Exploring Boston’s Chances Of Becoming The Ultimate TitleTown

By Andrew Puopolo

In June 2008, Boston stood atop the sports world; the Celtics had just won their first championship since 1986 with their new “Big 3”, the Red Sox were reigning World Series champs with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, one of the best 3-4 punches in MLB history, and the Patriots were one drive away from becoming the first team to ever go 19-0. The Bruins, on the other hand, were not quite at the same heights as the other Boston teams, leading to jokes around the country thanking the Bruins for giving other cities a chance.

Despite all this dominance, Boston only held 2 out of the 4 major professional sports league championships that year. Only once has a city controlled three out of the four major championships at the same time. This was in 1935, when the city of Detroit had the NFL Champion Lions, the World Series winning Tigers and the Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings. No team has ever held all four titles at the same time. The closest a city has come to true dominance was in 2002, when the city of Los Angeles had the winners of the NBA (Lakers) and MLB (Angels), as well as the smaller leagues MLS (Galaxy) and WNBA (Sparks).

Fast forward to April 2019, and Boston once again controls two out of the four major championships. In October, the Red Sox saw off the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games to win their fourth World Series title since breaking the curse in 2004. In February, the Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 to win their sixth Super Bowl since 2002 and continue their awe inspiring dynasty.

Currently, Boston’s other two major professional sports teams are in the midst of playoff runs. The Bruins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of a very tense opening round series, and fortunately do not have to face the record setting Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round, as the Lightning were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Celtics are coming off a sweep of the Indiana Pacers, and face the Greek Freak and the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 2. It is very plausible that Boston could become the first city since 1935 to control three out of the four major championships.

In 2015, on the back of the famous Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl, former HSAC Co-President Harrison Chase dubbed Boston “The Most Successful Sports City Of the 21st Century”. However, if Boston were to win one (or both) of the championships that are currently up for grabs, it would rightfully gain the right to call itself “TitleTown.”

We wanted to take a look at this possibility, and be able to quantify the probability of Boston holding three or four major professional sports championships at the same time this year. To do this, we simulated the remainder of the NBA and NHL playoffs 100,000 times using a Glicko model fit separately for the NBA and NHL that has been used to generate predictions showcased here and here. The ratings for each team have been updated to reflect the game results in the first round. Thus, we consider the Columbus Blue Jackets to be a stronger team than we did in our previous simulations. If you are interested in learning about the technical details of this Glicko model, please reach out to me on Twitter @andrew_puopolo or by email at andrewpuopolo@college.harvard.edu.

The first thing we wanted to take a look at was each of the two team’s current probability of reaching the subsequent three rounds of the playoffs:

Celtics and Bruins chance of reaching specific round of playoffs

The distributions for both teams are quite different. In each series, the Bruins are considered favorites and the Celtics are considered underdogs.

Next, we will take a look at the conditional probability of the Bruins and Celtics winning the Championship given they advance to each round of the playoffs.

Celtics and Bruins probability of winning title, conditional on reaching a specific round

What this table tells us is that the Celtics would have a 28.4% chance of winning the NBA Finals if they win the Eastern Conference. The first row of the table is the same as the last row of the previous table, as they both measure the current title odds. These probabilities are not exact, and are dependent on opponents in subsequent rounds. For example, if the Celtics were to beat the Bucks, their title odds are likely to be greater than 10% if their Eastern Conference Finals opponent is the Philadelphia 76ers, and less than 10% if the opponent is the Toronto Raptors.

Finally, we will take a look at Boston’s path to potential dominance, and how the probability of Boston holding 3 or 4 championships at the same time changes as each team progresses through the playoffs. Since the NHL playoffs are generally a week ahead of the NBA playoffs, each Bruins series is likely to wrap up before the Celtics series, and we will consider six distinct “steps” between Boston and history, namely each series in each sport. If either team is eliminated, then the probabilities of Boston winning a third championship are the same as the relevant probability in the previous chart. Each Celtics probability assumes that the Bruins have already won their series in the current round.

Probability of Boston Holding 3 or 4 titles after each series win

These probabilities represent Boston’s chances of attaining Titletown status after each “step” of the process.

Overall, the chances of Boston taking home a championship in either basketball or hockey this year is still relatively low, as the Celtics are unlikely to raise Banner 18. However, this storyline is an interesting one to follow if both Boston teams get past their second round opponents.

If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to Andrew on Twitter @andrew_puopolo or by email at andrewpuopolo@college.harvard.edu.


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