Analytic models overwhelmingly favor Celtics to win NBA Finals following Game 1 win

A pair of analytic models view it as a near certainty that the Celtics will beat the Warriors.

Marcus Smart and the Celtics shot their way to a Game 1 win over the Warriors.

Perhaps the biggest fans of the Celtics so far this season have been analytical models.

FiveThirtyEight and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) both had Boston among the favorites to win the NBA title as early as February, when the team was just beginning its hot streak to remain above .500.

So far, the Celtics have proven FiveThirtyEight and BPI right, making their way to the NBA Finals after beating Kevin Durant and the Nets, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Bucks, and Jimmy Butler and the Heat.

Entering the NBA Finals, FiveThirtyEight gave Boston an 80 percent chance to defeat Golden State while ESPN’s BPI gave the Celtics an 86 percent chance to beat the Warriors in the seven-game series.


After the Celtics took home Game 1, both models gave Boston’s chances to win the Finals an increase. The Celtics have a 92 percent chance to beat the Warriors, according to FiveThirtyEight, and BPI gives them a 94 percent chance to win Banner 18.

Of course, being a game up on the Warriors and now controlling home-court advantage improves the Celtics’ odds to win it all. FiveThirtyEight writer Neil Paine wrote why the Celtics were overwhelming favorites according to their model ahead of Game 1.

“During the regular season, Boston had a much better point differential than Golden State on both a per-game (+7.3 versus +5.5) and per-100-possession (+7.5 versus +5.6) basis,” Paine wrote. “While the Warriors won two more games than the Celtics, that happened because Boston undershot its Pythagorean record by eight games — making it the unluckiest team in the league by that measure.”

“Now, we know that the NBA has arguably the least meaningful regular season in all of professional sports, so perhaps those stats should count for relatively little when comparing the two teams. But the Celtics have also been the better team during the playoffs,” Paine added. “While the Warriors have improved their scoring attack (which ranked an uncharacteristic-for-the-dynasty 17th during the regular season) in the playoffs and surpassed Boston offensively, the Celtics have the superior postseason numbers in every other category despite playing a more difficult schedule.”


Some of the playoff stats that Paine included in his story were the Celtics’ 6.1 point-per-game differential, their 11.0 strength of schedule-adjusted point-per-game differential, their 6.5 net rating, and their 1751 ELO (a measurement of strength based on game-by-game results) rating, which are all the best in the league.

Even though the analytic models loved the Celtics’ chances to win the NBA Finals, oddsmakers did not. By tip-off on Thursday’s Game 1, the Warriors were -150 favorites to win the series at many sportsbooks.

But even oddsmakers changed their view on the series following Game 1. The Celtics are -190 favorites to win it all on DraftKings Sportsbook, giving the Celtics an implied 65.5 percent chance to win the Finals.


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