If you click over to Sportsbook Review, you can find the online sportsbook of your choice. And when you decide which book is right for you, there you will also see that the oddsmakers from all the majors are hanging odds on the Boston Celtics to win the NBA championship at +950. That’s right, the Shamrocks are tied with the Bucks as the third choice, trailing only the Golden State Warriors (-230), and Toronto Raptors (+750). It makes sense, due in large part because the Celtics have owned the 76ers and the Raps appear to be the beasts of the East.
But as the season has progressed the Celtics have sputtered on numerous occasions. Their 37-21 record at the break is good but not breathtaking. Boston has 24 games remaining and questions linger about Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown. Hayward has shown flashes of the All-Star he was in Utah but too often he has been out of sync and overly cautious in his approach. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown appears to be miffed about being relegated to the bench and often plays as though he wants to take his ball and go home. If there are two reasons why the Celtics are underachieving this season, there they are.
Unfortunately for Boston, their chief rivals were not content to battle with the cohort they put together at the beginning of the season. Philadelphia added Tobias Harris after acquiring Jimmy Butler in November. The Raptors, armed with superstar Kawhi Leonard, added veteran Marc Gasol as a valuable sixth man off the bench. Milwaukee wheeled a deal for veteran point guard George Hill to complement their roster. All the while the Celtics have stood still and watched their Eastern Conference rivals bolster their lineups. Danny Ainge is not the kind of general manager to take a backseat to anyone but making a move, for the sake of making a move, smacks of panic as opposed to a strategic strike.
An NBA scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity with Sports Illustrated, had this to say about Boston’s chances this season. “This team can win the East or get beat in the first round. They have great talent but sometimes they have no chemistry,” the scout told SI. “Kyrie Irving is having one of his best seasons, maybe his best. He’s the same pure scorer and one of the best fourth-quarter closers in the league. But when he gets it going, there is a tendency for everyone to watch him. When they make four or five passes, they are tough to guard.”
And that is pretty much the Celtics in a nutshell. They rely so heavily on the heroics of Kyrie Irving that they pretty much give him the ball, cross their fingers, and hope the rock drops through the hole. The team chemistry that was so evident last season has abandoned this edition and much of it has to do with the young guys, Tatum included, who have lost their soulful, reckless abandon of last year.
However, this group is far from a lost cause. The Celtics are winning nearly 64 percent of their games and have come out on top in 12 of their last 15 games. Hardly the stuff of losers. No, this is a talented team and on paper, they may be the best in the East. But paper doesn’t win games and Gordon Hayward must deliver the goods down the stretch whether he’s coming off the bench or in a starting role. We are nearly three-quarters of the way through the season and he is still not right. But, unlike earlier in the season, Hayward has at least shown signs of brilliance lately. If the Celtics are to contend in the postseason, he will need to turn back the clock to before his gruesome injury and be the player he was as a member of the Jazz.