The Boston Celtics are flying high with wins in 16 of their last 19 games, causing many human experts and computer models to adjust their expectations for this team with the 2022 NBA playoffs on the horizon.
Boston's recent resurgence has taken it up from 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings to fifth place as of Tuesday morning. The Celtics are just two games out of second place.
FiveThirtyEight's predictive model has been bullish on the Celtics' chances of making a deep playoff run for a few weeks now, but after beating Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday led by Jayson Tatum's 54-point performance, Boston is the favorite to win the 2022 NBA Finals.
Here's a look at the top five teams in FiveThirtyEight's model:
- Boston Celtics: 18 percent
- Phoenix Suns: 15 percent
- Milwaukee Bucks: 15 percent
- Denver Nuggets: 14 percent
- Miami Heat: 11 percent
Should the Celtics really be title favorites?
Well, you can make a strong case for Boston being the best defensive team in the league. The C's have the best defensive rating at 105.6, just ahead of the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics' defensive rating of 103.3 since New Year's Day is far ahead of the next-best team over that span (Dallas Mavericks at 106.8).
Whether you look at overall talent, length, athleticism or versatility -- it's clear the Celtics are able to defend just about any player and any type of offense opponents can throw at them.
The Celtics are pretty good offensively, too. Tatum is averaging a career-high 26.5 points, while Jaylen Brown is just under 24 points per game. Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Al Horford all can chip in 10-15 points each night, too. Grant Williams has taken a major leap offensively and ranks fourth in the league in 3-point shooting (44 percent).
If the Celtics are fully healthy entering the playoffs, this team can beat anyone. A closing lineup of Brown, Tatum, Smart, White and Robert Williams might be the best five-man group in the league. The Eastern Conference race is wide open. There are no clear favorites. It's a great opportunity for the Celtics to make their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.