It’s been quite the week for Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics. Let’s recap quickly before getting in to what it means for their NBA Finals betting odds and the rest of their season outlook.
On Saturday they suffered an inexcusable loss to the Orlando Magic – a game in which they were 5.5-point favorites against the spread. This came two days after an embarrassing loss to the Miami Heat on national television, abruptly ending momentum gained by winning seven of nine games dating back to Dec. 23.
After the Orlando loss, Kyrie Irving vented his frustrations to the media, saying “the young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship level team” and “I need to be a better leader.”
The situation didn’t improve two nights later in Brooklyn when the Celtics suffered a 109-102 loss to the Nets that was far worse than the final score indicated. Irving missed that game with a bruised thigh. After the game Jaylen Brown, one of the “young guys” Irving referenced on Saturday said that “we’ve got to be more accountable as a group. It’s not one guy’s fault. It’s not young guys, old guys fault. It’s everybody.”
Jayson Tatum, the 20-year-old budding star, said that Irving’s commented were “not really directed towards anybody or calling guys out. He’s telling his truth. He knows what it takes to win a championship, and most of us don’t.”
Cooler heads seemed to prevail – Irving also clarified his comments on that Monday before the Brooklyn loss – and the Celtics certainly looked to be back on track when they crushed the East-leading Toronto Raptors at home on Wednesday, 117-108. Irving had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists to lead the way.
After the game Irving revealed that following the Magic loss he called former teammate LeBron James to apologize for never understanding how difficult it was to lead a team. Irving forced his way out of Cleveland before last season, wanting to get away from James’ massive shadow and lead his own team.
“Only a few are meant for it, chosen for it, and I feel like the best person to call was (James) because he’s been in this situation,” Irving said
Celtics Still East Favorites
The sky isn’t falling in Boston. The Red Sox are defending world champions and on Sunday the Patriots will play in their eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game. And even after the three-game losing streak the Celtics are fifth in the East and three games back of homecourt advantage in Round 1 with 35+ games to play.
Oddsmakers haven’t wavered on Boston, either. The team that took LeBron James and the Cavs to seven games in last year’s Conference Finals, all without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, is a real threat. We’ll start with the numbers.
Boston is 26-18, the seventh best record in the NBA, yet they have the third best net rating in the league. Their defense remains fifth in efficiency and their offense has made a slow creep up to 11th in the NBA. The only other teams in the top-11 in both categories are Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia and Denver.
And despite Irving’s claims, that the young Celtics don’t know what it takes to win a title, they’ve got the firepower. Irving, of course, won a title in Cleveland in 2016. Al Horford and Gordon Hayward have plenty of playoff experience, and last year Tatum averaged 18.5 points on 47 percent shooting in the postseason as a 19-year-old.
The East is relatively young – think Indiana and Philadelphia – and outside of Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors, Boston has as much postseason experience as any team in the East.
That’s likely why they’ve remained neck and neck with Toronto as favorites to win the East in NBA betting. The season is halfway done and Boston already has wins over Milwaukee (1-1), Toronto (2-1), Philadelphia (2-0) and Indiana (1-1). In fact, in a round robin of those five teams, Boston has the best record at 6-3.
Celtics Still Hold Great Value to Win NBA Finals
Like Kyrie did to LeBron, we’ll apologize to Kyrie here: The Celtics have what it takes to win a title. There isn’t a deeper team in the league – Denver might have an argument, but it’s close – and they have arguably the league’s best X’s and O’s coach in Brad Stevens.
Players such as Tatum, Brown and Terry Rozier earned valuable postseason experience a year ago with Irving and Hayward sidelined.
We know if Irving meets the Warriors in the Finals that he won’t be intimidated.
And the Celtics match up incredibly well with Golden State. Al Horford is a versatile center, they have a plethora of wings to deal with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant (just look at how they managed to guard LeBron last season) and Irving has the ability to get as hot as Curry and match him point for point.
The point is, the Celtics can very easily put it all together and contend for a title. Oddsmakers agree. Despite sitting fifth in a weak Eastern Conference the Celtics still have the third best odds to win it all at +800 on 888Sport.
Because the Warriors exist and aren’t going away anytime soon those numbers will likely stay where they are, but it’s still a good idea to hop on them now. As Kyrie and the “young guys” continue to figure it out their odds won’t get any larger.