The Golden State Warriors are 12.5-point favorites over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the largest point spread in an NBA Finals game since at least the 1991 playoffs. And the line was still growing in the hours leading up to Game 1.
By Thursday morning, several sportsbooks had already moved Golden State to -13.
Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers were 12-point underdogs to Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and a juggernaut Los Angeles Lakers squad in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. Iverson dropped 48 on the Lakers, leading the Sixers to victory in overtime.
Now it's LeBron James' turn to play the role of epic underdog. There have been only three other Finals games with double-digit point spreads; the Cavs are the biggest underdogs of them all, but Cleveland has its share of believers.
"We've taken zero money-line bets on the Warriors [in Game 1]," Jason Simbal, CG Technology vice president of risk, told ESPN on Thursday morning. "We've taken over 100 on the Cavs."
Now, a lot of that lopsidedness has more to do with the hefty price bettors have to pay to back heavily favored Golden State than it does with strong conviction about the Cavs. You'd have to bet $100 to win $10 to take the Warriors to win straight-up.
Take a stab at Cleveland with that same bet, however, and you have a chance to get $700 in return -- if James leads the Cavs to what, point-spread-wise, would be the largest NBA Finals upset in at least the past 27 years.
Cleveland is facing similar long odds to win the series. The Cavs are 7-1 at most sportsbooks. Only Iverson's 76ers in 2001 were bigger underdogs in the series. Philadelphia was 15-1 to beat the Lakers; Los Angeles won in five games.
The Warriors are listed at -1,000 to win the series and are attracting the much bigger bets. As of Thursday morning, there were nine times as many bets on the Cavs to win the series than there were on the Warriors. However, the money is a different story.
"The average bet on the Warriors [to win the series] is $3,400," Simbal said. "The average bet on the Cavs is $120."
Golden State winning in five games is the most likely outcome, according to the odds at the Westgate SuperBook. The Warriors defeated the Cavs in five games in last year's Finals.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the SuperBook had taken eight bets on Cleveland winning in a sweep at 300-1 odds.
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