It’s been said that the NBA has the most predictable postseason in all of professional sports, and to be honest, it’s a claim that’s difficult to deny. Not that everything always goes as planned, but in terms of picking winners, trends and logic go much farther in the NBA playoffs than in any other sport.
For instance, on Sunday night in the Western Conference, the Warriors beat the Nuggets to take a 3-1 series lead. And at that point, everyone knew what was going to happen next. Denver would win Game 5 at home, and then head back to Oakland where the Warriors would finish the job.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Looking at tonight’s schedule, it seems very likely that the same thing will happen between the Pacers and Hawks. Atlanta’s favored by 1.5 points, and looks poised to push the series to seven games (and eventually lose in Game 7). Same goes for the Rockets, who are favored by a point against Oklahoma City. Over in Memphis, I’m not sure the Grizzlies will necessarily win by their Vegas-mandated seven points, but there’s an overwhelming sense that they’ll close out the Clippers. Again, nothing is for sure, but the playoff pendulum leaves you feeling pretty confident in the Hawks, Rockets and Grizzlies.
Here in Boston, we’re long past making predictions about what might happen next between the Knicks and Celtics. In a league that’s powered by playoff predictability — even more so in the early rounds — this series has already flown off the grid.
The Celtics are two point underdogs tonight against the Knicks. And that’s a little strange because you rarely see a visiting team favored at the Garden. Especially in the playoffs. Especially with Boston’s season on the line, against a squad they’ve beaten two times in a row.
Tonight will be the 51st home playoff game of the Kevin Garnett era, and only the seventh time that the Celtics take the floor as an underdog. Most recently, it happened in Game 4 of this series (a game that the Celtics obviously won), but for comparative purposes, let’s skip to the time before that. Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Celtics up 3-2, and back at the Garden, looking to close out the series against Miami.
The Heat were favored by two points in that game. Same as the Knicks are tonight. And when you look at it that way, tonight’s line becomes even more confusing. I mean, think about Game 6 last year. Obviously, the Heat weren’t quite the Heat yet, because LeBron was still one 45-point performance away from being real LeBron. Still, Miami was damn good. They were down 3-2. They had all the urgency. They had Chris Bosh back on the court. And they were favored by two.
Meanwhile, tonight it’s the Celtics’ season on the line. They’re coming home to what will be an absolutely insane Garden crowd. You’ve got J.R. Smith in a bad place and Carmelo Anthony playing with a sore shoulder. And the Knicks are favored by two.
Last year’s Heat, backs against the wall, against last year’s Celtics.
This year’s Knicks, with a game to spare, against this year’s Celtics.
Same spread. And that doesn’t feel right.
Of course, you can’t blame Vegas, because they’re just working off public perception. They’re trying to manipulate what the average bettor “thinks” is going to happen. And obviously, whenever there’s a New York team involved, things get a little wacky. But even when considering all the factors, this one feels real wacky. We’re looking at an NBA quadruple header tonight, and the Knicks are the only road favorite.
So what does that mean?
Does it mean that the optimism that’s started to circulate around Boston these last 24 hours is misguided? That we’re overrating the Celtics chances? That we’re caught up in nostalgia — between what could be the final run for Pierce and KG and the memory of the 2004 Red Sox — and no longer able to see this team for what it is?
Maybe, but more likely, it just means that the Celtics have done it again. For the second straight year, and for the third time in four years, they’ve inserted chaos into the NBA’s rather organized playoff system. They’ve created an atmosphere where predictability doesn’t exist and the only thing you know for sure is that you don’t know anything at all. They’ve even got the know-it-alls in Vegas throwing stuff against the wall.
And this time around, you can only hope that “stuff” trickles down in the Celtics favor. History is still within their reach, but the odds are still stacked against them. But lucky for this team, that’s exactly how they like it.