My Worst In-Game Basketball Bet (So Far)....

Basketball Aug 22, 2020
Basketball – Shot 2-Points
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

I never used to enjoy basketball betting. Unlike hockey or baseball or a close to pick’em football game where I was used to not laying a bunch of points, basketball seemed to always include a big number to cover. For this reason I would usually take big dogs and hope that the differential wouldn’t get too far out of whack, or specifically, not intrude on the points I had in my favour.

To add a point spread and paraphrase a classic Krusty the Clown line from The Simpsons, “Washington Generals +22 v Harlem Globetrotters? I like it! Let’s keep it close Generals!”

The allure of basketball to me was always 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter to see if my points would be enough to eek out the win, turning the game effectively into a horse race's length. Sweating just those 120 seconds was my jam. Enduring fouls, clock-killing back court dribbling, just hoping the last minute would leave me the margin of points I required. If there was “red zone TV” for basketball, that’s all I’d need. Honestly, why isn’t there a red zone channel in all sports? ESPN Red Zone. Make it a whole thing. C’mon man, to use their own phrase.

But things have changed in my basketball betting relationship. It started last Spring as I was in Toronto and had great seats for game 2 of the series vs the Orlando Magic. The Raptors had lost the first game of their young playoff run at home, 104-101, but consensus out there was they would not lose the second meeting at home. Not losing is one thing, but COVERING is another thing entirely. The line for the game two was Orlando Magic +11. What? 11? Did I read that right? They won game one by 3 points? Are you telling me, or are the statisticians telling me, that game 2 is going to play out double digits differently than game 1? That seemed likes some pretty lofty expectations.

This last paragraph is evidence of my ignorance of basketball and how it can play out.

April 16, 2019: In attendance in the crowd I fired up my in-game wagering and left the webpage on the dynamic odds offering for the entire time. One of those sessions where you hit ‘don’t accept’ on the phone to any incoming calls and you turn your texts to not alert you when a new one comes in. Just me, the game, and my in-game wagering device.

I made a small wager on the Magic +11 opening line. From there I would treat the game like a stock I liked over the long term and I would dollar cost average if it came down in price, or in this case, if the points I was getting kept getting juicer and more enticing. With 11 points to give, the end of the first quarter finished 26-18 and the Raptors up by 8. The in-game line seemed to be tracking ahead of what it should be, I thought. It's an enigma that black box algorithm that determines what a line should be in-game. Being the game total spread was gifting 11 to the Magic, the in-game line at the conclusion of the first quarter was now somewhere around Magic +13. That’s not enough to get too excited about adding to my "investment", I thought. When averaging your cost in a stock, or the in-game price, you want to get it down markedly better so your average noticeably improves. Maybe you’ll win the late bet you made at the higher number, lose the first one, but it’ll be a push. Sometimes breaking even is a win. That's not how it went for me on this day.

Second quarter: Raptors add another 4 points to their lead, up by 12. They’re covering the 11 point starting spread at this point, but surely the second half will bring some adjustments by the Magic and there will be some regression to the mean. The statisticians aren’t that far off usually in that opening number. Maybe it’ll hover right about here for the game and if a big spread on the in-game offers itself up, I’ll jump in and look for a Magic run where it starts to get closer.

But, Toronto kept running away. And KEPT running away. Now, I’m a Raptor fan, but fandom I do not let get in the way of what is perceived to be an advantageous betting spot. Fandom can often come in handy in recognizing those spots, as a fan is accurately aware of the trappings of his or her own team. The Vancouver Canucks don’t do well when up by 2 goals. This I know.

So, while watching game 2 unfold and the Raptors looking to even up the series in this young playoff run that would end in an epic parade, I would bet the Magic with the points numerous times as the game progressed. Again, I didn’t want the Magic to win, I just wanted them to COVER. Like Bruce Springsteen sang on his classic 1983 Born in the USA:

The whole world is out there just trying to score
I’ve seen enough I don’t want to see anymore
Cover me, come on and cover me

On this fateful night Toronto showed why they would go on and win the championship, and show me how "dollar cost averaging" could go horibly wrong. I must have added to the position a dozen times. Every new and 'better' number that came out I bet some more. This night was not the night to experiment with this strategy. There was no regression to the mean. Not a single quarter. Toronto outscored the Magic in all four:

First Quarter: Magic 18, Raptors 26. Second Quarter: Magic 21  Raptors 25.

The third is where things really got ugly for me. I was hammering the Magic when the in-game line started approaching 20 points. I nailed it at 18. Hammered it at 20. Threw my wallet and my entire account balance at it over the course of the quarter as the number got even higher. Third Quarter: Magic score 27 ........ and the Raptors 39!!! The line at this point was Orlando getting 25 points! They can cover that, right? RIGHT?

They can not. They did not. As the Scotiabank Arena went ballisitic with a deafening and deserved ovation at the end of the game, I was left to feign my excitment for the outcome. I wanted the Raptors to win the game, and lift the trophy, but it sure would have been a better result for my pocketbook had they doone so by a much slimmer margin on April 16th, 2019.

That night is now in the record books. The largest margin of victory in Toronto Raptor history. The greatest player rental in NBA history, Kawhi Leonard, scores 37 points to destroy the Orlando Magic and my account balance.  Final score 111 to 82!


The father of dollar-cost averaging, famed value investor Benjamin Graham said, “Invest in common stocks the same number of dollars each month or each quarter to end up with a satisfactory overall price for all your holdings.”

It occurs to me now that the quarter he was referring to was not 12 minutes long.