The Boston Celtics were supposed to be contenders this year. They entered the season as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference (+600), second only to the Philadelphia 76ers (+450). While the season ended up being a lot rockier than expected, they are one of the last teams left standing in the East.
But the road ahead is going to be a tough one. The Celtics get to face the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals. The early line on the series has the Bucks favored (-290) to win over the Celtics (+245). But the odds are not insurmountable.
Of course, if they can beat the Bucks, there is one thing that is undoubtedly going to happen. Their odds to win the NBA Finals are going to get a whole lot shorter. So, should you get in on them now while they still stand at +1400 (according to BetOnline.ag)?
That depends— is there any reason to believe they can beat the Bucks?
Boston lost the regular season series between them, 1-2. But the second loss was only by a point (98-97, on February 21). So, they were competitive when they faced the Bucks. While the Celtics did have their struggles during the season, they got the job done when it mattered. They finished the regular season with wins in six of their last eight and swept a tough Pacers team in the first round.
However, the perceived success of the Celtics in recent weeks is a little misleading. Yes, the Pacers were a tough team, but they were also a team that limped down the stretch after losing the focal point of their offense, Victor Oladipo. Defensively, they were still strong, but they struggled to score points.
Their regular season success was even less impressive. From the all-star break till the end of the regular season, they went 3-10 against playoff-bound teams. Two of those wins came against the Pacers; the other was a very dominant win over the Golden State Warriors on March 5, 128-95).
The win over the Warriors back in March is proof that they can play a dominant game against a quality opponent. But can they string a few such games together and win a series? That question is not an easy one to answer.
Milwaukee had the best offense in the league during the regular season, and while they are not the No. 1 offense in the postseason (third behind the 76ers and Warriors), they are averaging more points per game then they did during the regular season (121.8 relative to 118.1). Defensively, they were the top team during the regular season, and have continued to be a dominant unit in the playoffs.
Boston was a pretty good defensive team during the regular season as well (sixth), and they have been the top defensive unit in the playoffs so far. If they are going to have a shot at beating the Celtics and then facing the 76ers or Raptors in the conference finals before taking on the Warriors or Rockets in the Finals, their defense has to get them by the Bucks. Their best chance would be to take away everyone and make Giannis Antetokounmpo do it all.
Against a lesser team, Antetokounmpo could do it all and still lead the Bucks to victory in a best of seven series. Against Boston? Maybe but maybe not.
On the outside chance the Celtics do make it by the Bucks (they probably will not), they would still have to survive the Raptors/76ers and Warriors/Rockets. Sorry, Boston—but it isn’t going to happen. You are better off betting on the Bucks (+630) or Raptors (+1000) to win the Finals instead.