Should NBA bettors really be surprised with the Celtics' playoff struggles?

Apr 19, 2017 |
Should NBA bettors really be surprised with the Celtics' playoff struggles?
The Celtics, despite being the No. 1 seed in the East, were just -400 series favorites agains the Bulls. Over the last eight seasons, top-seed teams were an average series favorite of -2,705 in the first round.
Photo By - USA Today Images
The Celtics, despite being the No. 1 seed in the East, were just -400 series favorites agains the Bulls. Over the last eight seasons, top-seed teams were an average series favorite of -2,705 in the first round.
Photo By - USA Today Images

Tensions are high in Boston these days because of the state of the city’s beloved Celtics – down 0-2 in their opening round playoff series versus the Chicago Bulls, despite being the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The viral video of the pre-teen Boston fan mouthing an f-bomb during the closing moments of Game 1 and Marcus Smart flipping a bird to a home-crowd heckler in Game 2 are brief snap shots of the chaos insuring in Beantown. But considering the Celtics are only the second No. 1 seed to go down 0-2 to a No. 8 in NBA history, these reactions are justified.

All 30 of ESPN’s polled experts picked the C’s to beat the Bulls in the opening round playoff series – and who could blame them? Boston is in danger of becoming just the sixth No. 1 seed to get knocked out in the first round in NBA history (the five top-seeded teams to get bounced in Round 1 are the 1994 Sonics, the 1999 Heat, the 2007 Mavericks, the 2011 Spurs and the 2012 Bulls).

Oddsmakers, though, didn’t see Boston as a slam dunk to get by the Bulls. They set the Celtics as series favorites but only at -400. To put that in perspective, over the last eight years the average opening series price for a No. 1 seed vs. a No. 8 in the first round is -2,705.




Boston did lead the Eastern Conference in regular season wins with 53 but using its season point differential we can access that this team was projected to win 47 games. The Celtics’ regular season point differential (+2.4) is the lowest for any team finishing first in its conference over the last 15 years.    


The Bulls, meanwhile, finished the regular season with a +0.4 point differential and a projected win total of 42. All of a sudden that 12-win gap from the regular season shrinks to five games using a different metric. An astute Covers forum poster saw the writing on the wall before the opening tip of this series.

If the Bulls do finish off the Celtics, it’ll be an upset but nothing like the 2007 when the Baron Davis-led Warriors upended Dirk Nowitzki and the top-seeded Mavericks. The “We Believe” Dubs were +1,400 underdogs to top Dallas, according to a SF Gate story. We looked but couldn’t find a series price for the 1994 Denver Nuggets, but they were underdogs of 12.5, 14, 5, 4.5, and 12 points in their infamous best-of-five stunner of the Seattle Supersonics.

The chances of the Celtics coming back and winning four of the next five games against the Bulls are slim. Chicago Bulls PR told beat writer K.C. Johnson NBA teams up 2-0 in playoff series have gone on to win the series outright in 364 of the 388 instances. Online shop SportsInteraction.com current has Boston at +230 to win the series while Chicago is priced at -357.

Oh, and the only other No. 1 seed to fall behind 0-2 in the first round were the 1993 Phoenix Suns, who took the top seed in the Western Conference and lost the opening two games to the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. The Charles Barkley-led Suns would bounce back with three straight wins but failed to cover in those victories and finished the first round 0-5 ATS.

Game 3 between Chicago and Boston goes on Friday night with the visiting Celtics getting two points.


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