Sportsbooks avoided disaster with teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets losing early in the NBA Playoffs, but had Giannis Antetokounmpo not injured his knee in the Eastern Conference Finals, it could’ve been a different story.
It seems easy to forget now, but Antetokounmpo was a huge question mark entering the NBA Finals. Antetokounmpo suffered a hyperextended knee injury in Game 4 against the Atlanta Hawks and missed the rest of the series.
Somewhat surprisingly, he returned for Game 1 against the Phoenix Suns, but didn’t stand out — at least by his standards — with 6-of-11 shooting in 35 minutes in a 118-105 loss.
The fear that his knee was seriously injured and would cost him most, if not all, of the NBA Finals kept money in the pockets of bettors that otherwise could’ve gone to the biggest star remaining in the playoffs.
“We saw our bettors were much more confident on the Suns throughout the playoffs,” said PointsBet spokesman Patrick Eichner. “Folks started getting down on (Chris Paul) to win Finals MVP even during the Western Conference Finals, and obviously that belief was not at all there for Giannis given the knee.”
Most of the Finals MVP action at PointsBet came in on Paul and Devin Booker, combining for 56% of the handle.
At BetMGM, Antetokounmpo was +1000 to win Finals MVP entering the playoffs and saw that number drop as low as +145 before the Conference Finals. Then, despite advancing to the Finals, Giannis saw his odds get worse to +325 due to the injury.
“Kevin Durant losing early and Giannis suffering a leg injury in the Conference Finals made bettors hesitant to wager on him, which were two big factors that helped the book,” Christian Cipollini, Sports Trader at BetMGM, said.
Add in the fact that the Suns took a quick 2-0 lead, the confidence in Milwaukee was at an all-time low.
Of course, Giannis looked better than ever, topping 40 points three times and averaging 35 points and 13 rebounds in the series while playing almost 40 minutes per game. He was the obvious choice, as Milwaukee won its first championship in 50 years.
“While Giannis still had roughly 24% of the handle for Finals MVP, being listed as questionable certainly scared off some bettors and limited our overall exposure on him to take home the award,” said DraftKings‘ Johnny Avello.