We Should Stop Underestimating the Boston Celtics

The Celtics topped the Sixers in Game 1, but Vegas still has them as home underdogs in Game 2. Our models don't agree. Per our numbers, is Boston the favorite to win the series?

This is not supposed to be the Boston Celtics' year.

General manger Danny Ainge did a masterful job of overhauling the team's roster in the offseason, and they look poised to contend in the Eastern Conference for years to come, but season-ending injuries to arguably the team's two best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward made the Celtics as contenders an idea better suited for next year.

They barely survived a hard-fought first-round series against the 7-seed Milwaukee Bucks, a series that went a full seven games, and most people thought the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers would wipe the floor with these decimated Celtics in the second round. To wit, Vegas originally had the Sixers favored to win the series at -400 (according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) or an implied 80% win odds, despite Boston's home-court advantage. Even in Game 1, the Sixers were posted as 3.5-point road favorites.

Then the Celtics came out and made a statement in the opener. Our models gave them only a 30.47% chance of winning that game on their home floor, but they proved everyone (including us) wrong, leading for most of the game and eventually winning by a convincing score of 117-101.

You would think that -- if nothing else -- the second-place team with home-court advantage winning Game 1 of a series would be enough to put the odds in their favor, but that's just not the case with this particular matchup.

Despite the fact that home teams winning Game 1 in a best-of-seven series have gone on to advance 85.4% of the time in NBA history, the Celtics are still +190 underdogs (implied 34.48% odds) to win this series, according to Bovada. Even in Game 2, they remain 4.0-point underdogs.

Sure, they are without Irving and Hayward, and even Jaylen Brown is banged up, but this Celtics team is resilient. They are well-coached, deep, and possess the Association's most efficient defense (which admittedly doesn't miss Irving and never even had Hayward).

And that's why our projections -- unlike Vegas -- have now swung in favor of the Celtics, injuries and narrative be damned:

Situation(2) Boston Celtics(3) Philadelphia 76ers
Win in 46.33%--
Win in 517.21%7.94%
Win in 613.13%19.65%
Win in 720.26%15.48%
Win series56.93%

The Philadelphia 76ers are a fun story, they have a great young roster headlined by budding superstars like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and they have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the last couple months, but our algorithms just aren't drinking the kool-aid quite yet.

And that's why now might be a good time to bet on Boston winning this series. They still have home-court advantage, plenty of history on their side, a top-tier defense, and a juicy underdog line, despite being up 1-0.

Everyone seemed ready to count them out entirely coming into this series, but perhaps we should all hold off on writing their obituary just yet.