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Expect an Early Playoff Exit for the Underperforming Celtics

Expect an Early Playoff Exit for the Underperforming Celtics article feature image

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving

  • The Celtics went under their season win total of 59 by 10 games.
  • History suggests underperforming teams, like Boston, will make an early playoff exit.

Expectations were high for the Boston Celtics entering the 2018-19 season. This was a team that almost reached the NBA Finals in 2018 before losing to LeBron James in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and was still going to add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

The C’s had talent, depth and great coaching. Brad Stevens’ squad was the only team in the league that had seen a win increase in each of the previous four seasons.

Oddsmakers instilled the Celtics as the favorites to win the East and set the team’s season win total at 59. It was the second-highest win total in the league behind the Warriors, though some thought it should be higher. Bill Simmons, noted Celtics super fan, predicted the team would win 67 games.

But Boston’s season didn’t go according to plan as the team finished 49-33 — 10 games below its season win total. It would be fair to say the Celtics have been one of the biggest disappointments in the league.

Kyrie Irving’s leadership skills were called into question and his pending free agency has been a distraction at times. Gordon Hayward has struggled to play like the All-Star he was before the injury. Jayson Tatum didn’t take the step forward many expected, and Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier had a hard time adjusting to lesser roles.

Boston entered the season at +500 to win the title, the second-best odds in the NBA. Heading into the playoffs after failing to meet its potential the team is now +1600 to win the championship. The odds suggest the Celtics aren’t a true contender, and history foreshadows an early exit for Kyrie & Co.

From 2002 to 2017, 244 NBA teams have went under their season win total per data from SportsOddsHistory. Only 86 (35.2%) of those underperforming teams made the playoffs. On average, teams that went under their season win total were a 5-seed in the postseason. The Celtics are locked into the 4-seed in the East.

Most teams that went under their win total were eliminated early from the postseason — 71 (82.6%) failed to get past the second round. A few did find success, as 12 reached the Finals and four (2005-06 Heat, 2009-10 Lakers, 2011-12 Heat, 2017-18 Warriors) won the championship.

So you’re saying there’s a chance … no, not really. Sorry, Boston fans, but there are a few differences between this year’s Celtics team and those squads that won the title after going under their win total.

First, each of the champs were at least a 2-seed which guaranteed home court advantage to the conference finals. Second, the eventual champions were all +500 or better to win it all entering the playoffs. Again, the Celtics are +1600. The NBA betting market is efficient and is a good measure of a team’s potential in the postseason.

And then there is just the sheer volume of games by which Stevens’ team underperformed its win total. The Celtics are just the seventh team since 2002 to make the playoffs after going under their win total by 10 or more games. All six of the previous teams to accomplish the feat did not advance past the second round.

Boston has a tough matchup against Indiana in the first round, but assuming the Celtics win, they will go on the road to face top-seed Milwaukee which has the best record in the NBA. Boston fans might be talking themselves into a playoff run given the talent on the roster, but history is against underperforming teams in the postseason.

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