The NBA’s final four features the teams most assumed would be playing each other at this stage of the postseason.
Houston and Golden State remain the betting favorites to win it all, which means, after Boston’s big Game 1 win over Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals, you might be tempted by the 12-to-1 odds Westgate has placed on the league’s most frequent champion to hang another banner in October.
After all, the Celtics looked fantastic on Sunday, embarrassing the King and his court jesters in a 25-point win. Al Horford was fantastic, Marcus Morris backed up his boasting about being able to bother LeBron James and young Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum didn’t cower in the face of the Eastern Conference finals spotlight.
Still, I’d look elsewhere for a lottery ticket.
Boston’s Brad Stevens has been brilliant in coaching a roster missing max players Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to within three wins of an NBA Finals appearance. He’s gotten guys to play collectively as a unit, defending for one another with an intensity required since they’ve been an underdog in five of the last six games dating back to the 76ers series.
At some point, the Celtics will wear down. Consider they’re entering Game 2 as a series underdog according to most books, still fetching +110 or more despite the 1-0 lead. LeBron barely blinked after taking a stiff first punch to the chin, reminding everyone he’s been down before.
Cleveland trailed Indiana after losing Game 1 at home in the first round and suffered a 34-point loss in Game 6 before rallying to win the deciding contest and rolling over Toronto in a sweep. The Cavs are too experienced to let one bad performance carry over to a second game and still get to go home even if they are in a 2-0 hole.
James said he had “zero level of concern,” which is fine, but his approach to sit back and see how the Celtics would attack him certainly backfired since teammates hoisted up bricks from the perimeter despite open looks early in the contest. It would’ve been nice to know he was going to take a passive approach against a younger team since I fell victim to anticipating a more aggressive version given the practice time they had prior to the series opener.
Even if they get past Cleveland, the Celtics would be massive underdogs against whoever gets out of the Western Conference finals. You’re far more likely to hit a four-team parlay than backing Boston to win it all, so keep that in mind given the similar odds involved.
The West will hinge on the greatness of elite playmakers like Kevin Durant, James Harden, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, but there’s one x-factor who can swing the series simply due to his size.
Houston has seen Clint Capela raise his level of play this postseason, so if there’s another level to be had, the Rockets can hold serve as the top seed and pull off the upset.
There’s still a lot of ball to be played so jumping on Boston for “value’s sake” doesn’t seem like the right play. In this case, don’t trust what you just saw. It was only one game.