game 7′s 

There were a few trends that immediately struck us after viewing this data, the first of which concerned the total. Broadcasters and analysts frequently talk about how Game 7′s are typically low scoring because both teams ramp up their defensive intensity, so we were very curious as to whether oddsmakers adjusted their lines accordingly.

While the total itself never changed dramatically from Game 6 to Game 7, we did notice that the under performed incredibly well in these games. In fact, in the 28 previous Game 7′s in our historical database, the under has gone 20-8. This is not the first time we have found value on the under during the NBA postseason, as detailed in an earlier blog post.

In that article, our research revealed that the under was 16-3 during the NBA Finals when there was reverse line movement (i.e. when more than 50% of the public is betting the over, yet the total moves against the public). For tonight’s game the total opened at 191 at Pinnacle with 66% of bettors taking the over. Despite that two-thirds majority, the line has dropped three full points to 188. This is an excellent example of reverse line movement and demonstrates further value on tonight’s under.

UPDATE: After the article was published, SportsInsights.com President Dan Fabrizio joined Chad Millman on ESPN.com’s Behind to Bets podcast to break down tonight’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Click here to listen.

Who do you like tonight? Will you be taking a side on the total? Does anybody like San Antonio (+220 on the ML) to win straight up? Make sure to leave your comments or questions in the section below.

6 comments on “Do NBA Teams Clamp Down Defensively in Playoff Game 7′s?
  1. I understand it’s been since Christopher Columbus was a teenager that a road team took game 7, but the Spurs have still never trailed at any point of an NBA Final. Miami has yet to prove they can beat San Antonio in consecutive games and I don’t see that happening tonight. I’m going for the value and putting my money on the Spurs ML.

  2. I’m on the UNDER 188. I also like HEAT to win, but not sure I can take them -5.5. I’m hoping that drops to -5 but I doubt it. Good luck guys and enjoy the game!

  3. All you hear is that Lebron is the BEST Player on the Planet, Lebron this, Lebron that…For my money, I would take MJ Heads over Heals against Lebron…Anyway, back to the game 7 tonight..My money will be on the SPURS and UNDER…This is the best Championship series any Hoops fan could have wanted or expected..Lebron had His triple double Tuesday night..it would take a Super Human effort for Him to top that and after only a day rest.. Lebron will get his points but Wade , Bosh and Ray Allen keep it close but Spurs win, 95-91…

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