Why the Celtics are Favored To Win It All
by Trevor Whenham - 04/24/2008
There seems to be a strong and growing sentiment that the Boston Celtics are going to cruise through the Eastern Conference and make the finals. That sentiment certainly gained steam when Boston dealt with Atlanta easily in their first playoff game, while Detroit, Boston's biggest impediment along the way to the Eastern championship, blew a 15-point second quarter lead and lost to Philadelphia (order was restored in the second game when Detroit dominated. The odds also suggest this sentiment to be strong - Boston is at 3/2 to win the NBA championship. That's almost half the potential payout of the second choice - the Lakers at 11/4 - and significantly lower than other Eastern contenders like Detroit at 8/1, Cleveland at 18/1 or Orlando at 20/1. Based on that, do we even need to play the rest of the Eastern playoffs? Here's a look:
First round - It's way too early to say that a series is over after just two games, but this series is over. I am thrilled for Atlanta to have finally made the playoffs, and I think that their future is reasonably bright. That being said, they don't stand a chance here. Boston is way deeper, and they are just plain better. Much better. The teams met three times during the regular season, and the Celtics won by 10, 10 and 23. Kevin Garnett had no trouble with the Hawks, averaging 23.6 points and 13.7 rebounds in those three games. The biggest sign that the Celtics aren't worried about this series is that they are playing like they aren't worried. Nine different players played at least nine minutes in the first game, and six players scored in the double digits. The only intrigue left in this series is whether the Celtics can sweep, and it certainly seems likely that they could. Their second win was at least as easy as their first.
Second round - Boston would be up against the winner of the series between Cleveland and Washington. At this point Cleveland seems to be totally in control of that series, so we'll assume that it will be them. This is where the playoffs could get interesting. The Celtics were just 2-2 against Cleveland, and were 0-4 ATS. There are a couple of qualifiers that have to go with that statement, though. First, the two teams have only played once since Cleveland totally overhauled their lineup, and Boston won. Second, the most recent Boston loss, which was just by one point, came when Garnett was out of the lineup.
Obviously, the series would come down to how well LeBron James is able to do. Based on past evidence he should be fine. He has averaged 32.2 points and 9.7 assists against Boston - both over his season averages - and he has added seven rebounds per game. He's had a very strong start to his playoff run, and would presumably be able to perform at the expected level as long as he is healthy. That's a big "if" given how much he has been banged up in the first two games against Washington. Cleveland would obviously be in real trouble if LeBron weren't at his best, but it is interesting to note that James did not play in one game against Boston. Though the Cavs lost by 10 they did cover the spread.
Cleveland will give them a good series, but it seems likely that they will be on to the next round.
Third round - Unless Philadelphia pulls off a miracle, the second round will likely be Orlando and Detroit, so one of those teams will be Boston's third round opponent. Based on what happened during the season, Boston may actually prefer to play the higher seeded team. The Celtics were 2-1 against Detroit, but just 1-2 against Orlando. The Magic gave the Celtics their first loss, and then beat them again in January. Like Cleveland, though, Orlando benefited in that second game by the absence of Kevin Garnett. Dwight Howard was good in all three games, though he was below his season average in rebounds in two of the three games. Orlando could make it interesting, but Boston would be favored.
It's long been felt that Detroit was the team that Boston had to get past. Based on experience that is certainly the case, and the odds of winning the championship reflect that. Boston matches up well against Detroit, though. They won two of three, and those were the last two. The most recent game, which came at the beginning of March and had both teams at reasonably full strength, was won by Boston and it wasn't even close. This would quite likely be the closest series that Boston would play, but they would clearly and rightly be favored. There is a good reason that Boston is as heavily favored to win the East as they are.