The Boston Celtics had a handful of lulls in 2018-19, resulting in a disappointing 49-win season. But Brad Stevens’ group may be putting it all together at just the right time.
After a hard-fought sweep of the Pacers in Round 1, Boston came out firing against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the East semifinals, earning a 112-90 road victory on Sunday.
The upset shifted the NBA betting series odds considerably, with Boston moving from +235 to +105 to advance at 888Sport. The Bucks meanwhile, saw their odds as favorites shrink from a commanding -305 to just -129.
Once considered the favorites in the East before falling behind the likes of Milwaukee, Toronto and Philadelphia during the regular season, the Celtics might be back in the driver’s seat.
The Celtics' odds to win the East have shrunk from +380 to +330, while the Bucks have gone from +110 favorites to a +175 second choice behind the Raptors.
Still Milwaukee’s Series to Lose
Anything that could have gone wrong for the NBA’s best team did go wrong. The Bucks admitted that Game 1 “couldn’t have gone much worse.” But let’s not overreact too much.
Milwaukee hasn’t lost back-to-back home games since Feb. 27 and March 2 of last season, so they should bounce back in Game 2 before heading to Boston to try to take back homecourt advantage.
Coach Mike Budenholzer will make adjustments to get NBA MVP betting favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo easier looks, the role players will hit open shots and the Celtics won’t shoot 54 percent again against the league’s best defense.
The Bucks are still a good bet, and now technically have better value as the -129 favorite on 888Sport, despite trailing in the series.
Bucks Have History, Giannis on Their Side
Milwaukee is still the favorite despite losing homecourt advantage after one game, and the Bucks are not going to play that poorly the rest of the series. Plus, they have an odd bit of history on their side:
Road teams to win Game 1 by 15+ in the last decade:— Dan Feldman (@DanFeldmanNBA) April 28, 2019
BOS over MIL in 2019
IND* over CLE in 2018
HOU* over SAS in 2017
LAC* over HOU in 2015
LAC* over OKC in 2014
Antetokounmpo, who averaged 28.7 points on nearly 60 percent shooting at home in the regular season, shot just 7 of 21 and finished with 22 points in the loss. It was his second-worst shooting performance of the season and his fourth lowest point total in games where he played at least 34 minutes like he did on Saturday. Boston stymied the league’s most efficient scorer from start to finish.
It had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the group. The Bucks were 13 of 39 from beyond the arc, but just 5 of 19 in the second half as the Celtics outscored them, 60-40. The Bucks hadn’t scored fewer than 100 points since Feb. 21 in a win over these same Celtics.
This performance was an outlier. Boston is certainly for real and the Bucks are taking them seriously, but Milwaukee won’t have a game like that the rest of the series. Expect a passionate response from Giannis and the Bucks in Game 2.
Celtics Don’t Look Like Underdogs
At the outset of the regular season it was these Celtics – not the Bucks – who were expected to flirt with 60 wins and the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Behind Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, they’re beginning to look like that team. Horford, who defended Antetokounmpo much of the afternoon, said Boston “came in very focused and locked in on the things that we wanted to do as a group,” namely slowing down Giannis and making everyone else beat them.
Irving has as much big-game playoff experience as anyone in the conference, and that certainly paid off in Game 1. He was the best player on the floor, with 26 points and 11 assists. A healthy Irving and Horford can contend with anyone in the East.
This series just became a toss-up, something the narrow odds reflect.