It’s fair to say that few people, at the beginning of the season, would have predicted that the Boston Celtics would reach the NBA Finals.
With a new head coach and little activity in the transfer market, and a less than impressive start to the campaign, Boston had almost been written off.
But things turned around in a major way. And in this guide, we’ll explore just what happened, along with the odds the bookies were giving them throughout the year.
Boston at the beginning of the season
The biggest change for Boston in the summer was its head coach. Long-time steward Brad Stevens took a step up to the role of president of basketball operations. That paved the way for former San Antonio assistant Ime Udoka to take the helm in his first senior head coaching job.
In terms of the roster, Boston kept it largely the same, though they welcomed back veteran Al Horford, who had a successful spell with the Celtics just a couple of years before. Faith was placed in Boston’s rising stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, along with other breakthrough talents like Robert Williams and Grant Williams.
With all that considered, the bookies gave Boston odds of around 40/1 to win the championship.
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How the season wore on
Boston began life under new coach Ime Udoka quite slowly. They lost a significant number of games and by January had an unremarkable record that left them hovering close to the bottom of the table and well away from a playoff place.
Some would say such a start was to be expected, given the arrival of a new head coach and a change in style. There was also an element of experimentation to find a system that worked for the roster and for Boston’s two stars Tatum and Brown in particular.
It also exposed Boston’s biggest weakness – defense. More than once, Boston blew big leads to succumb to defeat. Udoka recognized that and in the mid-season transfer market made some key signings, notably Derrick White from his former team San Antonio Spurs.
In the bookie's eyes, these changes weren’t enough to turn around the season. The odds on the Celtics grew longer.
A tale of two halves
Many basketball commentators point to a tweet by Jaylen Brown in January 2022, which said “The energy is about to shift.” Brown was predicting a change in the fortune of the Celtics, a stepping up in their performances.
It proved not to be as much of a prediction as it was a declaration. The energy of the Celtics did shift. They went on an incredible run, brushing aside everyone unfortunate enough to face them.
They climbed the rankings, from near the bottom to the playoffs and all the way into second place.
Few teams have achieved such a turnaround in a season, and few head coaches too, especially in their debut year.
Leading the way for the Celtics was Jayson Tatum, who scored an average of 26.9 points per game, but also held the record for the most 50-point games of the season.
Boston and the NBA Finals
Boston continued their great run of form into the playoffs. They swept aside Brooklyn 4-0, embarrassing their stars Kevin Durant and former Celtic Kyrie Irving.
In the next round, they faced reigning champions Milwaukee Bucks and the ever-impressive Giannis Antetokounmpo. Boston won it in Game 7 and beat the Miami Heat in another Game 7 tie in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Boston’s run to the finals has been hard-fought and dramatic but well deserved. With that said, the bookies still didn’t make them favorites against an impressive Golden State Warriors team.
The Warriors have looked good all year, with their veteran stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson back in great form. They’ve also put in some dominant performances in the playoffs, which have left the bookies preferring them to clinch the title.
The Warriors also have the experience of recent titles and recent finals. For the Celtics, no one on their roster has played in the NBA Finals before. That significant lack of experience could make all the difference in the final run-in.