The Boston Celtics are NBA Finals underdogs despite having a better adjusted net rating, the best record since late January and a tougher path to the Finals than the Golden State Warriors.
But facing them against the mighty warriors is a bold move.
If you’re leaning into the Celtics but looking for reasons to back up your green blood instincts, here are the reasons to bet on the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
1. The Celtics are the best in the NBA for six months
The Celtics are 28-12 (76%) since Jan. 29, when their resurgence began. On this day through the end of the season, no team has a better offensive rating, defensive rating, or net rating in the NBA. No team has a better record either.
Golden State has been the better team in four of its five Finals. (The Cavaliers’ 3-1 comeback is made even more incredible by beating what was a better team, the best team in NBA history by records.)
The only exception was 2019, when the Warriors were without Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant against Toronto. So if a team is going to beat the Warriors, chances are it’s a legitimately better team.
It’s certainly debatable who is the better team between the two, but starting from this premise goes a long way.
2. No team is better built to defend Golden State
When the 2016 Cavaliers beat the Warriors, they mostly used a switching scheme. When the 2018 Rockets pushed the Warriors to the brink, they were almost entirely using switch defense.
Using a switch won’t beat the Warriors, ask the Mavericks, but it’s the first step to slowing down their offense.
The Celtics move up to second among all teams in the playoffs.
Off the ball, Boston changes more than any team in the playoffs except Denver (which has played near Golden State in the last three games of their series, despite playing without its second and third best players).
In the regular season, Boston turned off the ball the most. These switches allow you to prevent Golden State from creating creases and gaps in your defense. It’s the only way, and it’s Boston’s default coverage.
3. These warriors are not these warriors
Stephen Curry is there, as are Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Steve Kerr is still the coach and the uniforms are the same, for the most part.
But these Warriors are not these Splash Brothers Warriors. It would be one thing if it was just the age difference between their last title when Curry was 29 and now when he’s 33.
But Klay Thompson suffered a torn ACL so what an Achilles tear. He was no longer the same.
Andre Iguodala is unlikely to play in these finals. Shaun Livingston is gone, as is David West.
Oh, and that Durant guy too.
So the idea that these warriors are the dominant force they once were just doesn’t hold up.
Once you get past the mystique it’s a team with a small ball center that can’t shoot, Steph Curry in his worst shooting season of his career, an inexperienced team of young players, Klay Thompson on two injuries Graves, and Andrew Wiggins.
This team is good, great even, but this team is beatable.
4. Boston has enough firepower
Boston’s offense is a question mark. It doesn’t have as much sparkle as the Warriors. But with Jayson Tatum playing at the level he played in the playoffs, a handful of games from Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart averaging over 15 points per game and a rejuvenated Al Horford, enough is enough.
The Celtics are one of the few teams that can hold the rim, fire up the perimeter, and shoot enough 3s to not give Golden State a mathematical advantage.
5. number is better
If you believe, like me, that the two teams are equal and the best in the league (with Khris Middleton injured), then Boston at a plus number is the value. If the odds were reversed with Boston having home court, the Warriors would have the value.
The Warriors have won a game on the road in nearly every series they’ve played. The Celtics have the best road record in the playoffs this season. Therefore, the court of domicile is not as much of a factor.
With a streak that could be decided by pulling variance or clutch plays, it’s close enough to believe you should take the number over.