After sweeping Pacers, the Celtics are close to becoming the first preseason favorite to win the NBA Finals since 2018

The Boston Celtics are four wins away from being the first preseason favorite to win the NBA Finals since the Golden State Warriors.

Boston opened the season as the co-favorite for the 2024 title at BetMGM with the Milwaukee Bucks at +400. Both teams saw their odds drop significantly over the course of the offseason; the Celtics added Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, while Milwaukee traded Holiday to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a package to acquire Damian Lillard.

If Boston beats either the Dallas Mavericks (their very likely Finals opponent) or the Minnesota Timberwolves (highly unlikely), the Celtics will be the first preseason title favorite to actually win the Finals since 2018. That season, the Warriors opened at -187 to win the title per Basketball Reference after they went 67-15 and won the NBA Finals the season before.

Here’s a look at the preseason favorites over the past five seasons and how they’ve fared in the playoffs.

  • Preseason favorite: Golden State Warriors (-168)

  • NBA Finals winner: Toronto Raptors (+1850)

By now, you know how everything went wrong for the Warriors in the postseason. Kevin Durant returned from a calf injury and ruptured his Achilles in the Finals and Klay Thompson tore his ACL. The Warriors were going for a third consecutive Finals win in their fifth consecutive Finals appearance.

Instead, the Raptors won the title in Kawhi Leonard’s only season in Toronto. The Raptors made an audacious trade for Leonard ahead of the season and it paid off with a 58-24 regular season record and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Leonard’s iconic shot sent the Raptors to the Eastern Conference finals in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto took down a depleted Golden State team in six games.

  • Preseason favorite: Los Angeles Clippers (+425)

  • NBA Finals winner: Los Angeles Lakers (+450)

The Lakers were a close No. 2 favorite to the Clippers ahead of what turned out to be a tumultuous 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lakers struggled in LeBron James’ first season in Los Angeles but traded for Anthony Davis ahead of the 2019-2020 season. With a team built around James and Davis and role players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green playing key parts, the Lakers won each of their Western Conference playoff series in five games before taking down the Heat in six games.

The Clippers were the favorites after signing Leonard and trading for Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder. They took a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals agains the Denver Nuggets before collapsing over the next three games. Los Angeles failed to break 100 points in either Game 6 or Game 7 as the Nuggets won both games by double digits.

  • Preseason favorite: Los Angeles Lakers (+275)

  • NBA Finals winner: Milwaukee Bucks (+550)

The Lakers were favored to go back-to-back, but James and Davis were hampered by injuries over the course of the season. The two players combined to play in just 81 games over the shortened 72-game season as the Lakers finished 42-30. That led to the No. 7 seed in the West and a six-game loss to the Phoenix Suns in the first round.

The Bucks got the No. 3 seed in the East and fought off the Brooklyn Nets in seven games before beating the Atlanta Hawks in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Two-time defending MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo scored over 40 points in three of the six games in the Finals.

  • Preseason favorite: Brooklyn Nets (+240)

  • NBA Finals winner: Golden State Warriors (+900)

The best team that never was opened as the clear favorites ahead of the 2021-22 season. The Nets featured Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden and looked poised to be one of the best offensive teams ever.

Instead, Irving played just 29 games, Durant played in 55 and Harden played in just 44. Brooklyn finished 44-38 and got the No. 7 seed in the East before being meekly swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Celtics.

The Warriors finished third in the West with a 53-29 record as Thompson averaged 20 points a game upon his return from knee and Achilles injuries and Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins also provided secondary scoring punch. With Thompson healthy for the playoffs, the Warriors lost just four games over their first three series before taking down the Celtics in six games. Unless Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green can summon one more run, 2022 looks to have been the last stand of the Warriors dynasty.

  • Preseason favorite: Boston Celtics (+500)

  • NBA Finals winner: Denver Nuggets (+1800)

After losing in the first round of the playoffs the season before, the Nuggets opened at 18-1 to win the title. Denver didn’t have Jamal Murray at all in 2021-22 because of an ACL injury, and he returned to average 20 points in 65 games in 2022-23.

In the playoffs, Murray showed why he and now three-time MVP Nikola Jokic are one of the best duos in the league as they powered the Nuggets to the NBA title after finishing first in the West. Denver went 16-4 over the course of the playoffs and beat the Miami Heat in five games.

The Celtics were the No. 2 seed in the East and followed up their Finals appearance against the Warriors as one of the best teams in the regular season. But the Hawks took the Celtics to six games in the first round before Boston had to win Games 6 and 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers to advance to the conference finals and lose to the Miami Heat in seven games.