As we discussed last week, the Cleveland Cavaliers chances of winning a seven-game series against the Boston Celtics improve by almost exactly five percent – from 44.1% to 49.0% - if the Cavs have homecourt advantage. Considering homecourt really only makes a difference in the seventh game and it would take this series from being obviously in Boston's favor to a virtual coin flip, that's a significant difference.
On Friday, we projected that, with both teams healthy, the Celtics would be expected to win the East's top seed by three games over the Cavs with records of 65-17 and 62-20 respectively. As we found out very soon after that, both teams are not healthy. Due to a knee injury aggravated Thursday night, Boston's Kevin Garnett will miss the next 2-3 weeks of the season. With homecourt advantage at such a premium – aside from the numbers above, Boston was 3-9 on the road in last year's playoffs and Cleveland is 25-1 at home this year – how will Garnett's injury impact the race for the top seed in the East?
According to 10,000 simulations of the rest of the NBA season conducted by our WhatIfSports.com basketball simulator, assuming Garnett misses the next nine games (through March 13), the Celtics are still expected to edge the Cavs - barely. On average, both teams end with a record of 63-19. Cleveland is actually at 62.7 wins, while Boston is at 63.4 wins. Over those simulations, Boston wins the top seed 56.9% of the time. Orlando actually wins it 0.7% of the time, so the Cavs win the East's top seed 42.4%.
For the nine games in question without Garnett, the expected record for the Celtics drops from 6.9 – 2.1 to 5.0 – 4.0. Before the injury, Boston would be favored in all nine games, with the most likely losses coming at home against Cleveland on Friday, March 6 (Cavs win 43.3%) and at Denver tonight (Nuggets win 40.1%). Now, the Celtics are underdogs in those two games (losing versus Cleveland 67.8% and at Denver 66.7% of the time) as well as at home against Orlando on March 8 (Magic wins 61.1%).
In all nine games except at the Clippers on Wednesday (Celtics win percentage dips from 85.1% to 72.8%) and hosting Memphis on March 13 (Boston still wins 85.9%, down from 99.2%), Boston sees its expected winning percentage decrease by more than 20% due to the loss of KG.
We assume that Kevin Garnett and the rest of the team will bounce back to "full strength" with everyone healthy and playing as he did before. There is obviously a chance that will not happen and Garnett will never fully recover. There is also a chance that Garnett's rest and the maturation of Glen Davis and Leon Powe as part of the starting lineup could help the team for the rest of the regular season and in to the playoffs.
Paul Bessire is the Senior Quantitative Analyst and Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!