These are not the best of times in Celtics land. After topping the league standings into the second half of the season, Boston has come back to the pack. They started 34-12 but have since gone a middling 11-9 and now sit in second place in the Eastern Conference behind the surging Bucks and just barely ahead of the Sixers in 3rd place.
That includes consecutive games blowing a 28-point lead at home to a Nets team already depleted of their stars and then two days later falling after holding a 14-point third-quarter lead to a Knicks team playing without star guard Jalen Brunson.
That still tops the Hawks, who have never really gotten off the ground in 2022-2023. Atlanta showed huge promise two seasons ago as they made it to the East finals on the backs of emerging star Trae Young.
Since then, however both Young and the team overall have stagnated. Atlanta only got to the playoffs via the play-in round in 2022 before losing to the Heat in five games, and look headed to the play-in again this season as they sit in 8th place at 32-33, 4.5 games out of sixth. It cost coach Nate McMillan his job mid-season.
Despite their current run of meh play, the Celtics still sit atop the betting favorites board to take the NBA title. Here are the odds over at Caesars Sportsbook
- Celtics +310
- Suns +375
- Bucks +450
- Nuggets +700
- Sixers +1000
- Warriors +1000
- Clippers +1400
- Grizzlies +1800
The Hawks meanwhile are +15000 long shots. They are however right near the top of the Eastern Conference “Participate in the Play-In Game” betting screen
- Raptors -1000
- Hawks -800
- Heat -240
- Wizards -240
- Nets -125
- Pacers +250
- Bulls +250
Everyone else is +950 or higher.
Legalized online sports betting starts in Massachusetts on March 10th. Bay State residents aged 21 and over can start signing up now and taking advantage of Massachusetts Sportsbook Promo Codes. Books are offering attractive welcome bonuses, like the Caesars bet credit of up to $1250 if you lose your first wager.
The Celtics visit the Hawks on March 11th. There are no odds out yet, but the respective offensive and defensive efficiencies of the teams and their typical tempos suggest a fully healthy Celtics team would be favored by about 4 points over the Hawks, with a total of about 231. FiveThirtyEight’s early look has the Celtics as 2.5-point favorites.
Boston is not exactly at full health. Robert Williams, by far Boston’s best defensive Big, is out with a hamstring strain and is not expected back for at least another week. There are rumblings that the Time Lord may not suit up again until near the playoffs. He has only appeared in 28 games and averages just 24 minutes when he does play, but he still leads Boston with 1.2 Blocks per game and is 2nd with 8.6 Rebounds per game.
Malcolm Brogdon is +100 at Caesars to win the NBA Sixth Man Of The Year Award, but has missed games recently with a sore ankle and has fallen behind on the betting screen to the Knick’s Immanuel Quickley at -175. He is iffy to return by the weekend.
Most importantly for the Celtics, Jayson Tatum sat out on March 6th vs the Cavs with a left knee contusion. That certainly had a whiff of the dreaded NBA Superstar Load Management as it was the Celtics’ third game in four nights. Expect him to suit up vs the Hawks. Even with the team flattening out a bit in the past 20 games, Tatum is still putting up MVP type numbers with 30.3 Points per game, 8.9 RPG and 4.8 Assists per game with a 60.2% True Shooting Percentage and a league-leading 9.33 Real Plus Minus.
Jaylen Brown missed a few games ahead of the All-Star break with a facial fracture but has since slapped on a protective mask and improved on his already All-Star-level performance. He’s averaging 26.6 PPG and 7 RPG per game, but 29 PPG and 8.3 RPG since returning from the injury.
Derrick White has stepped up big time when Brogdon and/or Marcus Smart have sat, so expect him to see relatively big minutes vs the Hawks. Grant Williams should also see an extended run while Williams sits, though his minutes get a bit uneven depending on matchups.
The Hawks meanwhile have meandered at an incredibly even pace. They won five games in a row to get to 24-22 back on January 20th, lost the next night and have not gone to sleep more than a game above or below .500 in the 18 games since then. They have spent the entire season no better than four games above .500, last achieved at 11-7 back on November 23rd, and no worse than three games under, most recently 19-22 on January 11th.
Trae Young still headlines the squad in every way with 26.6 PPG and 10.1 APG, third in the league, but his overall game has regressed. His 3P% is down to 32.5%, barely above his career low of 32.4% back in 2018-19, and his TS% is down to 56.8% from a career-high 60.3% last year. Young’s RPM is down to 3.21 from 6.95 last season, with a .1.53 Defensive RPM.
The Hawks paid big draft capital to the Spurs for Dejounte Murray to pair Young with a complementary second option, and he has played well at 21 PPG, 6 APG, on 55% TS% and 4.12 RPM which is all achieved on the defensive end. It just has not translated into overall team improvement.
The Celtics should outclass the Hawks, though they may have a vulnerability inside as Atlanta’s Clint Capella grabs 11.3 RPG to go with 1.2 BPG while Boston will have to counter with…..Luke Kornet?
Grant Williams as a small ball 5? It is tough to measure team motivation this time of year and the Celtics are just playing for which top seed they will land on while the Hawks are almost certainly headed back to the play-in. As long as Tatum and Brown and enough regulars play, the Celtics almost cannot help but win this one.