When top NBA oddsmakers revealed the win totals for all 30 NBA teams this past summer, no one was surprised to see the Celtics at the top of the list in the East at 57.5 wins.
They returned every key contributor from a 55-win team that was one LeBron heroic performance away from an NBA Finals berth, and added Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. This roster screamed 60 wins, and having the NBA’s best head coach in the game was simply the cherry on top.
The Celtics started out strong with a 6-2 record that included wins over Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee. Then something happened in Indiana, where Victor Oladipo’s game-winning 3-pointer sent the supposed team to beat in the East into a tailspin of which they seemingly can’t get out.
They won’t miss the postseason, but their play through one-quarter of the season has made us change expectations a bit. Here’s what it means from a an NBA betting perspective.
Why are the Celtics are Struggling?
Since that 6-2 start the Celtics are just 5-8 and are now in danger of falling below .500 for the first time since Nov. 9, 2016. Even in a shaky Eastern Conference they sit seventh and are just three games up of ninth-place Washington.
Maybe there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen. Individually the Celtics shouldn’t have problems scoring the ball. Kyrie Irving shot 49 percent last year, Al Horford is as good a passing center as there is, Jayson Tatum can create his own shot and Jaylen Brown made 40 percent of his 3-pointers a year ago. Even Gordon Hayward was a 22-point per game scorer two years ago.
But coach Brad Stevens hasn’t been able to push the right buttons on that end of the floor. The Celtics are 25th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, and the five teams behind them are a combined 31-75 record.
They take care of the ball but simply don’t make shots, and the frustrations have boiled over so much that Stevens deadpanned to Boston media last week that “I just don’t know that we’re that good.”
But that isn’t the case. The Celtics are second in defensive efficiency and that’s helped them stay in close games when shots aren’t falling. They’re just 11-10, but the other six teams in the top-7 of defensive efficiency are a combined 82-40.
Defense wins games, unless your offense is really bad. There’s optimism that could change, though, as the Celtics will play their next seven games against bottom half of the league defenses.
Celtics Still Betting Favorites in the East
Despite all the Sky is Falling numbers we’ve listed, the Celtics are still the favorites in the Eastern Conference. They have the most talented roster, they have the best head coach and they’ve got the most playoff experience among true East contenders such as Toronto, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. That matters in May and June.
A hiccup, albeit a large one, in November isn’t as big a deal as one in late March of early April. There’s plenty of time for the Celtics to get their house in order, and a trade can’t be considered out of the question given all the assets Danny Ainge has compiled over the past few years.
Don’t expect it to be Anthony Davis, but crazier things have happened in the NBA.
Because of their depth, star power and coaching, they’re neck and neck with Toronto for the best odds to win the East. They’re built for seven-game series with a defense that will lock down, a coach that can game plan with the best of them, and proven clutch performers in Horford and Irving.
They’ve even got the second best odds to win the NBA Finals (you can bet them at +700) despite being just above .500. It’s bad in Boston right now, but the defense isn’t going anywhere and the offense is going to find its rhythm well before the games really start counting in mid-April.
Should Bettors Jump on the Celtics Now?
Not to win the division, no. That ship has likely sailed.
The NBA’s most top-heavy division remains the Atlantic, where the 76ers, Raptors and Celtics all have a chance to win the conference. But this recent stretch by Stevens’ group has them looking way, way up at their other two division rivals.
Toronto is off to its best start in franchise history at 18-4, while the Mr. Clutch Jimmy Butler-led 76ers are 15-8, including 7-2 since the Butler trade happened.
Before the season started the Celtics were -115 to win the Atlantic but are now well behind the Raptors (-182) and Sixers (+250) with +300 odds. Even if the Celtics were to right the ship it’s tough to see them making up seven games on the Raptors, who are in absolute cruise control behind Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard.
There’s still a shot for them to earn home court in Round 1 of the playoffs, but the hole they’ve dug themselves mean a potential Game 7 against the Raptors or 76ers will likely be on the road.
Despite being the top team in the East in terms of NBA Finals odds, the Celtics are the second choice to win the conference at +210 and not a bad bet if you believe they’ll turn it around.