It was Game 2 of the Western Conference finals when the Golden State Warriors really started doing some damage to Las Vegas sportsbooks.
On May 16 at Oracle Arena, the Warriors were 13.5-point favorites over visiting San Antonio. The Spurs, who were without an injured Kawhi Leonard, had never been this big an underdog during coach Gregg Popovich's tenure. The Warriors rolled, easily covering the spread in a 136-100 rout.
It was the beginning of a three-week stretch that saw Golden State win and cover the spread in six straight games. Five of those six games went over the total, compounding a rough run for bookmakers that was capped by the dramatic finish to Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
"Yeah, we needed the Cavs pretty bad in that one," Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at William Hill U.S., lamented about Game 3.
After back-to-back blowouts, the Warriors were 4-point road favorites in Game 3 in Cleveland. Roughly 30 minutes prior to tip, 81 percent of the money bet on the game at William Hill's Nevada sportsbook was on Golden State. Trailing for much of the game, the Warriors scored the final 11 points of the fourth quarter to pull out a 118-113 win.
"What saved us in Games 1 and 2," said Jason Simbal, vice president of risk at Las Vegas sportsbook operator CG Technology, "was the amount of Cleveland moneyline bets we took. But in Game 3, they jumped off the bandwagon and everyone bet Golden State. That was the really, really bad one."
The Warriors won 15 of 16 games in the playoffs, finishing off Cleveland in the Finals for their second title in three years. They won 30 of their last 32 games to complete a dominant season that saw them distance themselves from the rest of the league.
The Westgate SuperBook opened the Warriors as -200, odds-on favorites to win next year's title, making them the largest preseason favorites the book has ever had in any major U.S. team sport, according to assistant manager Jeff Sherman.
That wasn't large enough at others books. The Golden Nugget has Golden State at -300 for next year's title, with the Cavaliers next at 4-1. No other team has odds in the single digits, a telling statistic that paints the picture of how top-heavy the NBA has become. Simbal said the Warriors' dominance hurt the betting action on the book's NBA futures odds this season.
"In fact, more money had been bet on the Masters than was bet on the NBA title odds at the time the tournament teed off," Simbal said. Golden State has reached the pinnacle of the betting market, compelling oddsmakers to post historic odds and point spreads:
• The Warriors were double-digit favorites 51 times this season. That's the most -- by far -- of any team in a single season over the past 12 years and nearly double the amount of any other team this past campaign. (The Spurs were double-digit favorites in 28 games).
• Golden State was a 21-point favorite over the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 25, the second-largest point spread for an NBA game in the past 12 seasons. The Warriors won, but failed to cover in a 112-95 victory.
• The Warriors were underdogs just three times all season: Twice at San Antonio and once at Houston (all in the regular season). Kevin Durant was injured in all three games, and Golden State rested multiple additional starters in their first meeting with the Spurs on March 11. Michael Jordan's 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that won 72 regular-season games also was an underdog in just three games. The 1996-97 Bulls, in the eyes of the betting market, were even more dominant and were favored in every regular-season game, according to point-spread archives on Covers.com.
The giant point spreads the sportsbooks hung on Golden State did their jobs, though. The Warriors went just 41-39-2 against the spread in the regular season.
The price and lines on the Warriors have become so high that professional bettors very rarely did anything but bet against Golden State. The Westgate's Sherman said there were just "a few times in the last couple years" that the sharp bettors were on Golden State. The betting public, however, very rarely missed a ride on the Dubs Express.
Night after night this season, sportsbooks found themselves rooting for whoever was playing Golden State.
• More money was bet on the Warriors than their opponents in 70 of 82 regular-season games, according to sports betting data site SportsInsights, which tracks the action at seven offshore sportsbooks.
• In the playoffs, William Hill's Nevada sportsbooks ended up with more point-spread money on the Warriors than on their opponents in 14 of their 17 games, according to data provided by the company.
"I can't remember needing them ... maybe a handful of times this year?" said Hugh Citron, sportsbook manager at the Stratosphere Hotel in Vegas.
Citron, a Las Vegas veteran, noticed a change in the discourse at his book during the Warriors' playoff run.
Normally, rookie bettors ask very basic questions on their first trip up to the counter. They'll want to know how much they could win on a big underdog or what the minimum bet is. But this spring at the sportsbook at Stratosphere, the newbies were seemingly all asking the same specific question: "Where can I bet Golden State and the over?"
"I'm not sure they even know what it means," Citron joked during the Warriors' playoff run. "But they know it hits every single night."