Celtics

Rebounding a major problem in Celtics' Game 1 loss to Bulls

Rebounding a major problem in Celtics' Game 1 loss to Bulls

BOSTON – Jimmy Butler took over down the stretch in leading the Chicago Bulls to a 106-102 Game 1 upset win over the Boston Celtics.
 
But his play wasn’t what won the game for the Bulls.
 
It was their rebounding which was once again a major problem for the Celtics who were out-rebounded 53-36.
 
The Bulls were particularly impressive on the offensive glass in which they grabbed 20 offensive boards which led to 23 second-chance points compared to 15 for the Celtics.
 
“That (was) something that (was) one of the keys for us going into Game 1, doing a good job of that. We didn’t,” said Al Horford. “I’m very eager to go back and look at the game and see what kind of things we can do better.”
 
Coach Brad Stevens has an idea.
 
“You look out there at their size, so you’ve got to hit them early and don’t let them get into the paint on their cuts, when they’re cutting to the basket to get a rebound,” Stevens said. “Your contact has to be … you have to make hard initial contact on the block-outs; you can’t just turn and look and get pushed under, because they’re going to get the ball.”
 
Despite being out-rebounded most of the season, the Celtics still managed to win more games than any team in the East.
 
What they lacked in rebounding, they were able to mask with above-average 3-point shooting and lots of trips to the free throw line.
 
In Game 1, Boston shot 36.8 percent (14-for-38) on 3’s and was 14-for-19 from the free throw line compared to the Bulls who were 20-for-23 from the free throw line.
 
While that’s not bad, getting clobbered as badly as they were on the boards can only be muffled by closing the rebounding gap or blowing the Bulls away in other areas of play – things that didn’t happen on any level Sunday night.
 
So the Celtics now find themselves down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, home-court advantage no longer theirs.
 
And they find themselves trying to find a way to mask their greatest weakness – rebounding – against one of the better rebounding teams in the NBA.
 
That’s why it’s not a total shock that Boston got blasted on the boards when you consider the Bulls ranked fourth in the NBA in rebounding percentage (.517) this season while the Celtics consistently ranked among the league’s worst in just about every rebounding statistical category.

“Obviously, we knew that was an advantage of ours going into the series,” said Chicago’s Robin Lopez who had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds which included eight on the offensive glass. “I think everybody did a great job of keying in on that aspect, we did a great job of gang rebounding, helping each other out crashing the boards.”
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics seemed to be a team filled with players on a rebounding island with no real connectivity to speak of.
 
We saw this play out all season, one in which the Celtics were ranked 27th in rebounding percentage (.485).
 
“That was the game,” said Jae Crowder. “That’s the game; that’s the series.  If we don’t rebound, we don’t win the series. It’s simple.”
 
Stevens added, “They’re bigger than we are. So we have to hit first. And so I’ll go back and look at it, chart it all, but that’ll be a big deal moving forward.”

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

MILWAUKEE – With a possible Game 6 return for Marcus Smart, there’s no question that would be a good thing for the Boston Celtics. 

Well, here are six ways having Smart back in the lineup can help aid Boston which is currently tied at two games apiece with the Bucks. 

Defensive versatility: At 6-foot-4 with a strong build, Marcus Smart gives Boston another body to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the two players who have given the Celtics the biggest problems thus far in this series.

Additional ball-handler: The Milwaukee Bucks have tried to mix up their pressure defensively with an occasional full-court press of the Celtics. Smart is a combo guard who has shown tremendous growth this season as a floor leader with the ability to impact the game both as a scorer and facilitator.

Leadership: As the most tenured member of the roster, Marcus Smart has a high love of respect from his teammates. Not only because of his seniority with the franchise, but also because of the way he plays the game and his teammate’s understanding of how much he means to Boston when it comes to winning.

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Increased roster depth: Injuries devastated the Celtics’ roster heading into the playoffs. So a return of Smart would give Boston 12 healthy bodies. It may not seem like that big a deal. But as we’ve seen with this series, every available body matters when it comes to finding a pathway toward the second round of the playoffs for these teams.

Less pressure on Rozier: The first two games of this series really put a positive spotlight on Terry Rozier. The last two games, both losses for Boston, have featured Rozier struggling at both ends of the floor. Having Smart back would lighten Rozier’s plate some and in doing so, could better position him to be closer to the game-changing, difference-maker we saw in Games 1 and 2.

Playbook expansion: Having Marcus Smart back in the lineup gives head coach Brad Stevens a lot more options at both ends of the floor, which could be just what the Celtics need to limit Milwaukee’s 1-2 punch of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, as well as the Bucks bench which has been the better unit of two, in Games 3 and 4.

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Marcus Smart says he's 'strong enough to get back out there'

Marcus Smart says he's 'strong enough to get back out there'

MILWAUKEE – With Boston’s 104-102 Game 3 loss to Milwaukee, the Celtics are guaranteed a return trip to Milwaukee for Game 6 later this week.

At that point in the series, both team’s depth will be an issue.

Boston’s depth hasn’t been great, but it potentially could be better if Marcus Smart is cleared to play following a right thumb injury suffered last month.

The 6-foot-4 guard will have a check-up on Tuesday and if he’s cleared to resume practicing with the team, that would pave the way for him to be available to play in Game 6 on Thursday.

“That’s the plan. We’re still on the same track,” Smart said.

Smart has been working diligently with the training staff since he had his right thumb surgically repaired last month.

“I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there,” Smart said. “I’m just waiting for the OK.”

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In the meantime, Smart has been walking around with one type of splint to help insure that he doesn’t accidentally bump his thumb and potentially do damage to it. That splint is different than the one he will play with upon getting cleared to return to action. While the idea of playing with a splint may not seem ideal, Smart said he’s comfortable shooting with it.

Before playoff games 2, 3 and 4 of this series with Boston, Smart has been on the floor prior to the game working on his perimeter shooting, dribble-drive, pull-ups, free throws and pretty much anything he does shooting-wise during a game. Smart has also worked on his conditioning, lateral quickness drills and other work to help strengthen his core, all done with him returning sooner rather than later. 

But ultimately, it is Smart's comfort level with his right hand and the splint that he'll play with, that will determine what kind of impact one can expect once he returns to action. 

“It feels like it’s nothing there,” Smart said of playing with the splint. “To have that comfortability in my dominant hand, my shooting hand, that’s a good feeling to have.”

Smart, who has distinguished himself as Boston’s top perimeter defender, has appeared in 54 games for the Celtics this season. The fourth-year guard averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds this season while playing 29.9 minutes per game.

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