As the 2009-2010 regular season comes to a close for the Celtics, it’s probably an easier task to completely solve all of the aspects to cold fusion. This team has been mystifying throughout most of the season. They cruised through Christmas Day riding shotgun on Santa’s sleigh to a 23-5 record. Their second half and fourth-quarter collapses have become a league-wide punch line. They’ve beaten the best team at home (Cleveland) and lost to one of the worst teams in NBA history at home (New Jersey). Is there a way to make sense of any of this?
Historically, the NBA champion for any given year typically has a good record against the rest of the NBA’s elite. There are some outliers sprinkled throughout the years but usually the eventual champions displayed relative success in the regular season. These teams were especially very good/great home teams. We’ve heard so many excuses reasons from the players, coaches, front office, fans as to what might cause their bi-polar style of play. Boredom, complacency, injuries, lack of effort, etc., the list goes on. The most precarious of all reasoning has been the “Just wait until the playoffs, we will beat anybody” attitude.
While we all wait to see if they can actually deliver on that premise, take a look at how they stack up against champions of the past 10 years. Below is a table comparing champions’ records against the other top 6 teams of that same season. It also lists how they fared at home against those same teams, as well as their overall home record.
As you can see the odds do not favor the Celtics. The closest and perhaps only correlation that can be made is with the 2006 Miami Heat. Miami finished 52-30 (Celtics are currently 48-29 and could easily match Miami’s record) which by champion standards is pretty mediocre. Keep in mind though that beating the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals brought about some major controversy. Tim Donaghy was one of the referees in the series and we all know how he influenced the game. There was also the huge controversy of Dwyane Wade receiving more superstar treatment than even Michael Jordan did in any finals series. The Mavericks were up 2-0 and proceeded to lose four consecutive games and the title.
The point of all of this is to show just how improbable it is that the Celtics win the title. The disappointing loss to the New York Knicks only plants more seeds of doubt. Or as Glen Davis puts it: “If you mess with the game – if you plant bad seed – then you’re going to reap a bad harvest.”
Could they emulate the 2006 Miami Heat and win the championship? It’s possible. Here are the key points from their season as well as the matchups Miami faced in those playoffs:
- Miami won the Southeast Division with a 52-30 record
- They finished 10 games ahead of the Washington Wizards
- 52-30 was good enough for the 2nd seed that year (Detroit was #1 64-18)
- Defeated the Chicago Bulls (41-41, 7th seed) in 6 games in round 1
- Defeated the New Jersey Nets (49-33, 3rd seed) in 5 games in round 2
- Defeated the Detroit Pistons (64-18, 1st seed) in 6 games in ECF
- Defeated the Dallas Mavericks (60-22, 4th seed in WC) in 6 games in the Finals
- They had home court advantage in the first two rounds only
Keep in mind also that this was the strange seeding out west that slotted the Denver Nuggets into the 3rd seed despite winning 16 fewer games than Dallas (4th seed) and 5 fewer games than the Memphis Grizzlies (5th seed). This snowballed into an early matchup between the Mavericks and Spurs in the second round, when most people at the time felt that was the true western conference finals. Furthermore, the eastern conference in 2006 was a LOT weaker than it is now. The Bulls and Nets were decent that year and the Pistons had just come off two consecutive Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005, so one could use the tired argument there. This season, the Celtics are looking at possibly facing the following in the playoffs:
- Round 1: Milwaukee Bucks (43-34) | Miami Heat (43-34)
- Round 2: Orlando Magic (54-23) | Cleveland Cavaliers (61-17)
- Round 3: Same as above, plus the Atlanta Hawks (49-28)
- Finals: Top 6 teams have an average of about 50+ wins
Essentially that’s a long winded piece of evidence that shows how strange the 2006 playoffs were. Miami had a lot of things fall into place for them. They also had a rejuvenated and extra motivated Shaquille O’Neal who was playing in the last year of his prime. I don’t even need to get into how dominating Wade was in the Finals (with or without the help from the officials).
Could the Celtics collectively replicate this type of rare performance? We’ll all find out soon enough, but if they do it will be one of the most impressive championships ever won in NBA history. Those are the odds they are up against. Now, they just need to take on Han Solo’s attitude when navigating through an asteroid field, being chased by the empire.