The Boston Celtics are underdogs in the NBA Finals despite finishing with a better adjusted Net Rating, the best record since the end of January, and a harder path to the Finals than the Golden State Warriors.
But taking them against the mighty Warriors is a bold choice.
If you lean Celtics but are looking for reasons to back up your Green-blooded instincts, here are the reasons to bet the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
1. The Celtics Have Been the NBA’s Best for Six Months
The Celtics are 28-12 (76%) since January 29th when their resurgence began. In the span of that 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 their five Finals. (The Cavaliers’ 3-1 comeback is made all the more incredible by beating what was a better team, the best team in NBA history record-wise.)
The only exception was 2019, when the Warriors were without both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant against Toronto. So if any team is going to defeat the Warriors, it’s most likely to be a team that is legitimately better.
It’s certainly debatable who’s the better team between the two, but starting with that premise goes a long way.
2. No Team Is Built Better to Defend Golden State
When the 2016 Cavaliers beat the Warriors, they primarily used a switching scheme. When the 2018 Rockets pushed the Warriors to the brink, it was almost entirely using a switching defense.
Using a switch won’t beat the Warriors, ask the Mavericks, but it’s step one in slowing down their offense.
The Celtics switch the second-most of any team in the playoffs on-ball.
Off-ball, Boston switches more than any team in the playoffs has with the exception of Denver (who played Golden State close in the final three games of their series, despite playing without their second and third-best players).
In the regular season, Boston switched off-ball the most. These switches are how you keep Golden State from creating the creases and gaps in your defense. It’s the only way, and that’s Boston’s default coverage.
3. These Warriors Are Not Those Warriors
Stephen Curry is here, and so 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 those Splash Brothers Warriors. It would be one thing if it was just the difference in age from their last title when Curry was 29 and now when he’s 33.
But Klay Thompson suffered an ACL tear and then an Achilles tear. He hasn’t been 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 simply doesn’t hold.
Once you get past the mystique, this is a team with a small-ball center who can’t shoot, Steph Curry in his worst-shooting full season of his career, an inexperienced crew of younger players, Klay Thompson off two major injuries, and Andrew Wiggins.
That team is good, great even, but that team is beatable.
4. Boston Has Enough Firepower
The Boston offense is a question mark. It doesn’t have as much burst as the Warriors’. But with Jayson Tatum playing at the level he has played in the playoffs, a handful of games from Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart averaging over 15 points per game, and a rejuvenated Al Horford, there’s enough there.
The Celtics are one of the few teams that can guard the rim, switch on the perimeter, and shoot enough 3s to not allow Golden State a math advantage.
5. The Number Is Better
If you believe, as I have, 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 road game in nearly every series they’ve played. The Celtics have the best road record in the playoffs this season. Consequently, home court isn’t as much of a factor.
With a series that could be decided by shooting variance or clutch plays, it’s close enough to believe you should take the plus-number.