Slow It Down: How Over/Under Changes in the Playoffs

A detailed view of the third quarter scoreboard at Wells Fargo Center. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/AFP.

Betting the over/under is a popular way to gamble on sports, and the points total for an NBA game or goals scored in an NHL contest always generate plenty of interest.

Both games change when they reach the Playoffs, however. According to the old rule of thumb in gambling, you can expect the pace to slow down significantly, both on the NBA hardwood and on the NHL ice.

Teams grind things out. No one takes possessions off, and scoring opportunities grow scarce. Just how much do things slow down in each sport, and what does that mean for your wagering?

The Playoffs Effect

The NBA season is a marathon, and whether it’s called load management or just phoning it in, there are certain games where a team doesn’t come to play. That can lead to mismatches and blowouts, with one team taking advantage of the difference in motivation levels.

The whole point of managing the load, however, is to be ready when the Playoffs arrive. Each game in the postseason has meaning, and the stakes are ratcheted up. The effort level rises to meet them. Suddenly, there are no easy baskets, fast breaks seem to dry up, and extensive scouting reports mean that there are very few open shots.

According to research by the New York Post, the average NBA Playoff game has 2.46 fewer possessions than the average regular-season game.

How Do the Odds Change?

Now, clearly, the top sportsbooks are aware of this, and you’ll find the over/under numbers drop accordingly once the postseason begins.

Even taking that into account, however, the Under becomes a more attractive option.

The Post found that betting the Under exclusively would have turned a profit in five of the last seven Playoffs.

2022 NBA Playoffs: Under/Over Analysis

Points per Game

This season, we’ve seen a scoring dropoff of more than four points per team in the Playoffs.

The average team scored 111.2 points per game in the regular season, but that has fallen to 106.9 in the postseason.

Field Goal Percentage

In addition to a slower pace, shots are not falling at the same rate.

Overall field goal percentage fell from .463 in the regular season to .459 in the Playoffs, and three-point shooting fell slightly, from .356 to .354.

Regular Season vs. Postseason

Those regular season numbers include every NBA team, however, including the 14 who weren’t good enough to make the postseason bracket.

If we limit the regular season scoring and shooting numbers to just the 16 teams that advanced to the Playoffs, the dropoff is even more stark.

Teams in the Playoff field averaged 112.3 points in the regular season, meaning the dropoff was more than 5 points. Shooting is down 8 points (from .467 to .459), and three-point shooting went down 6 points, from .360 to .354.

2021 and 2022 Comparison

This year’s postseason has seen a bigger scoring dropoff than last year. The regular-season average was 112.7 ppg and 113.9 for the 16 playoff teams. That fell to 110.3 in the Playoffs, meaning the dropoff this season is about double what it was last year.

That’s despite the fact that the shooting dropoff was larger last year. Regular season shooting was .469, .473 for the playoff field. It went to .462 in the Playoffs.

The dropoff from three was also bigger. Regular season numbers were .370, and .376 for the field. It fell to 364 in the postseason.

2022 NHL Playoffs: Under/Over Analysis

Scoring is up in the NHL this year, both in the regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Teams are scoring 3.14 goals per game in the postseason this year, which is actually up slightly over the regular-season average of 3.11 per team. Limiting it to the 16 teams in the Playoff field, and the scoring has dropped off as expected, however, from 3.41 to 3.14.

Last year, we saw the scoring go from 2.90 goals per team in the regular season, 3.15 from the 16 playoff teams, which dropped to 2.74 in the postseason.


Taking the under gives a slight advantage, even when lines are adjusted downward for the postseason, but the edge varies from year to year.