The Celtics Are The Favorites — But Where Could They Slip Up?

The Celtics look like the team to beat in the NBA Playoffs. But can the defending champion Nuggets — or anyone else — take them down?

May 16, 2024

The Boston Celtics are the clear favorite to win the NBA Finals at the moment, with a Tipico price of -140 before the Eastern Conference Finals tip off. They’re 8-2 this postseason, with a 6-4 record against the spread, dropping only the second game of each playoff series they’ve played.

Granted, they haven’t been challenged too much thus far by facing the 8th-seed Heat without Jimmy Butler and the 4th-seed Cavaliers, who were without Donovan Mitchell in the series’ last two games.

After falling short over the past few seasons, the pressure is on for the Cs. So, are the Celtics destined to win it all this time around? Or is there a team that can get between them and the title?

Up Next in the East

The Celtics currently await the winner of the Knicks-Pacers series, with the Knicks projected to come out of that matchup. With how each team is built, the Knicks would be one of the few teams remaining in these playoffs that would match up well with the Celtics. The furious effort and offensive rebounding would keep the ball out of the Celtics’ playmakers hands, and as long as the Knicks continue to make their shots, they could control the clock. They also have a habit of playing pesky defense that would make it uncomfortable for Boston to get decent shots.

The issue here is that the Knicks are not healthy. OG Anunoby means so much to how the team plays defense, and he isn’t expected to be back until a few games into the Eastern Conference Finals, should they make it there. On top of that, the Knicks are still missing Julius Randle, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Mitchell Robinson, all whom are capable of providing strong minutes in a playoff push. And lastly, they’re currently in a back-and-forth series with the Indiana Pacers who play a type of all-offense, no-defense, high-pace brand of basketball that can exhaust a team.

Considering all of this, I think you can all but guarantee the Celtics will be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, and the odds show it — as of this writing, Boston is -800 to win the Eastern Conference.

Go West

The Western Conference is far from decided, but at the time I’m writing this, the defending champion Denver Nuggets are favored to win the conference (-145). I also predict the Nuggets to come out of this, but let’s play out a few different scenarios for how this can go.

The best way in my opinion is to consider a team based on three characteristics: coaching, their star player, and regular season success. The Celtics blow every other team out of the water for regular season success, and nearly every team left has a strong coach at the helm. Therefore, the conversation starts to get boiled down to who has the best star player. 

Boston is a deeper and more well-rounded team than any team in the West. They can shoot the three enough to get by the Timberwolves and Mavericks, and they can play big enough to stop the Thunder. The only source of friction comes from measuring who the best player on the floor is at any time. 

The Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic both finished in the top three in MVP voting, so there’s a case to be made that they are better players in their current form than Celtics’ star Jayson Tatum. And the way that Anthony Edwards has been performing in this postseason, many would put him above Tatum now as well. It’s somewhat subjective, but in the case of the Nuggets, three-time MVP and reigning champion Nikola Jokic is undoubtedly the best player in any contest he plays.

So…Can They Be Stopped?

In my opinion, the only team that can get between the Celtics and a championship is the Denver Nuggets. Should the two square off in the NBA Finals, the Nuggets would most likely be an underdog, but they would be my pick to win.

Boston doesn’t have a singular player who can run with Jokic every game of the series, and the Nuggets have more Finals experience than any team in the field. The only advantage the Celtics would have over the Nuggets would be the longer bench. But every team in the playoffs plays a compressed lineup, which makes that edge minimal against a team that seems primed to make a push. 

What side do you fall on? Are you taking the Boston Celtics to win at -140? Or would you favor the Denver Nuggets at +250? Lock in your bet on Tipico Sportsbook, and you’ll get up to 5% cashback on your wagers with Tipico Rewards!

Sam Bloomquist
Sam Bloomquist is Tipico's Social Media Manager.