The Celtics season starts tonight, and I’m super excited. But it’s probably going to end in failure.
Since 1984, there have been exactly 806 unique NBA squads. Betting odds data going back that far tells us what each team’s preseason odds of winning a championship were, with “plus” odds meaning the result is unlikely and “minus” odds meaning it is more likely than not.
Not that betting odds are everything, but a grand total of three teams ever have had minus odds before the season to win the championship: the 2016, 2017, and 2018 Golden State Warriors, guest starring Kevin freaking Durant.
So, besides the most overpowered teams in the history of ever, this Celtics season will join the 803 squads in the last 40 years that probably weren’t going to win the championship. Welp.
If I were an adherent to cold mathematical calculus, this article would end right here, and we would all recite the Pledge of Logical Fandom:
“The long march toward probable doom will begin as planned, and I will watch the Celtics with a stoic, emotionless gaze. I will accept that nothing can stop the relentless advance of probability, destined to destroy our hopes and dreams until nothing is left but an empty shell in an Avery Bradley jersey.”
But wait! Math is back, this time to offer optimism… only to then crush it in the palm of its numerically complex hand.
You’ll remember the infamous advanced stats that gave the Celtics preposterously high chances of winning certain playoff series’ they ultimately lost. According to the ESPN Basketball Power Index, the Celtics had an 86 percent chance to beat the Warriors in the 2022 Finals. That one aged like milk left on a windowsill in Cancun, but even worse was the 97 percent chance it gave the Celtics to beat the Heat in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals. Ninety-seven entire percents! Why oh why, math? Why must you do this to us over and over?
Let’s just not do this to ourselves.
Trying to think about basketball logically is a fool’s errand, so let’s not. My math teachers always told me that math exists whether you believe in it or not, but I never particularly liked math. So, I refuse to let it tell me how to watch basketball.
Sports are one of the few places in the world where rejecting objective truth has little to no consequences. Every single number, advanced stat, and eye test could say that a team is terrible, and yet a fan still demands the right to believe. They may choose not to, but they retain their natural right to believe in their team.
Belief is critical to success in the NBA. In last year’s ECF, the Miami Heat weren’t the best basketball team, but they believed like crazy. Jimmy Butler believed, their fans believed, and Caleb Martin super-believed.
Yet even after falling down 3-0, there was a tiny little part of me that refused to give up. I could hear the 2004 Red Sox and Kevin Millar saying, “Don’t let us win tonight,” and then I heard Jaylen Brown say the same thing. Suddenly, even in the face of a historically impossible task, I believed again.
Right now, the Celtics outlook looks great. The roster is juiced, the runway is set, and I’m locked in and ready to go. I believe, but there is the awkward reality that we haven’t even played any basketball yet.
And perhaps belief is still the wrong word. Mathematical probability merely says how likely something is, but to believe in something means to truly think it will happen, regardless of how likely it may be. Maybe this is about faith.
I’m not going to say basketball is a religion, but I’m not not going to say that. The overall success of games or a season can be believed or math’d away, but what about the moment-to-moment mechanics of the game?
Because of the restrictions of TV camera angles, I had no way of knowing if Jayson Tatum’s season-saving three-pointers in Game 6 against the 76ers were going to go in until they did. I couldn’t calculate the likelihood in such a short time, nor could I truly believe given my lack of information. The only thing left was blind faith.
All I could do was pray that they went in and I did and they did. The season depended on it, and so unfounded faith that Tatum would hit those shots was all I had left. When people say it’s a make-or-miss league, that’s the split second they are talking about.
I know that my feelings don’t make shots, but I am compelled to try anyway. The little voice in my head saying “c’mon c’mon c’mon” will always try to will the ball into the basket, and that’s how I’ll stay. This season will have a lot of analysis, panic, belief, faith, and even math. I’m here for all of it.
But even still, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to ignore that voice pushing the ball ever so slightly through the air. Ya know, just in case it’s working.