By Matt Zeitlin
Game three of the Eastern Conference finals tips off in about twenty minutes and, even though we’re only two games in, it’s pretty safe to say that the Celtics are going to win the series, or at least are the prohibitive favorites to do so: three of the next possible five games are in Boston and the Celtics only have to win two of them. Qualitatively, the Celtics have been playing great all post season and have been quite impressive in their first two games.
But this seems to go against what we should have expected according to how the regular season played out. Remember Yglesias’s predictions which had the Magic beating the Lakers in the finals (and also the Spurs beating the Suns)? I can’t look into his brain, but I think most of this was based on the best predicative statistic in basketball: points differential. Or, to be more precise, the difference in points scored per 100 possessions and points given up per 100 possessions. The Magic during the regular season were +9.3 while the Celtics were +5.3. Obviously, one stat isn’t going to predict every single series, there’s only been two games that the Celtics have won by a combined seven points and Magic could still win, but it’s still worth noting that such a strong difference in the best predictive stat isn’t doing the best job of explaining the previous two games or what most experts think will happen in the two to five games.
But to anyone who watched the Celtics all year or just knew that their older stars were still quite skilled can’t be all that shocked. Anyone who watches Lakers games knows that there’s a lot of variance in performance, especially with older players. Obviously, looking at quantitative measures with a good predictive track records is the best way of predicting the outcome of a game and especially the outcomes of many games, but there has to be some way to incorporate these more intuitive conclusions.
But, then again, maybe the Celtics are getting lucky and the Magic will win in six.