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

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.

DateVisitorHomeHome LineHome Spread %TotalScore
June 20, 2013San Antonio SpursMiami HeatMIA -629%188?
June 4, 2013Indiana PacersMiami Heat*MIA -737%180.599-76 MIA
May 4, 2013Chicago Bulls*Brooklyn NetsBKN -746%18399-93 CHI
June 9, 2012Boston CelticsMiami Heat*MIA -835%178.5101-88 MIA
May 26, 2012Philadelphia 76ersBoston Celtics*BOS -5.564%17185-75 BOS
May 13, 2012L.A. Clippers*Memphis GrizzliesMEM -7.534%176.582-72 LAC
May 12, 2012Denver NuggetsLA Lakers*LAL -5.547%19396-87 LAL
May 15, 2011Memphis GrizzliesOklahoma City Thunder*OKC -647%196.599-72 OKC
June 17, 2010Boston Celtics*L.A. LakersLAL -6.545%186.583-79 LAL
May 2, 2010Milwaukee BucksAtlanta Hawks*ATL -8.538%18595-74 ATL
May 17, 2009Orlando Magic*Boston CelticsBOS -2.568%187101-82 ORL
May 17, 2009Houston RocketsL.A. Lakers*LAL -1355%19489-70 LAL
May 3, 2009Atlanta Hawks*Miami HeatATL -5.546%18191-78 ATL
May 2, 2009Chicago BullsBoston Celtics*BOS -336%194.5109-99 BOS
May 19, 2008San Antonio Spurs*New Orleans HornetsNO -4.549%18391-82 SA
May 18, 2008Cleveland Cavaliers*Boston CelticsBOS -840%17397-92 BOS
May 4, 2008Atlanta HawksBoston Celtics*BOS -14.543%189.599-65 BOS
May 5, 2007Utah Jazz*Houston RocketsHOU -5.547%184103-99 UTA
May 22, 2006Dallas Mavericks*San Antonio SpursSA -338%191119-111 DAL
May 22, 2006L.A. ClippersPhoenix Suns*PHX -454%215.5127-107 PHX
May 21, 2006Cleveland CavaliersDetroit Pistons*DET -8.526%177.579-61 DET
May 6, 2006L.A. LakersPhoenix Suns*PHX -5.539%206.5121-90 PHX
June 23, 2005Detroit PistonsSan Antonio Spurs*SA -4.539%17481-74 SA
June 6, 2005Detroit Pistons*Miami HeatMIA -247%176.588-82 DET
May 7, 2005Indiana Pacers*Boston CelticsBOS -456%182.597-70 IND
May 7, 2005Houston RocketsDallas Mavericks*DAL -448%196116-76 DAL
May 20, 2004New Jersey NetsDetroit Pistons*DET -536%16590-69 DET
May 19, 2004Sacramento KingsMinnesota T'wolves*MIN -548%186.583-80 MIN
May 4, 2004New Orleans HornetsMiami Heat*MIA -536%16885-77 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, President Dan Fabrizio joined Chad Millman on’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.

David Solar

David was the Content Manager at Sports Insights. He has since moved on to greener pastures.

    06/20/2013 at 1:15 pm

    UNDER 188.5

  • John
    06/20/2013 at 1:16 pm

    Based on your table, home teams in game 7 receiving < 40% of the action perform very well

  • Jeremy
    06/20/2013 at 1:37 pm

    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.

  • Corey
    06/20/2013 at 2:05 pm

    I love the Spurs on the ML and also the under 188 if I were playing a parlay but to me the Spurs is a better play!

  • Kevin
    06/20/2013 at 3:50 pm

    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!

  • Joe McGinley
    06/20/2013 at 5:26 pm

    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 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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