NBA Finals Odds: Giannis Uncertainty Makes Game 1 A Tough Handicap

Antetokounmpo is questionable for the Finals opener


Picking a side in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals is a glorified game of blindfolded darts.

Whether they admit it or not, bettors are collectively guessing how the Milwaukee Bucks will perform against the Phoenix Suns due to all the uncertainty around Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” has been upgraded to a “game-time decision” with a left knee injury he suffered last round against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Suns opened as a six-point favorite in the first Finals battle, but that number immediately dipped down to Suns -5.5 after news broke that Giannis might be able to give it a go. It will go even lower if he’s officially cleared. Meanwhile, the point total has been bet up from 217 to 219.

“This NBA postseason has been a [expletive],” one Las Vegas bookmaker told NESN. “Star players have been dropping left and right. Now we’re trying to guess whether or not Giannis is playing in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.”

But it’s more than just if Giannis is playing or not.

“Even if Giannis gets cleared to play, we have no idea how effective he’ll be on the floor,” the bookmaker continued. “There are too many unknowns. How’s his conditioning? Does he have a minutes limit? Is he 70 percent or 90 percent? These are questions we don’t have answers too.”

The other wild aspect of bookmaking that nobody thinks about is that if Giannis does in fact play in Game 1, there’s an instant ripple effect with every other player on the Bucks. So if the news breaks that Antetokounmpo is available, a sportsbook staff has to recalibrate point props for other Milwaukee players.

Milwaukee Bucks Game 1 point props:
Giannis: OTB
Khris Middleton: O/U 26.5 u-118
Jrue Holiday: O/U 21.5 u-112
Brook Lopez: O/U 15.5 u-114
Bobby Portis: O/U 14.5 o-110
P.J. Tucker: O/U 4.5 o-140
(Odds via FanDuel)

Creating lines for player props is all about usage and minutes. Opportunity is another important aspect, too. Let’s take Bobby Portis for example. He’s a role player that has been thrust into big minutes due to Giannis’ absence. Portis’ prop would be nowhere near O/U 14.5 points if Giannis can play 30-35 minutes.

So, if you think Giannis plays a ton on Tuesday night, you could bet good money on Portis “Under” 14.5 points because his point prop would drop to 8.5 if Giannis gets cleared. Personally, I have no idea what to make of the situation. And that’s why if I was a bookmaker, I would be pulling my hair out for the next few hours until I knew for sure if Giannis is going to play or not.

The guessing game is the worst part of this racket.

There is still a player prop I love either way. I circled Jrue Holiday “Over” 21.5 points (-108) due to his surge in shots and aggressive offense. Holiday has taken 17, 20 and 23 shots in his last three games and I expect a similiar number in Game 1. The Bucks will need big minutes from their starting point guard and it’s not like Chris Paul is an all-world defender.

I also like Jae Crowder “under” 10.5 points (-110) because he has morphed into a statue over the last couple years on offense. He doesn’t get to the free throw line anymore and he mostly stands behind the three-point line waiting for a kickout pass. Sure, Crowder scored 19 points in his last game, but he tallied four, three, nine and two in the previous four games. And I love that math.

The side and total are a complete pass for me in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but count me in for a player prop on each sideline.

Jrue Holiday “Over” 21.5 points (-108)
Jae Crowder “Under” 10.5 points (-110)

RECORD: (42-41, -3.0)

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