Remember the Boston Celtics from the first half of this NBA season? Well, you can forget them, because they don’t exist anymore. The .500 Celtics have been replaced with the playoff nightmare that has now taken down the dysfunctional Brooklyn Nets and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, and is now turning its hungry eyes southward toward Miami.
The Celtics have only one day of rest before they deal with the Heat in Miami in Game 1 of what has become a fascinating Eastern Conference playoffs. That fact, plus the first two games being in South Florida, has hardly fazed oddsmakers who have already installed Boston as the favorite to escape the East and take on either Golden State or Dallas in the Finals. Bovada has the Celtics at -170 in the EC finals, and Miami at +150 – even though Miami is a consensus -2 favorite in Game 1.
If the Celtics are tired from their seven-game grinder of a series against the Bucks, the momentum from their 28-point (109-81) Game 7 hammering of the Bucks should help compensate for weary bones. Plus, the Heat have only a day to figure out what to do about a Boston offense that suddenly is fat with production from unlikely sources. What kind of odds could you have gotten at the corner bar on Grant Williams outscoring Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 7? Or bottom-of-the-rotation guard Payton Pritchard getting big minutes and hit killer 3 after killer 3?
This past Sunday’s domination of the Bucks (Boston outscored Milwaukee by a combined total of 38 points in Games 6 and 7) certainly raised eyebrows in South Beach, and no doubt they will try something different to contain Boston superstar-in-the-making Jayson Tatum. Tatum was “held” to 23, 6 rebounds and 8 assists on Sunday as he willingly passed up shots (something he didn’t do early on this season), but Miami knows it will most likely get the Game 6 Tatum (46, 9 and 4). How Erik Spoelstra decides to defend Tatum will be a fascinating for NBA X’s and O’s geeks. Tatum saw a wide array of double-teams when these teams met in the Bubble EC finals a few years ago, but Tatum has since become a more willing facilitator.
On the other end of the court, the Heat will have different issues in trying to penetrate Boston’s best-in-the-NBA defense, the one which has gotten the better of Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant over the last three weeks. No small feat. And consider that Boston’s defensive anchor, center Robert Williams, played sparingly in the Milwaukee series due to a leg injury, and he should be good to go against the Heat.
Boston coach Ime Udoka gambled, successfully, that he wouldn’t need Robert Williams in Game 7.
In the Bubble EC finals the Celtics were drawn and quartered as they tried to defend Bam Adebayo with Daniel Theis. This time around Theis will be a 10-minute-a-game sub and Al Horford is back to deal with Miami’s length at the position. Toss in Robert Williams, who was a non-factor in the 2020 playoffs vs. the Heat, and the Celtics are a different team in the paint. And this time around Boston’s defense doesn’t have to compensate for opposing guards blowing by Kemba Walker and getting to the rim.
In addition to Boston being favored to win this series, the Celtics are listed at +210 to +240 to win the NBA title, depending on the book. That’s after opening the season at +5000. Miami is +440 to +500, after starting the season at +3500.